Travelers should stay informed about disease outbreaks just as they do about political unrest or major weather problems at their destination.
Consult with a travel medicine doctor,...
...read government alerts, and then, just as with any travel plans,
Decide on your own comfort level and evaluate the risks for yourself.
Whenever word of an outbreak of some infectious disease hits the airwaves, there will be plenty of news going around about worst-case-scenarios.
TV newscasts will show you over and over again the few people that are suffering.
They will show hospitals stockpiling medications and schools and restaurants closing.
It all looks pretty scary.
With all that suffering, and with the disease spreading, should you still travel?
Should you even leave you house!?!
Stop and think... did the newscasts mention that those schools and restaurants are closed as a precaution, not because everyone there was sick?
We don't want to make light of any disease outbreak.
The first thing travelers need to do is to remain calm and stay informed.
Each outbreak is serious, and each one has caused deaths for a few. But each disease outbreak needs to be evaluated for where you are going and what you will be doing.
We don't think you should necessarily panic and cancel a trip.
The headlines scream the World Health Organization (WHO) has raised the health alert status to Level 5. That sounds terrible, doesn't it?
But wait... what that means is that human-to-human contact has occurred in more than one country. That happens every year with the ordinary flu.
Even if the WHO raised the alert to Level 6 what happens?
The headlines will trumpet something like ... Highest Threat Level - The Pandemic Phase...
But again, it pays to stop and consider what that really means.
What it tells you is that human-to-human contact has occurred in more than one global region.... more than one continent.
This does not mean everyone is getting it.
Ebola is one for sure. We applause those health care workers and others who travel to infected areas to help. It is spread by contact with bodily fluids… not through the air or by mosquitoes. Still, as casual travelers, we would avoid those areas, but we would travel to other parts of the world or other parts of the infected continent.
Some mosquito born diseases are occurring more often around the world… even at home. Have you ever heard of Chikungunya Fever, or Dengue Fever? Dengue is in the Caribbean and Chikungunya has occurred in Florida and the Caribbean.
Even when a "state of emergency" is declared somewhere, it does not mean the whole country is sick.
Nations declare a state of emergency when they need to get access to money and other resources to respond to what is happening, so they can move more quickly to stop the disease outbreak.
In the past, some of the diseases that were making headlines were Bird Flu,
SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome),
Most travelers were not affected. (Not even those of us who got close to birds.)
We went to Southeast Asia during the Bird Flu outbreak.
We did consult with our travel medicine doctor. He made sure our yearly influenza vaccinations were up to date, and gave us a prescription for Tamiflu. He told us to wash our hands often... and use a hand sanitizer when we couldn't, and to exercise caution and good hygiene as always.
We did go to visit a farm in Cambodia, but since we didn't go snuffling bird feathers, we felt we were OK.
The worst thing that happened was that there were no eggs for breakfast and even cooked chicken was off the menu. That's not something that would keep us home.
I know that might sound a little facetious, but what we want to emphasize is that there is no need to panic.
We believe that travel is good for you and for a healthy global economy.
We'll say it one more time, we're not medical experts, but we think you can still travel during disease outbreaks if you stay informed and exercise proper caution.
In the most extreme case, you might have to change your itinerary...
But we believe you can still have a great trip...
...just choose wisely.