health insurance

Family health insurance in China: 10 tips on getting the right plan

Family health insurance in China: 10 tips on getting the right plan

Protecting the health and wellbeing of your family with the right family health insurance plan will give you all much-needed peace of mind and financial security should any unexpected illnesses occur. Those looking for a family plan will quickly discover that there’s no such thing as a one-version-fits-all health insurance policy, as the right coverage will depend on your family’s needs. To help, we’re going to cover the following 10 most important things to consider when it comes to securing the right health insurance plan for your family.

1. Choosing the right level of coverage for your needs

When finding a family health insurance plan in China, one of the most important things you will need to make a decision on is your family’s required level of coverage. Coverage levels vary significantly between different insurers and plans; Some plans will only cover basic hospitalization fees, whereas more comprehensive plans will cover GP visits, checkups, vaccinations, maternity, etc. Below are the three main levels of coverage:

Inpatient only

Typically speaking, inpatient plans cover any treatment that the patient is admitted to hospital for, i.e. treatments that involve a stay at the hospital. This includes coverage for expenses like surgery charges, ambulance, operating theater fees, anesthetist charges, etc. Inpatient plans from reputable insurers will tend to also include cover for emergency evacuation, cancer coverage, emergency cases of chronic conditions, etc. When securing health insurance for your family, we advise that you at least get inpatient coverage, as these treatments can be extremely expensive in China.

Inpatient and outpatient

The outpatient benefit is an optional addition to inpatient coverage, and covers medical treatment that does not require hospitalization, eg. day to day doctors, specialist visits, and prescription medication. Sometimes outpatient coverage will also include physiotherapy and chiropractic treatments as well as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatment, e.g. acupuncture.

Full coverage

For more comprehensive coverage, there’s also the option to include extra add-on benefits in your plan for maximum protection. These add-ons, often referred to by insurers as “riders”, include options such as maternity, vision, and dental coverage.

Know this about maternity insurance

For those thinking of welcoming a new addition to their family, it can’t be stressed enough how important it is to plan for the future and secure maternity insurance well ahead of conception. This is because maternity plans tend to come with a waiting period of around 10 to 12 months (and sometimes even longer), meaning that you’ll need to wait that period of time before you can receive any reimbursements on claims made against that benefit.

2. Deductible and copayment options

Cost sharing options such as introducing a deductible or a copayment to your plan can be a great way to get a discount on your premium.

A deductible is the amount of money you must pay first, either on an ‘annual, per person’ basis or an ‘annual, per medical condition, per person basis’, before your insurer pays anything. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the deductible, the lower your premium will be – and vice versa. It is often advised that people choose to have a higher deductible on their inpatient coverage and a lower one on their outpatient treatment (if applicable), as it is much more likely that you and your family will be using the outpatient benefit.

On the other hand, a copayment is the amount you pay each time you submit a claim after the deductible has been met. As with deductibles, introducing a copayment to your plan can help reduce your premiums, but it can be risky for those of you on a tighter budget, especially if you have a large number of doctor visits in a year.

3. What you need to know about ‘High Cost Providers’

Hospital costs vary significantly in China, with some hospitals charging very affordable fees, and other more well-known private hospitals in major cities with English speaking doctors generally charging a lot more for care. These more expensive facilities are referred to by insurers as ‘High Cost Provider’s (HCPs).

Some plans will give you the option of excluding or limiting coverage at HCPs, e.g. a 20% copayment on treatments received at HCPs, which would mean your insurer would pay only 80% of the cost. This can be a great way to reduce your premium, but please bear in mind that making a copayment of 20% at HCPs can still be very expensive, especially for an inpatient procedure.

4. Area of coverage

Are you looking for family health insurance that covers you in China only, or one that covers you overseas as well, including your home country? In terms of the area of coverage, we would recommend expats living in mainland China to obtain a plan that covers both China and Hong Kong, at the very least. This is because Hong Kong has some of the best hospitals in the whole of Asia.

