Swine flu reminds us how important it is for international travelers to have up-to-the-minute advice. Here are important travel tips on staying safe abroad.
The ripple effect of an epidemic can extend across the globe. Viruses and bacteria are not restrained by international borders. The swine flu virus does not need a passport to enter the United States from Mexico. Initially, 7 cases of swine flu were reported in Texas and California. These infections are felt to be the same strain of flu that is now south of the border. A day later, Kansas and New York reported suspected swine flu cases, a development that deepened the concerns of U.S. health authorities that citizens across the country are at risk. The following day, there were more cases including a suspected swine flu infection in a 9-yr-old elementary school student from my home state of Ohio. This youngster had been in Mexico last week. Twenty Americans are now suspected to have swine flu. Health experts can’t predict how high this number will go and how many other U.S. states will be affected. Schools in California, Texas, New York and Ohio have been temporarily closed. The U.S. government has taken the rare step of issuing a swine flu public emergency, trying to find a balance between prudent judgment and provoking fear and anxiety. Fortunately, there have been no fatalities on our homeland, in contrast to our southern neighbor.
After Spain reported suspected swine flu cases, the European Union advised its citizens to avoid travel to America and Mexico. While this recommendation is understandable, fear can often outpace the facts. Indeed, swine flu seems to have ‘infected’ stock markets all over the world causing global market declines.
What precautions can we take if swine flu visits our neighborhood? Unfortunately, the standard flu shot does not protect against this virus. There is a swine flu vaccine available, but only for 4-legged creatures that grunt and cry ‘oink’. If a relative or coworker develops flu symptoms – fever, cough, sore throat, chills and body aches – keep your distance. If you develop symptoms, then do not share your experience with those around you. Cover your mouth when coughing, wash your hands with soap and water often and limit contact with others. If you are tempted to give someone a hug, or even a handshake, send a text message instead. While there is no cure for the infection, the CDC advises Tamiflu and Relenza as treatment.
Do not overreact. If your boss at work sneezes, do not call the health department and demand that he be quarantined. Folks contract the common cold and other ordinary viruses every day. While vigilance is advised for anyone recently returning from Mexico or exposed to a swine flu patient, the rest of us should remain relaxed. If you have concerns, then contact your personal physician.
The swine flu outbreak offers an important lesson for international travelers. Unexpected disease outbreaks occur daily in countries throughout the world. You may have booked your trip weeks or months ago and may not be aware that swine flu, meningitis, avian flu, hepatitis or malaria is a new player on the scene. Your best protection is to consult with a highly qualified travel doctor several weeks before departure. In addition to providing you with necessary advice and immunizations, this physician has access to breaking medical news in your destinations. At Travel Clinics of America, we recommend checking back with your physician a week or so before departure to determine if there have been new medical developments. For some travelers, this update could change their itineraries or even change their minds about traveling. This website connects travelers with highly qualified travel doctors in their neighborhoods, as well as comprehensive travel safety advice.
When would you prefer to find out that swine flu is a guest at your hotel? A week or two before arrival or at check-out at the end of your trip?