Flu Season Is all Year for Travelers -
Donít Let it Get You Down
By: Fran Lessans, R.N., M.S., President of Passport Health
The flu vaccine is safe and effective
for anyone who wants to reduce his or her chance of being infected
with influenza. Countries with tropical climates have influenza
activity year round, and biannual epidemics have been reported. In
temperate climates, influenza typically occurs in winter months, but
travelers may be exposed in the summer. Outbreaks of influenza on
cruise ships and among land-based tours suggest that tourists
traveling in large groups, which include international travelers, may
be at an increased risk.
Each year the virus that causes
influenza changes. The virus is tracked from east to west and
manufacturing depends on the strains found. Influenza is a highly
contagious respiratory viral illness. Symptoms include fever, cough,
sore throat, fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, runny nose, and watery
eyes. Children may also experience vomiting and diarrhea.
The incubation period for influenza
is 1 to 4 days. A person with influenza can be contagious 1 day before
symptoms appear and for 3 to 7 days after the onset of symptoms.
Influenza viruses are spread by droplets produced by an infected
person who is coughing or sneezing.
Travelers are at increased risk for
exposure to influenza. The risk depends on the time of year,
destination, and type of travel. In the tropics, influenza can occur
throughout the year. However, in temperate climate zones of both the
Northern and Southern Hemispheres, travelers can be exposed to
influenza during their respective summer months, especially when
traveling in large, organized tourist groups consisting of persons
from areas of the world where influenza viruses are circulating.
The best protection against the flu
is a vaccination. The vaccine is 70% to 90% effective in preventing
influenza among healthy adults if it is administered at least 2 weeks
before exposure and if there is a good match between the vaccine and
the influenza strain causing illness.
If you develop symptoms of
respiratory illness, such as cough, sore throat, or fever, while you
are traveling, you should contact your tour director, hotel staff,
guide, or physician. As with any illness, if you feel that you are
having difficulty breathing, you should consult a physician and seek
immediate medical attention. Travel personnel or hotel staff are
likely to have information of local medical facilities should you
You should limit your exposure to
others if you have symptoms such as cough, sore throat, or fever. This
could mean avoiding activities or places (including those on cruise
ships) where people are crowded together indoors, such as restaurants,
bars, movie theaters, or game rooms.
The travel industry is working
closely with public health authorities to limit transmission among
tourists. Some cruise lines have started surveillance for respiratory
illness among both passengers and crew members. Also, some cruise
lines vaccinate their crew members against influenza. The primary
purpose of vaccinating crew members is to protect passengers by
decreasing the possibility of influenza transmission from crew members
to passengers who may not be vaccinated, yet are at increased risk for
severe illness or death following influenza infection (older persons
and those with chronic medical conditions).
You may also want to protect yourself
against pneumonia. Pneumococcal vaccination is recommended for most of
the same groups as influenza vaccine, whether or not you are planning
to travel. The protection given by the vaccine starts about 14 days
after vaccination. The influenza and pneumonia vaccine are compatible
and may be given together.
Passport Health has both vaccines
available. Visit Passport Health for a listing
of its locations.