On the other hand, you may also want to consider an international health insurance plan. Covering your family both in China and overseas, these plans are globally portable, meaning that if you relocate to another country in the future, or return to your home country, your plan will protect you wherever you go.

Does international health insurance include USA coverage?

Most international health insurance plans will exclude the US as an area of coverage, mostly because of the high cost of healthcare in the US. If you wish to have USA coverage, you may do so by:

  • Choosing a plan that covers elective treatment in the US, if you can afford it. This option allows your family to travel to the US for planned surgery. That being said, this option is very expensive, and can cost 1.5 times or more than the cost of a worldwide plan that excludes the USA.
  • Opt for emergency USA inpatient coverage – this will ensure your inpatient emergency costs are covered, but your outpatient emergency costs won’t be covered.
  • Another option is to purchase a comprehensive annual travel insurance plan that covers you anywhere up to 30 days outside of China. These plans are a cheap option for short term travelling, although they do not offer the tax receipt that most companies will require for reimbursement in China, so this may need to be paid for out of pocket.

5. Do you or your family members have any pre-existing conditions?

Do you or your family members already have, or previously had any illnesses, ailments, or injuries? These are considered pre-existing conditions, and you’ll often see it excluded in health insurance plans. That said, some insurers will cover certain pre-existing conditions. They may cover these conditions by either placing an additional premium on your plan, while others will offer the option of placing a waiting period on that particular condition.

If you are lucky, in some cases these conditions may even be covered at no extra cost. To ensure you get the pre-existing condition coverage you need, it’s a good idea to talk to an experienced broker like Pacific Prime China for more information.

6. Can I get an individual health insurance plan for my child?

If you’re looking to secure separate health insurance coverage for your child instead of obtaining family health insurance, you may do so. However, please bear in that mind that almost all insurers will not offer this option. That said, there are ‘child alone’ options available, with some costing only RMB 9,000 annually.

7. Is the insurer reliable?

When purchasing health insurance, it’s also important to consider the reputation, service, and reliability of the insurer. Generally speaking, the cheaper the insurance plan, the less reliable on claims they are. This is why it’s so important to choose a reputable insurance company, so that you can have an insurance plan that you and your family can count on.

8. How often do you want to pay for your family health insurance?

Most insurers in China require annual payment, but some will allow you to make semi-annual or sometimes even monthly payments. However, the latter options will carry a surcharge. Another thing to be aware of is that Chinese regulations will not accept international credit cards for monthly payments.

9. Will there be annual premium increases?

When it comes to renewing your family health insurance plan for the following year, it’s important to know that paying increased premiums is inevitable. As a general rule of thumb, smaller insurers with less financial stability will have less stable, more erratic increases, whereas large reputable insurers will tend to have more gradual premium increases (based on medical inflation, age increase, etc).

10. Consult an experienced broker

Some people believe that insurance intermediaries charge higher premiums for insurance. The truth is, reputable insurers like Pacific Prime China offer the same rates as the insurers we work with. Not only will you be getting the same rates, but you will also benefit from extra services such as our expertise in finding the best plan for your needs, as well as additional help on your renewals and claims submissions.

For more information on finding the best family health insurance plan, be sure to contact us today for impartial advice, as well as a free quote.

Posted by Jess in Expat Health Insurance, Health Insurance
An expat’s guide to medical emergencies in China

An expat’s guide to medical emergencies in China

From car accidents to severe food poisoning and heart attacks, medical emergencies can happen to anyone, anytime and anywhere. As an expat, it’s important that you are aware of how medical emergencies are dealt with in China, and how to prepare yourself in case you come across any unforeseen events. To help, we’ve created this informative guide containing key tips on preparing for and dealing with medical emergencies in the middle kingdom.

Know your hospital

It’s always important to know where your nearest hospital is located, and whether they provide accident and emergency services.

Public hospitals

Public hospital treatment in China is very affordable, but the quality of care, service levels and cleanliness standards can vary significantly. Expats who wish to utilize the public system should be aware that you should be able to communicate in Mandarin, as most of the staff will not be able to speak English.

