While those in the know have been quietly watching the spread of bird flu and preparing for a bird flu pandemic, the swine flu slipped in the back door to infect hundreds and show us just how unprepared we really are – especially when we’re looking the other way. The WHO has whipped out the dreaded pandemic label and the media has no end of stories and updates on the number of confirmed swine flu cases in the world so far. But what does this mean for you if you’ll be traveling in Mexico?
Well, there are a number of factors you should take into consideration. The first is your own health status. Is your immune system compromised, either because you’re currently ill or because of an ongoing medical condition? Do you work with large numbers of vulnerable people because you’re in the medical field? Are you elderly? Are you or your traveling companions 18 or younger? Are you at higher risk for catching the flu for some other reason? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then your risk of contracting the swine flu – and of having more serious complications – is higher than normal and you should seriously consider whether your travel to Mexico or any area with confirmed cases of swine flu is essential.
If you’re a generally healthy adult and you take proper precautions, then traveling to Mexico will likely expose you to only a small level of risk. Whether or not that risk is acceptable is a consideration only you can make. Remember that a pandemic is determined by how wide spread an illness is, not by how serious it is. Most people who contract the swine flu don’t die from it. Contrast that with a disease like SARS, which caused a greater percentage of fatalities based on the number of infected people.
You should also consider whether your travel is essential or nonessential. If your travel is essential – however you define that word – you may not have a choice about traveling to Mexico at this time. If your travel is nonessential, then you have the option of postponing your trip to another time or choosing a different destination. And really, anywhere and anytime you travel; you should be taking proper precautions to remain healthy.
The swine flu is, after all is said and done, the flu – a viral illness. Like most strains of flu, swine flu is easily transmitted and very contagious. The symptoms are what you’d expect with the normal flu – fever, body aches, headaches, chills, fatigue, cough or sore throat. In addition, there have been some reports of diarrhea and vomiting in conjunction with swine flu cases.
If you’ll be traveling to Mexico City, consider wearing a mask during your visit. This will offer some protection from aerosolized viruses. All it takes is a cough, sneeze, or even someone smoking a cigarette to introduce viruses into the air. There is, at present, no vaccine for the swine flu and the only treatment is the use of the antiviral medications Tamiflu and Relenza.
In addition, to protect yourself, wash your hands frequently. Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth without washing your hands thoroughly first. However, more important than using an antibacterial soap is washing your hands long enough to remove all traces of the virus – typically about 20 full seconds. And, of course, use common sense – avoid people who are coughing, sneezing or appear to be sick, and you’ll dramatically reduce your chances of picking up the swine flu.