Mask Katrina
Photograph ©2005 by Brian Cohen.

New Strain of Bird Flu Virus Kills 4 People: Should You Travel To or From Asia?

A new strain of the bird flu — classified as the A(H7N9) avian influenza virus — has reportedly claimed the lives of four people in China out of at least seven people who have already tested positive.

New Strain of Bird Flu Virus Kills 4 People: Should You Travel To or From Asia?

Interestingly, the majority of the people diagnosed with H7N9 — those who are still alive are supposedly in critical condition — are reportedly from the Jiangsu Province just north of Shanghai in the region of China where greater than 13,000 dead pigs were found floating in the rivers there. However, the general public was reportedly assured by officials that 34 samples taken from the dead pigs floating in the rivers tested negative for the bird flu.

The H7N9 avian influenza virus may prove to be more difficult to track than the better-known strain H5N1, which was reportedly responsible for the deaths of 371 people out of 622 infected in 15 countries since 2003. Symptoms of H7N9 include fever, cough and shortness of breath — as well as severe pneumonia.

The last scare involved the influenza A virus subtype H1N1 — also known as swine flu — in 2009, which was a combination of human, pig and bird viruses that originated in Mexico and spread worldwide, resulting in the deaths of greater than 18,000 people around the world.

The four people who are now dead are the first reported cases of the H7N9 avian influenza virus in human beings — concerning the World Health Organization, which posted a list of frequently asked questions about this new virus.

It is unknown at this time as to whether or not this can potentially become a pandemic or an epidemic. It is also unknown at this time whether or not travel to and from Asia will be affected as it was with the severe acute respiratory syndrome — or SARS — viral respiratory disease back in 2003. However, the World Health Organization “does not advise the application of any travel measures with respect to visitors to China nor to persons leaving China.”

In the meantime, here is some advice I am offering as a person who has not contracted an illness of any significance in years — not even a bad cold — since I adopted the following habits in order to avoid getting sick or catching an illness:

  • Perhaps I may be obsessive, but I always wash my hands when I touch someone or something about which I am uncertain as to whether or not it — or he or she — is clean. The extra time spent washing your hands can save you from much more down time while suffering from less than good health. That is an investment of my time on which I receive an excellent return.
  • Someone once commented to me upon observing me that I wash my hands similar to a doctor. This means washing every part of my hands in warm water from the wrists to the fingertips and scraping underneath each fingernail thoroughly for at least 30 seconds — long after a lather of suds has been built up on my hands.
  • Before I begin washing, I use a paper towel to turn on the faucet, pump the soap and turn off the faucet when I am done, as well as open the door to exit so that I do not come into contact with germs and contaminate myself — and, contrary to popular belief, it does not matter whether or not the soap is of the antibacterial variety.
  • If the soap is a solid bar rather than in liquid form, I wash the exterior of the soap several times before I use it to wash myself.
  • I tend to occasionally rub my eyes, which could potentially be a recipe for disaster if my hands are contaminated. However, once I touch something unknown to be contaminated, I will either hold off on rubbing my eyes or employ a portion of my body to do so instead — such as the back of one of my fingers, or my arm.
  • Because the hands are the most likely body parts to be contaminated by germs — other than bare feet, that is — they require more care than other parts of your body, such as your forehead, your neck or your face. However, those body parts should be clean as well. Especially keep contamination away from your eyes, ears and nose, as they are amongst the most susceptible parts of your body to microorganisms which cause infections and illnesses.


Washing your hands regularly is amongst the best ways to prevent the spread of diseases, infections, and even illnesses such as the common cold. I speak from experience: as I said — with one or two minor exceptions that are too negligible to even mention — I have not suffered from a cold, fever or other illness in several years. I have never even had a flu shot. That is because I am diligent about washing my hands — and you should be diligent as well if you want a greater chance of avoiding illnesses in the future…

…including this possible H7N9 avian influenza virus, if you simply take the proper precautions and take a few extra seconds to be careful.

Photograph ©2005 by Brian Cohen.

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