NEW YORK (AP) — Last spring thousands of travelers canceled trips to Mexico after a swine flu outbreak there emptied beaches and resorts.
Staying home won't protect you from swine flu now: Forty-six states have reported widespread flu activity.
"The thought that the virus was just a Mexico problem is gone," said Sondra Wilson, owner of several Travel Leaders travel agency locations in Washington State. "We know it's here and all around us." She said her clients are booking travel to Mexico, but trips there and elsewhere are being booked closer to departure dates than in the past.
Here are some questions and answers about travel insurance, basic hygiene, and other aspects of traveling during the swine flu outbreak.
Q: Is it OK to travel during the swine flu outbreak?
A: The CDC says "some travelers at increased risk of complications from flu may want to consider postponing travel." The agency identifies those in the high-risk categories as pregnant women, adults older than 65, babies and children under 5, and those with chronic illnesses. If you are in a high-risk category and must travel, the CDC recommends that you talk to a doctor about whether to take flu medications with you in case you can't get medical care right away. If you are sick, stay home.
For more information, visit the CDC travel site.
Q: Will I face a health screening if I fly?
A: The U.S. is not screening either inbound or outbound air travelers, according to the CDC. But you may face screening in other countries, including having your temperature taken by a walk-by thermal scanner or with an oral or ear thermometer. Last spring and summer, the U.S. State Department received many reports of U.S. citizens who were quarantined in China during the swine flu outbreak. In some cases, they had no symptoms, but had merely been on flights that stopped in Mexico en route to Asia. For more information from the State Department, visit http://travel.state.gov/.
Even in the U.S., airlines have the right to deny boarding to passengers for any number of reasons, including sobriety, hygiene and illness, according to Wayne Harvey, president of the Airport Facilities Council of the International Facilities Management Association.
Q: How can I protect myself against swine flu? Should I wear a face mask?
A: The CDC says there is little information on the effectiveness of disposable paper face masks. They are not recommended in most settings.
The most important thing you can do is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand rub. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. To protect others, use a tissue or cough and sneeze into your sleeve.
Frequent travelers have other rituals too. Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com, says she cleans airplane tray tables with sanitizing wipes before using them, and she avoids putting items in the seatback pocket, where previous passengers may have stored dirty tissues.
The CDC says studies have shown that influenza virus can survive on environmental surfaces and can infect a person for two to eight hours after being deposited on the surface.
Bill Miller, who handles business development for CheapOAir.com, avoids drinking out of glasses in hotel rooms, using disposable cups and bottled water instead. He also tries to stay away from breakfast bars and other buffet meals where germs can spread.
Q: If I cancel a planned trip because of swine flu, will I get a refund?
A: Travel suppliers are not obligated to help but it's worth asking. Last spring, when the outbreak was at its worst in Mexico, some travel suppliers offered credits toward future trips. Some resort chains with hotels in Mexico and other locations allowed travelers to switch destinations if they had availability at hotels elsewhere, but travelers had to book new airfare.
Q: Should I buy travel insurance?
Swine Flu Travel Tips
Precautions to take if you are worried about traveling amid swine flu fears.
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