Subject: SARS & bird flu (was: Thailand)
Hi Rosemary and all,

As always, travel decisions based upon government warnings are a personal thing and you have to make your mind up based upon good information and your own gut feel.

I think that the 5 cases in Thailand were of bird flu not SARS (I could be wrong but...haven't seen any news re. SARS there). Bird flu is really a big deal in Asia because so many people believe that you must eat chicken immediately after it has been killed - ie. they insist on buying LIVE chickens and having them slaughtered in front of them (either by the poultry merchant or...they take it home and do it themselves). Thus (as someone said in an earlier post) it is very normal to see cages of live chickens, squished together, stacked on top of each other in markets all over this region (Hong Kong included). Naturally - if one bird is somehow infected - the rest of them will follow very quickly.

After the first outbreak of H5N1 in 1997 - the HK govt cracked down on chicken outlets and insisted that they change the type of cages they were using so that they could be properly sterilized and they caused an uproar by insisting that the poultry markets have a 'rest day' every 2 weeks (I think it is) to move all the chickens out and sterlize the whole area. It wasn't just the sellers who were outraged - the buyers were furious, too, because they had to wait one day to get their chickens!!!

My assumption is that the children (mostly) who have died from bird flu have died because they were playing with infected chickens (either in their parents chicken farm or ones that have been brought home to eat). Another problem here is that some chicken delicacies enjoyed by Chinese are supposed to be best eaten with slightly underdone chicken - so perhaps some of the chicken hasn't been cooked long enough to destroy the virus.

All that is to say - unless they actually determine that the flu can be spread human to human - I personally doubt that any of us either living in the region or travelling here have any chance of contracting that particular virus unless we spend some time in the market or on a chicken farm or eat underdone chicken at a food stall.

SARS is something else but....I honestly am not going to get too concerned about that either - unless it becomes rampant and affects a much larger number of people than it did last year. Of course, we take greater precautions now than before in public places (I'm never without a bottle of hand wash or 'wet ones' now) and if things get bad again I'll definitely wear a mask when in really crowded parts of HK but...I sometimes think that government warnings are more a just in case kind of thing - to cover themselves.

Cheers! Judy in Hong Kong