Britons travelling to China have been told by the UK Government to avoid wet markets — because of a rise in bird flu.
In fresh advice issued today, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) warned the notorious markets were a ‘source of infection’.
Wet markets became the centre of international criticism last year after being touted as the epicentre of the Covid pandemic.
It is common for dozens of animals, dead and alive, to be kept dangerously close to one another in cramped cages at the markets.
The UKHSA said travellers to China and other Asian countries should also avoid live bird animal markets and poultry farms.
Returning Britons should alert their GP if they experience flu-like symptoms within 10 days of coming home.
China is recording record numbers of the H5N6 subtype of avian influenza this year, with 22 confirmed so far – compared to just five last year.
Dr Gavin Dabrera, an infectious diseases expert at UKHSA said: ‘Anyone visiting China should avoid exposure to birds or live birds in ‘wet markets’ as a precaution.’
The Huanan Seafood Wholesale in the city of Wuhan, in Hubei Province, has been touted as the source of Covid
Skinned chicks at the market, where live animals were kept in cramped caged and could be slaughtered on order
A list of prices for one of the businesses operating at the market showed ‘live tree bears’ which is the Chinese for ‘koala’ (circled above)
The cases of H5N6 in China this year have resulted in at least six deaths and left many of the remaining patients critically ill.
Scientists estimate the substrain – which first emerged in the East Asian state Laos in 2013 – has a kill rate of 67 per cent.
The UKHSA said China claimed it had not recorded any cases of human-to-human transmission, and that the risk to the UK was ‘very low’.
Britons travelling to the area are also being advised not to handle undercooked or raw poultry, egg or duck dishes.
Dr Dabrera added: ‘We continue to encourage people to avoid touching dead or dying birds and maintain good hand hygiene while travelling.
‘It definitely looks like influenza is back’: Expert warns
By Luke Andrews, Health Reporter
Flu will make a comeback this winter after a year of Covid restrictions, a respiratory diseases scientist warned today.
Dr Beverly Taylor, who monitors emerging strains around the globe for the World Health Organization, said that cases have been rising globally and the UK can expect a bad bout this year.
She told a press conference: ‘It definitely looks like influenza is on its way back.
‘The World Health Organization sends out a report every two weeks, and it shows a very slow but very steady increase in the number of samples positive for influenza.’
Measures imposed to keep Covid at bay — including work from home and face masks — also helped to limit the spread of other respiratory diseases.
UK Health Security Agency surveillance shows flu cases are now rising slowly in Britain but remain below pre-pandemic levels.
Some 0.8 per cent of samples tested picked up flu last week (36 cases).
This was up from 0.4 per cent in the previous week (18 cases).
For comparison, in the same week in the year before the pandemic 3.4 per cent of samples tested positive for flu.
Dr Taylor is head of influenza scientific affairs at Britain’s major manufacturer for seasonal flu jabs Seqirus.
‘Avian influenza remains a risk in China and if travellers experience any flu like symptoms within 10 days of returning from China, they should call their GP or NHS 111 and report their recent travel.
‘UKHSA has arrangements in place to deal with emerging diseases. This includes the detection and investigation of suspected cases, and the management of confirmed cases and their contacts.’
A World Health Organization (WHO) expert said there was nothing to worry about yet because there is no sign the strain can spread between people.
But Dr Beverly Taylor, an influenza and vaccine expert, warned: ‘We can’t rule it out’.
She told MailOnline: ‘ I think the key thing is we are not seeing human to human transmission.
‘Right now the risk is expected to be low but we cant rule it out.’
She suggested wet markets and other agricultural practices in China made it more prone than other countries to outbreaks.
She said: ‘China does have — it always has — a higher number of cases than we see in other countries and part of that is the way we see people live there.
‘There are live bird markets which we have seen the Chinese Government try to get control over and people living very closely with their domestic birds.’
The Huanan Seafood Wholesale in the city of Wuhan, in Hubei Province, has been touted as the source of Covid.
A majority of the early cases were reported among people who had been shopping or working there.
Yet, despite testing markets, farms and no fewer than 80,000 animal samples spanning dozens of species across China, no evidence has emerged for a similar chain of early ‘zoonotic’ infections — transmitted from animals to humans — in SARS-CoV-2.
Hundreds of samples taken from animal carcasses at the market have all tested negative for any trace of the virus.
And while the Chinese authorities have not revealed the professions of those who were earliest infected, we know that several of them, including the first known cases, had no exposure to the market whatsoever.
More recently, attentions have turned to a high-security biomedical lab in Wuhan, where it is feared the virus may have accidentally leaked from.