Unless you’ve been hiding out in a cave in the last few days, you probably have heard about the Swine Flu virus that has been going around the world. Right now, the virus has traveled to over half a dozen countries and there are 236 confirmed cases with many more possible cases still being diagnosed. Some countries have begun to ban travel to Mexico, like Cuba, Argentina and Ecuador. Some airports like Japan’s Narita airport are conducting inspections of passengers coming from certain countries.
So is the swine flu really something that travellers should be concerned with? In my opinion, no. So far, the virus has only killed people living in Mexico or people who are from there. It’s not clear yet why this is the way it is- it may have to do with the availability and quality of health care there or virus mutations or the fact that it showed up there first. Whatever the reason, when the virus has appeared in other countries it has caused some hospitalizations but no deaths so far.
The swine flu outbreak is taking a very different path from the SARS pandemic in 2003. Once Mexico recognized that there was a virus spreading around, it alerted the World Health Organization (WHO). When SARS broke out in China, the Chinese government did not tell the WHO for five months despite the organization asking for more information and also restricted outside media coverage of the problem. This delay undoubtedly contributed to the spread of SARS as other countries were not on the lookout for it.
SARS was also a very fast-acting disease that killed not only the very young and the very old but healty, mid-20’s to mid-40’s people as well. Literally, someone could get on a plane, get SARS and die shortly after landing. Swine flu is spreading quickly, but the time between the appearance of symptoms and death is longer, giving time for medical personnel to treat a patient. Basically, the swine flu is a flu virus for which no vaccination is available for now.
In the end, I’m not worried at all about traveling. Admittedly, I wouldn’t board a plane to Mexico tomorrow, but that’s more because many businesses and public services have shut down. If you are going to Mexico or anywhere else with a high rate of swine flu, take hand sanitizer and some masks and keep an eye on the news for any travel restrictions that may be imposed. Otherwise, enjoy your travels! Plus, if Mexico is a place that you’ve been wanting to go to for a while, there will be some great travel deals for there several months after the outbreak ends. People will be afraid to go to Mexico for a while even after the danger is gone.
Be safe, stay informed, and don’t stop adventuring. 🙂