Q: I'm going to Laos for a trip down the Mekong. Should I let bird flu alter my plans?
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A: Asia travel remains low risk—for now. As of late 2005, avian flu was transmitted only through direct contact with birds, such as touching their secretions or inhaling their feces.
So unless you're practicing animal husbandry on the river, flu risk is minimal. In fact, not one of the 130 flu cases reported at press time involved a tourist.
However, if the virus finds a way to jump between people, says John Treanor, infectious disease expert at the University of Rochester, all travel plans are vulnerable. "To prevent a pandemic, international flights may be grounded," he says. Travelers everywhere may be sprayed and delayed with some bonus R&R.
To Stay Safe:
+ Keep away from open markets and farms, even those that inspectors have ordered free of fowl. As I learned on a trip to Thailand, poultry is sometimes hidden from the authorities.
+ Order your food well cooked.
+ Wash your hands frequently with soap or use an alcohol gel.
Ken Kamler, M.D., is the author of Surviving the Extremes (Penguin Group USA).
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