Traveling in the midst of the H1N1 flu virus

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.

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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.

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But one question still remains in my head. What will I do I meet a traveler who’s recently had been in Mexico?

Article by Nina Fuentes

Nina doesn't aim to travel to every country in the world -- she just wants to travel to the places that means the most to her. She started traveling in 2006, and hopes to travel for as long as she can. Her travel blog, Just Wandering won the Best Travel Blog in the 2010 Philippine Blog Awards and in the 2011 Nuffnang Asia Pacific Blog Awards.

This Article Has 17 Comments
  1. bchai says:

    Hmmm…interesting and well informed post about traveling and the risk of diseases. I’d probably wear a mask, surgical gloves, and take some mini-Lysol (or antibacterial) spray just to be extra, extra, extra safe. I’d look like a walking condom for the H1N1 virus…mwuahahaha…

    If you meet a traveler who has recently been to Mexico or is FROM Mexico (or Texas, lol)…? I dunno. I’d probably hold my breath, run back to the hotel room, and wash myself down with antibacterial soaps and whatnot! πŸ™‚

  2. completely OT but i came acrossthis book at a local chain today and immediately thought of you πŸ˜€

    as for the MUTANT FLU OMG!!! virus, get shots, don’t forget your vitamins, and stay away from suspicious crowds and you should be fine πŸ˜€ pinays are made of tougher stuff than your usual πŸ˜€

  3. dementedchris says:

    Run!

    Seriously, though, thanks for this article! International airports make me paranoid because I really have low resistance. When I traveled went out of the country just recently, I didn’t care how silly I looked applying alcohol to my hands and surfaces I used. Hahaha. Of course, my friends didn’t want anything to do with me but… πŸ˜›

    I also took lots of vitamins before/during/after the trip and stayed away from cigarette smoke, dust, etc. Thanks for the tip on the travel insurance. I don’t think I’ve ever traveled with one. πŸ™‚

  4. nina says:

    Thanks for your input girls ^_^

    bchai: OMG, Malaysia just confirmed that they have 2 people with H1N1! Both were students flying in from their universities in the US. A lot of students in SG and MY study overseas and since school’s out for the summer, a lot of them are flying home. Nyarg! And their first two cases of H1N1 patients prove that thermal scanners at the airport aren’t really effective in detecting flu/fever, since they both didn’t develop the symptoms until a day after their flight.

    magnetic-rose: Thanks for the book suggestion! My only gripe about those kind of books is that they’re more geared toward Western travelers πŸ™

    dementedchris: Better safe than sorry no! Kebs na if people look at you funny. I’ll be writing about travel insurance in future posts ^_^

  5. Where I work, there are 3 symptoms we look for in an individual suspected with full blown H1N1: fever, cough and shortness of breath. I haven’t encountered a patient with these triad of symptoms but as always, whenever we travel, we follow CDC guidelines without getting overly paranoid.

    Before traveling, it’s also prudent to update vaccinations not just to Flu but also Tetanus, Hep. A & B. I surely agree with travel insurance – I myself never travel without one.

  6. Paul says:

    We are taking zero chances with this virus. So far the best info we have found is on this site http://www.h1n1virusfacts.com

    Stay safe!

  7. Ferdz says:

    Thank for the information on Blue Cross. Didn’t know that. I only have an accident insurance with me.

    Cguro ingat ingat lang when you travel. The precautionary steps you did here would be enough I think.

  8. Christina says:

    Heya Nina!

    Honestly, do your best to simply not worry. The chances are so slim of you contracting the virus. I ride the New York subway system daily (what a cesspol of viruses THAT is), and I am not concerned.

    Where are you planning to travel to? Even most of Mexico is not high risk, outside of Mexico City.

    The main thing that will help is simply washing your hands frequently. And maintain consciousness of not touching your hands to your face after touching something lots of other people have touched, like a pole on the metro, until you’ve washed.

    Masks apparently do almost nothing. Don’t bother.

    I wish I could find a journalist’s article I read about it, who lived through SARS in China. That was her advice — washing your hands frequently does a surprising amount to cut down the rate of infection for such a virus. And not just SARS or swine flu, but pretty much all viruses. While masks were not very effective at keeping the uninfected from contracting the virus. They only help the sick from spreading the germs around. So if you’re healthy, masks don’t make any sense.

    Anyway, enjoy your trip and don’t stress! Stress lowers your immune system! :-p

  9. pipedreamer says:

    Hi, Nina! I’ve been a long-time reader of your blog but never really commented. I’m going to HK with friends next week. We planned to reschedule it due to the a(h1n1) virus scare but our tickets are non-refundable blah blah blah. Hehe. In short, the trip is pushing through. And this post made me less paranoid about going. Thanks.

    I’ve a question about the medical insurance, though. We’re only staying in HK for five days, how much could the insurance be? Sorry for asking you this, the Blue Cross Web site only had quotes for long trips. TIA for your help. πŸ™‚

  10. Michelle says:

    Just read this post, and you’re right, people should get informed about the H1N1 virus. Incidentally, I have a colleague who came from HK just this week and was advised by the company HR not to report to work (quarantine himself?) for 5 months. I dunno, but I found that weird… Sorry for the nonsense, just had to share. Take care on your travels. πŸ˜€

  11. Christina says:

    Ooh, and I should also add, if anyone was wondering, you can’t get the virus from eating pork. So feel free to enjoy all the dinaguan, bacon, pancetta, and pork chops your heart can take! I sure have been. It only hurts the pig farmers if people stop eating their products for no reason, as has been happening worldwide.

    It is of course healthier for your body to eat less fatty pork in general for heart and weight reasons …. not that I am giving up my porkchops anytime soon. Heh heh.

  12. nina says:

    Thanks for everybody’s input! I’m glad this has spurred a lively discussion πŸ˜€

    Christina: It’s so great to hear from you, specially since you’re from the affected area. It’s mainly needless worrying in my part, brought on by anxiety since I’m leaving by month’s end. I’m so excited! I’m going to Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia πŸ˜€

    Michelle: 5 months is too much, I think. That’s probably just 5 days πŸ™‚ It’s a precautionary measure imposed by the World Health Organization. I’ll probably do the same if I came from an infected are, mainly just to ensure that I don’t infect anybody else in the event that I do get infected *knocks on wood*

  13. nina says:

    Oh, and Christina, I’m not giving up my liempo, chicharon,lechon and isaw!

  14. tintinm says:

    Hi, interesting post. I have been thinking about this topic,so thanks for blogging. I’ll likely be coming back to your blog. Keep up great writing. More travel ideas here.

  15. Thai Pete says:

    I just got back from a trip to Thailand, although the scare has subsided, measures are still in place. It wasn’t till I got to Taipei till I started seeing people in surgical masks. And in Suvarnabhumi they had the thermal scanners to detect people with a fever. H1N1 hasn’t deterred my travel, but it does make you think twice when you hear someone sneeze or cough on a plane your on for 17+ hours.

  16. Tim says:

    I ain’t afraid of no H1N1.

  17. […] was so paranoid when I was still preparing for the trip. I made sure I had a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and even bought a small bottle of 70% […]

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