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Around the World: Traveling in a Flu-stricken World

Jennifer Merin on

Every year, a new strain of flu is in the air, threatening to cause a catastrophic pandemic that will kill off nonessential travel.  And, what a shame that is.  People who’ve been looking forward to getting away to explore new places or revisit their favorite destinations are kept from doing so by their fear of getting sick.

In years of severe flu, when warnings are issued by the Center for Disease Control,, travelers who don’t heed it--or at least give it some very serious consideration--are foolish, indeed.
This season’s flu is a nasty strain that has proven itself to be quite resistant to the vaccine developed to prevent it. And, if you do catch it, you’ll be pretty much out of commission for about a week, if not longer. 

Now, it’s quite true that you can catch the flu in your own neck of the woods, in the local supermarket or on a commuter bus or picking yu kid up from school. Or, anywhere just outside your front door. 

But your exposure is certainly greater when you venture into the in the cramped quarters of airplanes, as well on passenger trains and cruise ships where you’re in a confined space for some time, sharing air with total strangers.

However, if you do want to travel, there are ways to minimize your risk. Most of the precautions are just common sense. But when you’re determined to go someplace and are rushing around making preparations, common sense doesn’t always prevail.

Make sure your travel plans do not include destinations where there have been severe outbreaks of the flu or other viral infections.  You should check with the Center for Disease Control at  to find out whether there are any specific health hazards in the regions you plan to visit. 

As a general rule, getting a flu shot before travel is a good idea. But, as already mentioned this year’s vaccine is not 100 percent effective, so be prepared to set other measures, as well.

First of all, if you’re not feeling up to snuff and think you might be coming down with something, cancel your travel plans. Suffering flu symptoms – aches and pains, severe weakness and fever – is bad enough when you’re at home, but your condition can be absolutely devastating when you’re on the road. It’s not only the discomfort that you must be concerned about . It’s really difficult to get the rest you need to recover when you’re travelling.

As your departure date approaches, take steps to avoid the most stressful aspects of travel by beginning to prepare for your trip at least a week in advance.  This means eating well, getting enough sleep and sufficient exercise, not drinking too heavily, and getting all of your personal items – medicines and such – in order. Set a day of departure schedule that will get you to the plane, train or ship in plenty of time to check in and get through security without breaking into a sweat. Stress makes you more vulnerable to disease.  Avoid it.

If you’re traveling by plane, you have every reason to be concerned about hygiene, even before you get on the plane. The self-check in kiosks are rarely cleaned and are known to be completely covered with bacteria. If you use one, wipe it down with an alcohol swab before touching it and douse your hands with sanitizing gel when you’ve completed your check in.

Airplane air is germ-laden. Your seatmate may have a hacking cough. Your seatback pocket may not have been cleaned since an inconsiderate parent stowed a soiled diaper in it. The drop down tray probably has germy food residue on it.

You can’t avoid all of the inflight hygiene hazards, but there are precautions you can take to lessen their adverse effects.  To protect yourself against germy air and hacking seatmates, wear a paper mask over your nose and mouth. They’re available in any drug store. They’re not 100 percent effective, but they do filter some airborne germs. You can also invest in an Aqua Sun Portable Air Sanitizer Ozone Generator Air Purifier for about $30. You wear the lightweight device around your neck and it sends a stream of clean air towards your nose and mouth. You should also carry with you a small supply of hand sanitizer and use it frequently, and a cache of alcohol swabs that you can use to wipe down the tray table. As for the seatback pocket, don’t use it.

Here’s a check list of other measures to be taken:

Ask your doctor about taking antiviral drugs as a preventative, especially if you‘ve got chronic medical conditions, or are aged 65 or older or for children younger than 5 years old, and pregnant women.

Update routine vaccinations, including a seasonal influenza vaccine.
Pack a travel health kit with basic first aid and medical supplies.

Pre-identify health-care resources in your destination.
Make sure your health insurance plan covers you abroad. Perhaps purchase additional insurance covering medical evacuation in case you become ill.

U.S. embassies, consulates and military facilities do not have the legal authority, capability, and resources to provide medical care to private U.S. citizens overseas, but can recommend local care facilities in case you do get ill while traveling. Check on the Internet for American embassy contacts.

Follow local public health guidelines, including any movement restrictions and prevention recommendations.

Wash your hands frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing, using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner (with at least 60% alcohol).

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Avoid close contact with sick people (within 6 feet). Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.

If you become ill with fever and other flu symptoms such as cough,  sore throat, aches and pains, or have come in contact with a person who shows flu-like symptoms, consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Do not travel while you’re sick, except to get local medical care.
Closely monitor your health for a week when you return home and if you develop flu-like symptoms, see a doctor immediately.

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Copyright 2018 Jennifer Merin


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