Australia on Friday issued fresh travel warnings for its citizens traveling in several Asian countries at risk for possible outbreaks of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus. The departments of foreign affairs and health issued a general health advisory warning Australians to "inform themselves about the risks of avian influenza (and) be prepared to take personal responsibility for their own safety" in case of a bird flu pandemic.
Updated travel warnings were issued for Thailand and Vietnam, which the World Health Organization says have had 54 of the 62 confirmed human deaths from bird flu, as well as other countries that have reported flu outbreaks in birds.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has ravaged poultry stocks across Asia since the disease first surfaced in 2003.
Most of the human cases of bird flu have been traced to direct contact with birds, but health officials worry the disease could mutate to a form that is easily passed among humans, possibly triggering a pandemic.
"Australians who live in an avian influenza affected area for an extended period should consider, as a precautionary measure, having access to influenza anti-viral medicine for treatment," the advisory warned, adding that Australian overseas missions would not be able to provide the drugs in the event of an outbreak.
Australia said citizens living in countries affected by a possible human outbreak of bird flu should consider leaving.
"If they don't leave when first advised to do so, they may be prevented from leaving later," the advisory said.
The new advisories came as Health Minister Tony Abbott said Australia would be prepared to close its borders in a bird flu pandemic.
"The best way of ensuring that you don't get infected with something like this, in the absence of an effective vaccine, would be isolation," Abbott told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.