Avian & Pandemic Influenza
The risk to humans from avian flu (commonly known as bird flu) is currently low, so there’s no reason not to travel to affected countries.
There’s comprehensive advice and information on the current situation and background on the World Health Organisation (WHO) website, including a map showing where there have been outbreaks.
Despite the low risk, you should still take precautions if you’re travelling to an affected country:
- consult your usual healthcare provider for travel medical advice and further guidance if you have specific concerns
- check our travel advice for the relevant country before travelling
- avoid visiting live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you might come into contact with wild, domestic or caged birds
- avoid contact with surfaces contaminated with animal faeces or fluids
- avoid eating or handling raw and undercooked poultry, egg or duck dishes (normal cooking destroys the virus)
- wash your hands regularly, especially before eating or preparing food
- don’t attempt to bring any live poultry products back to the UK.
Because of the low risk, UK’s Health Protection Agency does not at present advise tourists visiting affected areas to carry anti-viral drugs.
Avian versus Pandemic Flu
It’s important to distinguish between avian flu, the current disease affecting mainly birds, and pandemic flu, which would affect mainly humans and is at this stage only a possibility.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warns recent outbreaks of avian flu could trigger a future human flu pandemic, by combining with the influenza virus. It is impossible to predict when this might happen, but if it did, it would be much more serious.
There is presently no vaccine against any future pandemic flu strain. Anti-viral drugs such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu), may be effective in reducing the severity and duration of an influenza illness, but this has not been proven in a pandemic situation. Their effect may be limited if a resistance is developed to the drug.
Further medical information is available from the Department of Health.
How we’ll help in a pandemic
We’re working with the Department of Health to prepare for a possible pandemic.
As a precaution, we have obtained courses of the anti-viral drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu) for treatment of our staff working overseas should they fall ill in the event of a pandemic.
This should enable our staff at overseas missions to continue to work and provide consular assistance to British nationals overseas.
It also fulfils our duty of care to our staff, in line with the actions of many other organisations and UK companies with operations overseas.
As far as possible, we’ll continue to deliver a consular service for British nationals resident or travelling overseas through our network of embassies.
But this may be limited, depending on the scale and severity of the virus in some countries. In extreme cases we may even have to offer evacuation for our staff and their dependents.
British nationals living overseas
If you live in a country affected by avian flu you should be prepared to take personal responsibility for your own health and consider whether you would have access to anti-viral medicine in case of a pandemic. In a pandemic you should seek medical advice before using anti-viral drugs.
British nationals working overseas should speak to their employers about the contingency plans in place for a flu pandemic. Such plans may include access to anti-viral treatment for employees and/or repatriation to the UK.
A flu pandemic could spread extremely quickly and with little warning. Many countries will not be sufficiently prepared and the availability of anti-viral drugs may be limited.
Our embassy staff may be able to provide advice on the availability of local medicines or healthcare but we cannot provide medical treatment.
Some countries might close their borders, international transport could be severely disrupted or halted, and travel could become medically inadvisable. We will not be in the position to offer repatriation to British nationals during a pandemic.
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