The recent news of the spread of the H1N1 (the flu formerly known as swine) virus has travelers worried. Countries are now dissuading unnecessary travel to countries with confirmed cases, like Mexico, United States and Canada.
Along with the political unrest in Bangkok, and the news of the spread of the virus (Thailand has just recently reported its first case, though the patients have already recovered) puts a damper in my travel plans. However, I’m adamant in traveling this June, and I’m just going to try my best to stay healthy. So how am I going to do this?
How do people become infected with influenza A(H1N1)?
Outbreaks in humans are now occurring from human-to-human transmission. When infected people cough or sneeze, infected droplets get on their hands, drop onto surfaces, or are dispersed into the air. Another person can breathe in contaminated air, or touch infected hands or surfaces, and be exposed. To prevent spread, people should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing, and wash their hands regularly.
Source: World Health Organization
First step is to get educated. I’ve so far been ignoring the news, but as my departure date looms, I realize I have to be up to date with what’s happening in the places I’m visiting, specially with the recent flu outbreak. The most important thing to learn is how to prevent (or at least lower the risk) getting the virus while traveling, specially if going to affected areas. The Raffles Medical Group of Singapore gives us these advice:
If you have to travel to the affected areas:
- Avoid contact with persons with symptoms of influenza or pneumonia.
- Avoid crowded areas and areas with poor ventilation.
- Observe good personal and environmental hygiene. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water frequently and when they are contaminated by respiratory secretions e.g. after sneezing.
- Also wash hands before and after meals, after using the toilets and whenever you think you may have contacted or touch areas that nay be contaminated such as public eating areas, etc.
- Avoid using unwashed bare hands to rub eyes, mouth and nose.
- Maintain good body resistance through a balanced diet, regular exercise, having adequate rest, reducing stress and not smoking.
- Eat well cooked dishes.
- Avoid pig rearing areas, pig farms and butchering sites.
- Have proper hand washing after handling animals e.g. pigs.
- Be updated with the seasonal flu vaccination.
Source: Raffles Medical Group
There is no vaccine to prevent swine flu yet, but there is the influenza vaccination that protects against the common flu virus. This is not a total protection against H1N1, but hey, at least it’d protect you from the flu bug. It’s a pain to get sick while traveling. I just got my flu vaccination yesterday afternoon from Mercury Drug. I saw an advertisement for the vaccination day while walking at the mall and thought it was timely. Flu shots should be administered every year, and it’s already been two years since my last shot. At Php 695 per vaccine, it’s a pretty reasonable price, considering that in 2006, the vaccine alone cost Php500 already. I’m not sure when their next vaccination day is, but they do announce it at the store and on their website.
Another way to protect yourself from the flu is to keep your immune system healthy. These days, I’m making sure that I get enough sleep. I notice that if I don’t get enough sleep for three days or more, I get sick easily. I also take supplementary medicine like ferrous sulfate (for anemia), vitamin C and Centrum.
Following the advice on hand sanitation, I’ll also be adding alcohol-based hand sanitizer to my packing list.
And swine flu or not, it’s always advisable to get a travel insurance when you travel out of the country. Getting sick overseas is a huge downer, even more so on your budget. Medical treatment overseas can be very expensive, and it can easily eat through the travel budget you worked so hard for. I’ve gone on four trips and luckily, I never had to call the emergency number (not that I want it to happen ever). It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but believe me, it can work out in your favor if you do have a medical emergency overseas.
We’ve been satisfied with Blue Cross‘ travel medical insurance, and we have been buying our travel insurance from them for years. For a 38-day trip, they quoted me $90 for the Executive Dollar plan, which gives me medical treatment benefits up to $25,000. It’s expensive, no doubt about that (my wallet is still crying), but I’d rather shell out Php 4,400 now, than to shell out $4,400 later on.
But one question still remains in my head. What will I do I meet a traveler who’s recently had been in Mexico?