Bird flu, also known as avian flu, is an infection caused by viruses that occur naturally in wild birds. While such birds can carry these viruses in their intestines without getting ill, bird flu is very contagious and can make some domesticated birds — including chickens, ducks and turkeys — extremely ill or even cause their death. Bird flu viruses do not usually infect people, but several cases of human infection have been diagnosed since 1997.
The strain causing the greatest concern, avian influenza A (H5N1) — reported in several Asian countries including Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Japan, Laos, South Korea and Indonesia — is poised to become the world’s next pandemic. As of Oct. 1, 60 people had died from the disease. Health officials have issued warnings regarding the potential for a major bird flu outbreak.
Viruses are masters of jumping species. They can mutate rapidly, and often grab genetic material from other viruses. They can jump from animals to humans with a quick flick of their DNA, as seen with SARS, hantavirus, monkey pox and, most recently, avian flu.
Type A influenza viruses are divided into eight separate gene segments, which allows the virus to combine with different species and divide to produce a new virus. The genetic scrambling that occurs in this shift explains how a disease that normally affects a bird or other specific animal can suddenly turn up in humans. Often viruses that cross species originate in areas where people live in close proximity to livestock such as chickens and pigs. That is because pigs are susceptible to infection with both avian and human viruses, and are an ideal mixing bowl for genes.
But some bird flu viruses do not need a third party to spread the disease. They shuffle and rearrange their genetic material directly to humans. That seems to be the case in instances of human-acquired bird flu. People become sick after direct contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces.
The ease of traveling worldwide today can also contribute to the spread of the virus, as travelers come into contact with contaminated clothing and equipment. Other situations that can lead to direct bird-human transmission include: wild birds shedding the virus in their feathers, droppings, saliva or nasal secretions; the virus spreading to domesticated birds through contact with contaminated water, feed or soil; and open-air markets where eggs and birds are sold in crowded, unsanitary conditions. Being in the vicinity of cockfighting, which is rampant in Asia, is another risk factor.
The exact incubation period of avian flu in humans is not clear. The disease seems to develop within one to five days of exposure. The signs and symptoms resemble those of conventional influenza, including cough, fever, sore throat and muscle aches. People with the most virulent type of bird flu — avian influenza A, H5N1 — may develop life-threatening complications, including viral pneumonia and acute respiratory distress, that are the most common cause of bird flu–related death.
Before you embark on any international travel, the Centers for Disease Control advises you to research instances of any disease or condition, such as avian flu, prevalent in the areas you’ll be visiting. It’s also a good idea to see your health-care provider four to six weeks before leaving, to update vaccinations and medications. Discuss getting the flu vaccine, too. While it won’t protect you from bird flu, it may prevent some associated complications.
Pack a travel health kit containing basic first-aid supplies. Be sure to include a thermometer and alcohol-based hand cleanser. Research healthcare resources at your destination and check your health insurance to see if it covers medical evacuation in case you become ill. (For more information, visit http://travel.state.gov and click on “International Travel,” and then the “Health Issues” link.)
Some good news on the horizon is that researchers are looking at ways to prevent a major avian flu outbreak. In August, the U.S. government announced plans to acquire millions of doses of an experimental bird flu vaccine, after tests showed its effectiveness in stimulating the immune system in healthy adults. Additional tests for children and adults older than 65 are continuing. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration must approve the vaccine before it is offered to the general population. For more information, visit http://www.who.org or www.cdc.gov.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends taking the following precautions when traveling to areas where outbreaks of H5N1 have been reported.
Avoid wild birds and avoid settings where infected poultry may be present, such as farms or open-air markets.
Avoid touching surfaces contaminated with bird feces or secretions.
Do not eat uncooked or undercooked birds, including dishes made with uncooked poultry blood.
Clean your hands often with soap and water or a waterless, alcohol-based hand cleanser, even when they are not visibly soiled.
All foods from poultry, including eggs, need to be cooked thoroughly to kill the virus. Steer clear of raw eggs.
If you become sick with symptoms of fever, difficulty breathing or cough, or with any other illness that requires prompt medical attention, a U.S. consular officer can assist you in finding medical services and informing your family and friends of your condition.
Monitor your health for 10 days.
If you become ill with the symptoms of avian flu or develop any illness during this period, contact your physician. Make sure you tell your doctor your symptoms, where you traveled and whether you had direct contact with birds.
With more companies around the world becoming more environmentally friendly, American Airlines recently announced it committed to set a science-based target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This move will sharpen the company’s strategy for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and aligns its path with the global imperative of limiting temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.
As more travelers return to the skies, American is here every step of the way to ensure an elevated and seamless journey. Experience flying freedom with AirPass, American’s all-inclusive, pre-paid travel membership program.
Deep Dive Dubai, home of the deepest swimming pool for diving in the world, opened in Dubai, in the Nad Al Sheba neighborhood. Guinness World Records verified the pool as the world’s deepest swimming pool for diving at a depth of 60.02 meters, or almost 197 feet, holding 14 million liters of water, equivalent to six Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Family gatherings are extra special this year and we chose to celebrate a milestone birthday in New Orleans. The JW Marriott New Orleans, across the street from the historic French Quarter, is ideally situated for exploring the city. Streetcars roll in front of the property and are especially fun for first-time visitors. Within a ¾-mile radius, we could walk to the National WWII Museum, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Sazerac House, Harrah’s Casino, the Shops of Canal Place and numerous restaurants.
You probably didn’t know you needed to visit the Dominican Republic until you learned about the new, beautiful, modern, all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana.
For the third year in a row, Regent Seven Seas Cruises broke the company’s world cruise opening day booking record. The 2024 World Cruise sold out around 11 a.m. on July 14, after going on sale that morning at 8:30 a.m. Fares started at $73,499 per guest for a deluxe veranda suite, up to $199,999 per guest for a master suite.
Now is the time to get out of the house, soak in the sun and try something new. From bread making to learning the latest TikTok dance, Americans picked up new hobbies since the COVID-19 pandemic. As travel gets busier, keep the momentum going with paddle boarding that can travel with you anywhere in the world.
The biggest names in the Middle East sporting community will gather for the Sports Industry Awards as the event returns for its eighth edition. SPIA recognizes the achievements of individuals, organizations, facilities and campaigns that contributed to the development of sport in the region.
As the vaccine rolls out and travel picks up, it’s time to start dreaming of your next trip. Here’s some destination inspiration for you. Take a visual journey through Okinawa with us.