While there is no reason to panic (yet), it is important to at least be aware that there is a new strain of bird flu spreading through the country. While it’s not exactly time to lock ourselves in our apartments and break out the face masks, there are practical steps you can take to protect yourself from becoming infected.
1) Avoid the street markets. I know, I really prefer shopping for my fruits and veggies at the street markets since they tend to have better variety, quality, and prices than the supermarkets, but they are also very dirty and sell live and dead poultry (even in the vegetable markets). There is no way of knowing if the guy you are buying your peppers from also bought a live chicken from the guy down the road and didn’t wash his hands before handing you those peppers. At this point, avian flu doesn’t manifest itself in live poultry; they are only carriers. So avoid any place that has live fowl running around.
2) Wash your hands, often. Seems rather common sense to tell Westerners to always wash their hands before or after a meal, but how many of you actually work in a place that has soap in the bathroom? How many restaurants do you know of that have soap? It is not a bad idea to carry a small bottle of hand soap (maybe in a Purell bottle) so you can wash your hands whenever you need to. You should also wash your hands more often than usual, every couple of hours. Take the Purell with you too.
3) Don’t eat out. As long as your meat is cooked thoroughly it should be safe. But you don’t really know how well your food is cooked unless you cook it yourself. You also don’t know if the person who cooked your food washed her hands after she was done touching the live bird. It takes time, planning, and piles of dirty dishes to cook at home, but at least you will know you aren’t eating bird flu.
4) If you must eat out, take your own chopsticks. This has less to do specifically with bird flu and more to do with simply eating safely in China, but it’s worth mentioning in the list. Most Chinese restaurants don’t use hot water or soap to wash their chopsticks (or plates, or bowls, or spoons…) Many do use a sanitizer, but I have no idea how good of a job those actually do. And disposable chopsticks really are not much better. For some reason, a lot of those chopsticks are coated with chemicals. Also the disposable chopsticks are wreaking havoc on China’s environment, destroying old and new trees by the billions (yes, I said billions) and creating tons of waste.
5) Sanitize your fruits and veggies. Again, this falls more in the how to eat safely category. Whether you buy your fruits and veggies in the supermarket or on the street, they are usually very dirty and covered in pesticides. When you bring home fruits and veggies, wash them with a vegetable soap, then fill your kitchen sink with water and add one cap-full of bleach. Let the fruits and veggies hang out in the bleach water for about ten minutes. Then rise them and let them dry. Don’t worry about ingesting any bleach, it dissipates when it dries.
These are a few of my tips for not getting bird flu.What steps are you taking to protect yourself?