VIP clinics

Big Chinese public hospitals like Zhongshan in Shanghai have VIP clinics (gaogan bingfang). Most VIP clinics will have English speaking doctors, offer more privacy compared to public hospitals, and will recognize many insurance companies. That being said, prices are much higher in VIP wings, e.g. staying in a VIP room will set you back by RMB 800+, whereas staying overnight at a “common” room would cost only RMB 15 to 20.

Please keep in mind that a lot of urgent VIP clinics may only operate during regular working hours, so you may end up in the local emergency room if you require emergency medical attention outside of these hours.

Foreign-run hospitals

Foreign-run hospitals are generally the most expensive option, as they offer a very high quality of medical care, comfortable rooms, and are often equipped with better technology. Medical staff in these hospitals are able to speak English and sometimes can also speak a range of other foreign languages. However, for medical emergencies you should check beforehand whether the hospital has an emergency department, as not all foreign-run hospitals will have one. Also be sure to check whether the ER runs on a 24-hour basis.

While the many perks offered by foreign-run hospitals are indeed attractive, the price tag can easily cost over ten times the price charged for the same procedure at a public hospital. For instance, an emergency surgical procedure can cost as much as RMB 50,000! With this in mind, relieving potential financial burden with a comprehensive health insurance plan is essential.

The ambulance system

The number to call for an ambulance in China is “120”. Ambulances from public hospitals are often not equipped with comprehensive medical equipment, and the personnel as well as the 120 line operator will generally speak little to no English. Response times will vary, e.g. sometimes the ambulance will come in under 15 minutes and sometimes you may need to wait over an hour due to adverse traffic conditions. In many cases, taking a taxi, or asking a loved one or a friend to drive you to the hospital may be a better, faster alternative.

Bring someone with you

If possible, it’s a good idea to find a bilingual friend to accompany you to the hospital, especially if you’re going to a local facility, as they can help talk to the medical staff on your behalf. If you do choose to avail yourself of the ambulance system, they can also help you by communicating with ambulance personnel (e.g. requesting the ambulance to go to a particular hospital). What’s more, having someone there with you can really speed up the whole medical emergency process, especially if you’re in great pain and finding it very difficult to collect your own medication.

Bring cash

Most foreign-owned hospitals are equipped to bill international insurers directly, so many expats prefer to hold an international health insurance plan to make medical billing easy. In many public hospitals however, a direct payment may not be accepted. If you don’t have any cash on you, Triple A rated hospitals tend to have what’s called a “green lane” that treats the patient if the hospital’s director signs off on it – usually if you’re someone “important” or if they believe that you will be able to pay them back later. In lower tier hospitals (usually in smaller cities), they may reject you if you have no money on hand, even for medical emergencies. No green lanes here.

Medical emergencies and your health insurance

Understanding your health insurance policy is a very important aspect of preparing for medical emergencies in China. Know where the nearest emergency facilities are near your home, office, and your child’s school, and be sure to ascertain whether they will accept your insurance plan or not. Working with a broker and insurer who has a Chinese Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) code (like Pacific Prime China) will also help drastically decrease the chances of your insurance being rejected.

Looking to learn more about medical emergencies and your health insurance in China? Be sure to contact us today, and our experienced experts will be more than happy to offer impartial advice for your needs, as well as a free quote.

Posted by Jess in Expat Health Insurance, Health Insurance
Vaccinations in China: Do vaccines work, and will your health insurance cover it?

Vaccinations in China: Do vaccines work, and will your health insurance cover it?

With all the #VaccinesWork hashtags floating around social media lately, most of you probably know that the last week of April (24 – 30 April) was World Immunization Week. As an annual awareness initiative dedicated to promoting the power of vaccines, World Immunization Week addressed the issue that although vaccines have helped prevent at least 10 million deaths between 2010 and 2015, they’re still not fully utilized and there’s still progress to be made.

What’s more, the week also focused on validating information on vaccine safety, as many people today are still sceptical about vaccinations. This week’s article uncovers whether vaccines truly work, and looks at everything you need to know about vaccinations in regards to your expat health insurance policy.

Do vaccines really work?

