Whenever we hear the words "epidemic" or worse "pandemic" there's always an urge to shut ourselves into our safe little homes and not come out until we know it's safe. But business trips still get dumped in your lap at work, Aunt Edna still wants you to show up at the family reunion, and that beach vacation still beckons. So what's a traveller to do about swine flu?
First of all - get the facts.
Most cases of swine flu are turning out to be mild and don't even require a trip to the doctor's office. It's just another flu to suffer through with your usual over the counter medications and your mother's chicken soup. Of course, some people do get very sick from the H1N1 virus - these are usually people with an existing, chronic medical condition or are otherwise in a high-risk group such as those who are pregnant or elderly.
If you're in one of these categories, you may want to reconsider taking that trip just now, but there are still several things you can do to keep yourself safe:
Don't panic. The World Health Organization has already given up on trying to keep swine flu from spreading. If it's not already in your hometown, it likely will be next week. So your travel plans probably don't have to change.
Be smart. Don't travel when you've had the flu - any kind of flu - or for a few days after you feel like you've recovered. You could still spread the virus. And when you're away from home, don't give Uncle Regis a huge hug if he's been sneezing and blowing his nose. Smile and be friendly, but explain that you're trying to be extra careful with your health lately, and you're going to show your love with a smile and kind words instead.
Be prepared. Bring supplies to help keep you from bringing home unwelcome viral guests. This includes:
- tissues - so you'll always have one on hand for that unexpected sneeze
- alcohol-based hand sanitizer - so you can clean your hands even if a sink is nowhere in sight.
- your doctor's phone number - in case you do get ill, you can check in via phone with a doctor who knows you.
Take precautions. Wash your hands frequently - use that hand sanitizer, don't just pack it. Business trips involve a lot of hand-shaking with people you barely know, so a discrete hand-washing every half hour or so could keep you from getting sick with swine flu or the common cold.
Do some research for international travel. If your travel plans are taking you outside the good old US of A, do some research ahead of time. Some countries are being more strict about swine flu precautions than others, and you don't want to be quarantined unexpectedly. Here are some resources for your research:
Know when to worry. If you or your child has difficulty breathing, or if you see your skin is turning blue or gray, it's important to get urgent medical attention. Other warning signs are:
- pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- sudden dizziness or confusion
- severe or persistent vomiting
- flu symptoms that diminish, then return with worse fever or cough
With the right precautions, there's no need to reschedule that important business meeting in another state - but if you choose to use swine flu as an excuse to avoid that trip to Aunt Edna's family reunion, well that's up to you.