Swine Flu and Travel: 6 Tips

Should You Cancel Your Travel Plans? What If You Get Sick? Find Out What to Do

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 14, 2010
4 min read

Are you rethinking your travel plans in light of H1N1 flu (swine flu)? Here are six travel recommendations to keep in mind.

The CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) don't have any travel restrictions in place for healthy travelers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) isn't recommending any travel restrictions related to the swine flu pandemic. That's because the H1N1 virus has already spread worldwide, so, as the WHO's web site states, "limiting travel and imposing travel restrictions would have very little impact on stopping the virus from spreading, but would be highly disruptive to the global community."

The CDC and WHO advise against traveling if you're sick.

"If you have flu-like symptoms, you should stay home and avoid travel for seven days after you get sick or for at least 24 hours after you stop having symptoms, whichever is longer," states the CDC's web site.

Symptoms of swine flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue -- just like regular seasonal flu. For some people, swine flu symptoms have also included diarrhea and vomiting.

The CDC recommends that people in high-risk groups check with their doctor before traveling to areas reporting H1N1 flu. Travelers at high risk for complications from flu include:

  • Kids younger than 5
  • People 65 and older
  • Pregnant women
  • People of all ages who have any chronic medical condition. That includes people with asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • Kids and teens younger than 18 who are on long-term aspirin therapy and who might be at risk of Reye's syndrome after influenza virus infection.
  • Adults and children with weak immune systems, including immune system suppression caused by medicines or by HIV.

Check on how the country you're going to or traveling through handles swine flu. Although the WHO doesn't recommend travel restrictions, countries are free to set their own H1N1 policies, and some travelers have been screened or quarantined in other countries because of swine flu concerns.

"Travelers should check with the government of the country they will visit or transit to determine what screening/quarantine procedures are in effect," says the U.S. State Department's web site. The State Department also notes that the U.S. government "cannot demand their immediate release if they have been detained or quarantined abroad in accordance with local public health and legal authorities."

The CDC also recommends:

  • Get vaccinated before your trip if you haven't already. This includes your routine vaccinations as well.
  • Identify the health care resources at your destination.
  • Check if your health insurance will cover medical care for your travel. If not, get additional insurance to cover medical care and evacuation.
  • If you are sick, don't travel. Avoid travel for at least 24 hours after fever or fever-like symptoms are gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine. If you are in a high-risk group for flu complications or severely ill, seek medical care.

All the steps you take at home -- washing your hands often with soap and water (or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer), coughing or sneezing into your elbow or a tissue, and avoiding sick people -- also apply when you're traveling.

While you're traveling, keep up to date with local health announcements and advisories in the area where you're staying.

Most people who've come down with swine flu have recovered without medical care. If you aren't pregnant or don't have a chronic medical condition and your flu symptoms are mild, you may not need medical care.

But if you are pregnant or have a chronic medical condition, contact a doctor at the first sign of flu symptoms, because you're in a high-risk group. Try calling or emailing your doctor first.

Americans who get sick while they're in another country can contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in that country for help in finding local medical care.

Here is the State Department's advice for finding U.S. embassies or consulates:

Children should get urgent medical attention if they have fast breathing or trouble breathing, have bluish or gray skin color, are not drinking enough fluid, are not waking up or not interacting, have severe or persistent vomiting, are so irritable that the child doesn't want to be held, have flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and a worse cough, have fever with a rash, or have fever and then have a seizure or sudden mental or behavioral change.

Adults should seek urgent medical attention if they have trouble breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting, or flu-like symptoms that improve but then come back with worsening fever or cough.