The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday advised travelers to Egypt to protect themselves from H5N1 avian influenza by avoiding contact with wild birds, live or uncooked poultry, and body fluids from birds and poultry in light of the record numbers of human cases reported since the beginning of the year.

Avian influenza A (H5N1) virion/CDC
Avian influenza A (H5N1) virion/CDC

The federal health agency reports the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population, as of March 19, 2015, Egypt has reported more than 120 human cases of H5N1 bird flu since November 2014. However, two other more timely sources put the total cases higher.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported earlier this week, that as of Mar. 31, there were 125 cases and 33 fatalities in Egypt.

Mike Coston at Avian Flu Diary put the total case count 135 on Thursday. Regardless, what we do know is this is the highest number of human cases of H5N1 reported by any country in a similar time period.

WHO reports since it was first reported in Egypt in March 2006, a total of 336 cases of avian influenza A(H5N1) infections in humans have been reported, including 114 related deaths (case-fatality rate =34%).

CDC advises travelers to Egypt to follow these recommendations to prevent being exposed to H5N1:

  • Do not touch birds or other animals: Do not touch animals, whether they are alive or dead; avoid live bird or poultry markets and avoid other markets or farms with animals (wet markets).
  • Eat food that is fully cooked: Eat meat and poultry that is fully cooked (not pink) and served hot; eat hard-cooked eggs (not runny); don’t eat or drink dishes that include blood from any animal and don’t eat food from street vendors.
  • Practice hygiene and cleanliness: Wash your hands often; if soap and water aren’t available, clean your hands with hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol; don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean; cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing and try to avoid close contact, such as kissing, hugging or sharing eating utensils or cups, with people who are sick.

Since its introduction in Egypt in 2006, avian influenza A(H5N1) virus has been circulating in domestic poultry in the country and has been the source of sporadic human infections. Almost all cases of H5N1 infection reported in humans in recent times have been associated with close contact with infected live or dead birds, or H5N1-contaminated environments, WHO states.

H5N1 is a viral disease of birds. People rarely get H5N1, but when they do it usually happens after close contact with infected birds (such as chickens, turkeys, geese, pigeons, and pheasants) or their body fluids. Human illness from H5N1 has ranged from mild eye infections and flu-like symptoms to pneumonia and death. H5N1 does not spread easily between people.  The risk of H5N1 to travelers is extremely low, according to the CDC.