In recognition of the end of World Immunization Week 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) tweeted the following message about vaccines:

WHO VaccinesWork capture

Source: WHO’s Twitter page (2017)

But, how do vaccines save lives and prevent diseases? Despite the effectiveness of vaccines, many parents and caregivers remain concerned about whether vaccines are truly safe for their children.

Why are people so sceptical about vaccines?

There are many reasons behind why people are sceptical about vaccines. Firstly, the internet is filled with websites publishing misleading information regarding vaccine safety. Secondly, people are often afraid of what they don’t fully understand. Many people believe that the ingredients in vaccines are harmful, simply because they sound scary. For example, many people believe that a preservative called thimerosal present in vaccines is harmful because it has mercury in it.

Thimerosal is an antifungal agent used to preserve multi-dose vials of vaccine. While thimerosal does have mercury in it, it’s actually an ethyl mercury, which is a harmless type of mercury that gets flushed out of the body. On the other hand, methyl mercury is the bad type; commonly found in tuna and other fish species high up on the food chain (e.g. king mackerel, swordfish).

For further vaccine facts, you can also check out The Nib’s informative comic on how vaccines work:

The Nib vaccines comic capture

Source: The Nib (2014)

How vaccines work

The vital importance of vaccines can’t be stressed enough, because they prevent dangerous and deadly infectious diseases (e.g. polio). The use of vaccines has increased significantly since 2000. For example, by the end of 2015, 85% of the world’s children were injected with the measles vaccine – up from 73% in 2000. What’s more, since 1988 cases of polio have decreased by over 99%!

Vaccines work by injecting an imitation infection to provoke an immune response. This type of imitation infection does not cause illness, and instead causes the immune system to produce defensive white blood cells (T-lymphocytes) and antibodies.

These germ fighting tools help the body get over this imitation infection, and afterwards the immune system learns how to protect the body against that particular disease. Sometimes, the body may experience mild adverse symptoms (e.g. fever), as the body is building immunity against the infection.

Ever heard of the saying: “prevention is better than cure”? Despite ongoing advances in healthcare, diseases that vaccinations prevent can still be very deadly if you’re not vaccinated against them. As such, vaccinations are considered the best way to protect yourself from contracting a whole host of diseases.

Vaccinations in China

Expat parents in China are often concerned about what kind of vaccinations their children will need, as vaccination schedules vary between different countries. As vaccination schedules are designed around the prevalence of certain diseases in the country, you may find that China and other countries in Asia may provide vaccines that other countries outside of Asia may not. Expat parents should therefore make a balanced decision and consult with their doctor to find the best vaccination solution for their child.

Internationally standard vaccines, which are the vaccines that in most countries people should or are recommended to get starting from childhood, including the following:

  • DTaP: This vaccine provides protection against diphtheria (a bacterial infection affecting the nose and throat), tetanus (an infection that causes muscle spasms), and pertussis (whooping cough).
  • Polio: An infectious diseases that can cause muscle weakness and even muscle paralysis.
  • MMR: Provides protection against mumps (a contagious diseases that can lead to brain damage and even death), measles (a viral infection of the respiratory system) and rubella (a contagious disease that is very dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn child).
  • Hib: Provides protection against Haemophilus influenzae type b, a bacterium that can lead to a whole host of serious illnesses (e.g. meningitis), particularly in children.
  • Pneumococcal diseases: People with pneumococcal disease can develop pneumonia, blood infection, meningitis, and ear infections.

On top of the above vaccinations, the following vaccinations are especially recommended for people in China:

  • Japanese encephalitis: Protects against a mosquito-borne virus that can cause brain infection. It’s more of an issue in southern China, but Beijing has had cases as well.
  • Typhoid: A fever developed from consuming Salmonella-contaminated food.
  • Rabies: Rabies can be found in dogs, bats, and various other mammals. This vaccine is especially recommended for people often involved in outdoor activities, and children (as they tend to play with animals).
  • Yellow fever: While there’s no yellow fever risk in China, the country requires proof of the vaccination if you’re arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever.
  • Hepatitis B: This virus is an infectious inflammatory illness that affects the liver, and comes with a risk of chronic infection.
  • BCG: A vaccine against tuberculosis, an infectious diseases that in most cases affects the lungs.

