How to Avoid Catching Bird Flu While Travelingļæ½

International travel has always had its special health challenges, but until recently most travelers were not afraid of anything worse than diarrhea.

Bird flu's changed that.

The bird flu H5N1 virus has now been found from Indonesia to Scotland and in six countries in Africa. So anybody traveling in the Eastern Hemisphere must consider their risk of catching bird flu.

Besides, it's expected to arrive in North America by this fall or even sooner, via migratory birds or bird smugglers. From there it'll no doubt reach Central and South America.

Bird flu hasn't been reported in Antarctica yet, but I would still advise you not to have close personal contact with the penguins.

You don't want to bring any H5N1 bird flu viruses home with you in your lungs. Although most advice focuses on chickens and other poultry, I think you should also avoid pigs, since then can have bird flu also.

Stay away from markets where chickens, ducks, geese and pigs are sold live.

Stay away from markets where chicken, duck, geese and pork meat are sold. Don't buy raw chicken, duck, geese or pork, even from supermarkets.

Stay away from farms where chickens, ducks, geese and pigs are raised.

In many poor countries, chickens walk freely around villages foraging for food. Try to stay away from them as much as possible.

(There is a certain charm in such areas, I understand. I once visited a rural Thai house where the only door was not attached to the doorframe -- but at night laid sidewides across the width of the opening to prevent chickens from wandering into the house at night. However, suffering from jet lag as I was, the loud crowing of the roosters at 2:00 AM kept me away. Don't let anybody tell you they wait for dawn!)

Don't attend cockfights. The sharp spurs spatter the audience with chicken blood.

Avoid zoos. If you must go in, avoid open bird exhibits. Keep your distance from any displays of ducks, swans etc.

If you are backpacking or trekking through the woods, avoid wild birds and their excrement.

Don't eat any raw or red chicken meat. Make sure it is thoroughly cooked. Cut it open with a knife before to make sure before you take a bite.

In my limited traveling experience in Asia, meat is very well done, perhaps as a sanitary custom to kill bacteria and parasites. However, Vietnam does have a national dish of raw duck blood soup. It's now discouraged by the government, but if you do happen to be offered it -- decline graciously.

Also, Laos and Lao people in northern Thailand eat a dish called lahp which is made from raw meat. That's usually beef but it can be pork or chicken. Politely decline all lahp unless it's beef or fish.

The same with eggs -- make sure all eggs you eat are well done. Do not order eggs "sunny side up." Do not eat if the yolks are runny. If you are heating a bowl of hot noodles, do not let them add a raw egg. Yes, the heat of the sauce hardened the eggs, but not the 70 degrees Celsius or 158 degrees Fahrenheit required to kill the bird flu virus.

Avoid people who are coughing and sneezing. Maybe they just have a cold. Maybe it's something worse.

If you happen to get sick, seek the best available medical care. The U.S. government is requiring its embassies and consulates to have a list of local medical care "resources," but I'm sure any decent hotel room clerk or taxi driver will know the best and nearest hospital or clinic. Chances are your medical insurance won't cover the cost, but check on that with the company before you leave home. If you live overseas there are health insurance plans available to expats. Look for them on Google.

Unfortunately, you can't avoid riding in airplanes. You're trapped in a small space along with many other people. You don't know what kind of germs they have. They may feel healthy and display no symptoms, because they've been infected with bird flu for less than a day.

The best advice I know of, is to suck on those zinc and Vitamin C lozenges that are sold to people with colds. They get zinc as close as possible to your mouth and nose. That's your best chance to trap any infections coming at you from the shared air of your jet cabin -- before they infect your lungs.

Take these sensible precautions and you have almost no chance of catching bird flu on your next vacation.

And if you do get diarrhea . . . I cleared that up in a few days by taking acidophilus capsules, bought at the local GNC.

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