Source CDC - The year of the snake begins Sunday, February 10,
For many Asian cultures it is a long held tradition that people return home to attend a reunion dinner with their families on the eve of the lunar New Year.
In Korea it is called Seollal.
In Vietnam, it is called Tết Nguyên Đán or Feast of the First Morning. Tết for short.
In China, it is called Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year, or simply, The Spring Festival.
While Cambodia celebrates their own Khmer New Year in mid-April, the Chinese New Year is widely observed by many people of that nation as well.
But by whatever name, the lunar new year is the most important holiday in all of Asia. And each year this annual return to one’s home -called Chunyun, or the Spring Festival travel season - sparks the largest human migration on the planet.
As you might imagine, these mass migrations (along with mass gatherings) are of considerable interest to public health officials and epidemiologists.
Chunyun begins about 15 days before the Lunar New Year and runs for about 40 days total, during which time more than 2 billion passenger journeys will be made (mostly via crowded rail and bus) across Asia.
We get an idea of just how crowded these public conveyances can be from a 2006 China Daily report Adult diaper sales soar before long trips home.
They report the sale of adult diapers spikes for Chunyun because so many passengers are crammed into trains and buses that getting to a restroom can be impossible.
In 2011, in Study: Viruses With A Ticket To Ride, we looked at research on the incidence of ARI (Acute Respiratory Infection) presenting within 5 days of train or tram travel in the UK.
Recent bus or tram use within five days of symptom onset was associated with an almost six-fold increased risk of consulting for ARI (adjusted OR=5.94 95% CI 1.33- 26.5)
And this was for normal levels of passengers, not the standing room only conditions often experienced during Chunyun travels across Asia.
This year, the Lunar New year will be observed between February 9th – 12th.
Duck and chicken are popular dishes served during these reunion dinners, and so the live markets do tremendous business this time of year.
A concern once again this winter - as yesterday we learned of 3 human H5N1 infections over the past two weeks in Cambodia - all connected to contact with or preparation of infected poultry (see WHO/Cambodian MOH Statement On H5N1 Cases).
Each year public health officials in Asia, and around the world, keep a close watch for signs of any disease outbreaks that might be exacerbated by this intense period of travel.
Of course, it should be pointed out that since 2009, Chunyun has not precipitated a major resurgence in the H1N1 pandemic virus across Asia.
Nor has any feared third wave of influenza followed Carnival in Rio, the Super Bowl, or the the World Cup in South Africa.
So while each year there are concerns about bird flu being brought back to the cities from rural locations by Chunyun travelers, we haven’t seen that happen (yet).
There are, however, a number of less exotic health problems commonly associated with mass gatherings and migrations (including mosquito borne illnesses, influenza, food poisoning, etc.), so each year the CDC posts some travel advice for those planning a trip to Asia.
Good Luck. Good Health. Good Cheer. Happy Lunar New Year!
The year of the snake begins Sunday, February 10, 2013, and many travelers will visit Asia to celebrate the Lunar New Year. If you are traveling to Asia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would like to share information and tips that will help you stay healthy and safe during your trip.
Every destination, even in different areas of the same country, has unique health issues that travelers need to be aware of. To find specific information about the areas you plan to visit, see the East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia regional pages on the CDC Travelers’ Health website, or click on the country or countries you will be visiting on the destinations page.
Important Health Information
- Illnesses spread by mosquitoes, such as malaria, dengue fever, and Japanese encephalitis, are common throughout Asia, so it is very important to take steps to prevent mosquito and other insect bites. You may also need to take prescription medicine to protect against malaria or get a vaccine against Japanese encephalitis. Talk to your doctor about prevention steps that are right for you and your destination.
- Food and water. Eating contaminated food and drinking contaminated water can cause illnesses such as hepatitis A, typhoid fever, and travelers’ diarrhea. Read about how to prevent these diseases by visiting the Safe Food and Water page on the Travelers’ Health website.
- Seasonal flu. Annual vaccination of all people 6 months of age and older is recommended by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Travelers who want to reduce their risk of flu should receive the flu vaccine at least 2 weeks before departure. Children 6 months through 8 years of age may need to receive two doses of the vaccine to be fully protected. Learn more about the flu vaccine by reading Key Facts about Seasonal Flu Vaccine.
We’ve seen fewer reports of human H5N1 infections this fall and winter across Asia, and so hopefully this year’s Chunyun - like all those since bird flu re-emerged in 2003 – will prove equally unremarkable.
But as we’ve seen this flu season with H3N2, it doesn’t take a novel flu virus to cause a good deal of morbidity and mortality in a population.
So we’ll be watching for signs of other increased viral illness across Asia over the coming weeks.