Adults and teens need vaccinations too

A common misconception is that preventative vaccinations are for children only. What many people do not know is that adult boosters are also available. For example, most adults need a tetanus booster every ten years. There’s also what’s commonly known as the flu jab, an annual influenza vaccination that protects people against this highly contagious respiratory tract illness. This is not only recommended for younger children, but also advised for people who are particularly susceptible to developing more serious illnesses like pneumonia.

The 2016 illegal vaccine scandal

In May 2016, news headlines in China and worldwide were dominated by China’s illegal vaccine scandal, which saw 135 people in 22 provinces arrested for running vaccine businesses without a license. Ten on-duty health officials were also found guilty of knowingly buying illegal vaccines and using them on people at local public health centres.

This was not the first time that a vaccine scandal has occurred. In March 2016, 2 million doses of vaccines were found to be improperly stored. In light of these scandals, expats often opt for treatment at private hospitals for further peace of mind, a higher standard of care, and imported vaccines. Private care does, however, come with a hefty price tag, which is why securing private health insurance is key.

Vaccinations and your health insurance

Vaccinations can be very expensive at private hospitals, so it’s a good idea to check whether your health insurance includes cover for vaccinations. Typically supplied under the outpatient benefit of a number of China health insurance plans, the vaccination benefit will ensure that you and/or your child are protected against the high cost of receiving vaccinations.

Things to look out for

It’s important that you study your policy and look out for all plan limitations. For example, many insurers may cap the coverage amount on that benefit, meaning the limit may not be high enough to reimburse you for all your vaccination expenses. You may also find that the vaccination benefit in your plan is limited only to the types of vaccines it covers.

Cover for vaccinations may also be subject to a waiting period, meaning you’ll need to wait a specific amount of time from when you first secured your plan before you can receive coverage for that benefit. Some plans are also more flexible than others, meaning that you’ll be able to tailor your plan so that they provide the vaccination coverage for your children, rather than the adults in your family.

Vaccinations can be very expensive, which is why it often helps to clarify with your broker or insurer as to whether or not your health insurance covers the vaccination benefit. Contact our team of insurance experts to learn more today!

Posted by Jess in Health Insurance
Fighting the health effects of air pollution: The benefits of antioxidants and omega-3s

Fighting the health effects of air pollution: The benefits of antioxidants and omega-3s

Take a deep breath: 1.6 million people die in China every year from breathing toxic air pollution. Over 300 cities in the nation suffer from worrying levels of harmful air pollutants, especially in the northern region. E.g. in December 2016, the capital of northern Hebei province, Shijiazhuang, recorded 1,000 micrograms per cubic metre of PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter small enough to travel deep into the lungs). This far exceeds the WHO guideline of no more than 10 micrograms – by 100 times!

As touched upon in our recent article on reducing the health risks of air pollution, wearing a protective mask, decreasing your time spent outdoors and using an air purifier can help provide protection from smog. What’s more, proactive diners are also fighting the harmful health effects of smog by changing what they eat. This week’s article explains everything you need to know about the link between healthier eating and the effects of air pollution.

The negative health effects of air pollution

Before we look at how healthy eating can help combat smog, let’s first address the negative health effects of air pollution. Exposure to toxic levels of PM2.5 increases the risk of numerous short and long term harmful health effects.

Groups that are more vulnerable to these harmful health risks include the elderly, pregnant women, young children, and people suffering from conditions such as asthma and heart disease.

Short term health effects

According to National Geographic, the temporary health effects from exposure to air pollution include:

  • Pneumonia, a lung infection which causes lung inflammation
  • Bronchitis, an inflammation of the bronchial tube lining
  • Wheezing
  • Headache and dizziness
  • Irritation to the nose, throat, eyes, or skin

Long term health effects

Long term effects from exposure to air pollution are more serious, and can last for several years up to an entire lifetime. They can even lead to mortality. These effects include:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Respiratory disease (e.g. emphysema)
  • Nerve, brain, kidney, and liver damage
  • Some scientists believe it may also cause birth defects

To avoid these harmful health risks, it’s therefore important to adopt protection strategies to minimize the effects of smog.

