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    Feb 14, 2014

    Low risk of bird flu here, but be careful

    THOSE travelling to bird flu-affected areas have been urged by the Government to be careful.

    The Ministry of Health (MOH) yesterday issued an advisory urging Singaporeans to "maintain vigilance" and avoid contact with poultry, birds and other wild animals.

    It also advised against visiting live poultry markets. If contact does occur, one's hands should be thoroughly washed with soap, the MOH said in the statement.

    The advisory also asked Singaporeans to avoid eating undercooked meat and eggs, as well as to adopt good food-safety and hygiene practices. Hands, for instance, should be washed before handling food or eating.

    The cautionary note comes after Malaysia's health authorities reported the country's first imported human case of avian influenza A - also known as H7N9 - in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah.

    Still, the public-health risk to Singapore remains low, as there is currently no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus.

    Nevertheless, the MOH said it is "closely monitoring this latest development" and is in close contact with the Malaysian authorities. Procedures are already in place at hospitals here to test for H7N9 in situations such as when a patient who has been to an affected area is suffering from a serious respiratory illness.

    If a case is detected, the MOH will conduct contact tracing, and all close contacts will be placed under surveillance.

    According to Malaysian newspaper The Star, a Chinese tourist tested positive for the virus on Tuesday. The 67-year-old woman, who is reportedly in stable condition, had travelled from Guangdong to Kuala Lumpur earlier this month, before arriving in Kota Kinabalu on Feb 6.

    The Star added that screening has been conducted on 20 people who had close contact with the woman, including those in her tour group and at a holiday resort. Results came back negative.

    Checks for the H7N9 virus, for which there are no vaccinations, have since been stepped up in Sabah, The Star reported.

    H7N9 is transmitted to humans through direct exposure to infected live or dead birds, or indirectly through exposure to environments where there are infected birds.

    The MOH statement also urged individuals who are unwell with a fever or a cough while travelling, or after returning from a country with reports of human cases of avian influenza, to wear a mask and seek medical attention promptly.

    Those who are ill should also tell the doctor which areas they have travelled to.