HONG KONG — Fears of a recurrence of an outbreak of SARS, the respiratory illness that devastated Asia last spring, have been replaced by concerns over the rapid spread of avian influenza. Bird flu, as the H5N1 virus is commonly known, has spread rapidly across the region and is currently affecting 10 countries in Asia. It is also being blamed for 16 human deaths in Vietnam and Thailand.

There is also an extensive outbreak among China’s chickens. No human cases have been documented there yet, but the World Health Organization is monitoring the situation closely.

The spread of bird flu has led to numerous changes — birds from affected areas are being culled by the tens of thousands, the import of poultry from affected regions has been banned by many countries and the consumption of poultry in Asia is dropping rapidly. The WHO has not suggested any travel limitations to date. Instead, those traveling to affected areas are advised to avoid contact with live poultry, including feeding birds in parks. Those eating poultry or eggs should consume only thoroughly cooked products.

So far the disease appears to have made the jump from birds to individual people, but no human-to-human transmissions have been documented. That is another possibility health authorities are keeping a close eye on.

While governments across Asia are working to curb the spread of bird flu, they are being just as vigilant where SARS in concerned. Since December 2003, only four cases of the respiratory illness have been confirmed, all in China. The WHO is investigating each case to find its source.

Although requirements vary by country, arriving and departing passengers are required to fill out health declaration forms throughout Asia. In Hong Kong, all passengers also have their body temperature monitored via thermo-imaging thermometers.

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