How healthier eating can address the effects of air pollution

As the Chinese urban population continues to grow, this has in effect created a shift from the traditional preference for fresh food and wet markets to prepackaged foods and supermarkets. Major international retail giants like ParkNshop and Carrefour, as well as Chinese retail chains and convenient stores continue to thrive as a strong platform targeting the younger generation with ready-to-eat meals and processed foods. As a result, there’s a worrying trend towards a growing number of people adopting diets characterized by low nutrient profiles (e.g. lacking in antioxidants).

The importance of antioxidants and omega-3s

Eastern and Western practitioners, as well as nutritionists and naturopaths all agree that the type of food we eat have a profound impact on our immune systems. So, why not fortify your diet with the right nutrients? By doing so, we’re helping our bodies remain as healthy as possible so that it’s less vulnerable to contracting diseases.

What are antioxidants?

According to WebMD, antioxidants can help protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. A person may be exposed to free radicals through air pollutants. As such, adopting a diet rich in antioxidants can be a great way to stabilize these free radicals. For example, regular consumption of fruits and vegetables with carotenoids (e.g. carrots), which is an orange antioxidant pigment, has shown to be effective in reducing the risk of developing lung cancer. Other high antioxidant foods include goji berries, blueberries and kidney beans.

What are omega-3s?

Omega-3 fatty acids are the type of fat you don’t want to cut back on. Typically found in fish, seeds and nuts, omega-3s deliver a range of excellent health benefits. For instance, some studies even found that it can help lower levels of depression. Several studies also suggest that foods high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids can help provide protection against inflammation. As a common health effect of air pollution is lung inflammation, consuming omega-3 rich foods such as mackerels, salmon, flaxseed and walnuts may have a beneficial effect on controlling various lung conditions (e.g. asthma).

Does it really work?

The answer to this question will of course depend on your expectations. The idea of healthier eating is that it will help you improve your health and boost your immune system in the long term, so eating a nutrient rich salad for lunch won’t mean that you’ll be breathing easier come bedtime.

As it can be hard to properly measure the benefits of healthier eating, adopting this approach may seem negligible to some, but you could do worse than giving it a try. Of course, besides eating nutrient rich foods, methods such as staying away from heavily trafficked roads and wearing a protective mask are still very important in offsetting the harmful health risks of air pollution.

Final advice: Don’t forget health insurance

While it’s of course important to have a healthy diet, it’s also essential to obtain health insurance should you require medical treatment for air pollution related illnesses or another condition. By securing health insurance, you’ll be able to offset the high cost of private treatment in China or elsewhere.

As virtually every health insurance plan out there is different, it can be tricky to shop around for the best value medical insurance plan that addresses your specific healthcare needs. This is why it can pay to get in touch with an experienced broker like Pacific Prime China.

Posted by Jess in Health Insurance
China bird flu cases are surging, in deadliest outbreak since 2009

China bird flu cases are surging, in deadliest outbreak since 2009

Recent news headlines have reported a surge in the China bird flu death toll, where in the months of January and February a total of 140 people died from the deadly H7N9 strain of the bird flu virus. The amount of deaths in the first two months of 2017 alone has already surpassed the annual totals of avian flu reported in recent years. In 2010, the H1N1 subtype led to a death toll of 147.

The alarming spike of avian flu recorded in 2017 has thus placed the H7N9 strain of bird flu at the top of the list of pandemic threats from among a dozen avian and animal flu viruses, which has afflicted several hundred people in China for the past few flu seasons, since the first human case was reported in 2013.

Where did bird flu H7N9 originate from?

First discovered in China back in 2013, the H7N9 strain of bird flu was relatively rare, with about 100 to 300 reported cases each year. However, this flu season has seen a whopping 460 confirmed cases of H7N9, mostly in eastern China. This is quite alarming, considering that the average cases of H7N9 between 2013 to 2016 is around 200.

Avian flu has been around for a long time, and first originated in aquatic birds (e.g. ducks), who occasionally make their way into domestic poultry flocks (e.g. chicken). The virus can then trigger sporadic human infections, usually among people who work within close vicinity of infected poultry, e.g. in wet markets.

In December last year, Hinchliffe and three co-authors published a book titled: Pathological Lives: Disease, Space and Biopolitics, which argued that a number of factors, including selective breeding and the surge in poultry populations, have facilitated the evolution of bird flu. For instance, the use of antibiotics in making birds grow faster has meant that disease tolerance is often compromised.

Most bird flu viruses are not lethal to poultry, as they are what scientists term a “low path virus”, which usually causes no disease or only very mild illness in poultry, e.g. a drop in egg production. H7N9 bird flu was originally, up until recently, a low path virus. However, the virus can evolve and become highly pathogenic if they are allowed to circulate for too long, especially in live poultry markets where birds are crowded into small cages, sometimes for several days. This allowed the virus to mutate and spread to humans.

What’s so alarming about the H7N9 strain of bird flu?

460 cases of H7N9 cases may not sound like a big deal to a lot of people, but here’s a few reasons why you shouldn’t be so sanguine about it:

  1. The H7N9 strain has an alarmingly high fatality rate. 41% of people who get it, die.
  2. In 2017 an evolved form of the H7N9 strain has popped up. As it’s new, the current vaccines don’t work as well against it.
  3. In cases where H7N9 evolves into a high path virus, it can cause illnesses that spread a lot more easily inside the body, thus resulting in more damage and a much higher chance of mortality.

What are the odds that the virus will spread between humans?

Virtually all cases of H7N9 cases have been confined to mainland China, mainly in the provinces of Zhejiang, Guangdong, and Jiangsu. People mainly catch the virus from exposure to infected poultry.

The odds of human-to-human H7N9 bird flu transmission are very low, although this can potentially happen to caregivers or immediate family members with weak immune systems. Further mutations in the virus could also mean that the virus may become more easily transmittable between humans in the future.

What are the symptoms of H7N9 bird flu?

The H7N9 virus causes major respiratory symptoms (e.g. severe pneumonia) that can be life threatening.

During the early stages of an H7N9 infection, people will usually experience the following symptoms, which are much akin to what one experiences with the common flu:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain

In later stages, H7N9 infection causes the following:

  • Pneumonia in both lungs
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Multi-organ dysfunction
  • Septic shock (a medical emergency caused by blood infection)
  • Muscle breakdown

What can I do to avoid catching bird flu?

Since H7N9 and other forms of bird flu are mainly transmitted through exposure to infected live poultry, it’s best advised to avoid going to live bird markets or backyard farms, especially in China. Experts say it’s also important to ensure that all poultry products that you’re eating are fully cooked.

Is there a vaccine available to protect yourself against H7N9?

As of the writing of this article, there’s no vaccine publically available to protect against H7N9, although a number pharmaceutical companies have been working on developing vaccines that are currently being tested in animal and human trials. There are however a few vaccines available for preventing the H5N1 subtype of avian flu, which had its first reported outbreak in humans back in 1997.

Are the illnesses caused by H7N9 bird flu treatable?

Antiviral drugs that are used against common flu viruses are also used to treat people infected with H7N9. These include: Oseltamivir (which is sold as Tamiflu), and Zanamivir (sold as Relenza). The most important thing to note here is that these drugs are the most effective when they are administered at the earliest opportunity possible. Another thing to note is that as H7N9 evolves, it may become highly resistant to these drugs.

Final advice

It’s important to consider securing a comprehensive health insurance plan so that, should you require medical care, be it bird flu related or another medical condition, your costs are covered and you are able to access healthcare at the best private facilities in China and internationally. To learn more and get a free quote, contact the insurance experts at Pacific Prime China today!

Posted by Jess in Health Insurance, News