Q: I hear so much about swine flu on the news. What should I do to keep from getting sick? Are there any hot spots that I should avoid?
–Eva Jones, Chesterfield, Mo.
A: During all the buzz about swine flu last spring, I maintained that it was OK to travel. And guess what? The same thing is true now—with the proper precautions.
Now, Eva, I'm not a doctor, and I don't play one on TV, but when it comes to swine flu, the worst four-letter word that starts with the letter "f" is "fear."
Let's put this in perspective. Think about the SARS crisis. What was that about? It was a fear of a SARS epidemic, and then it became a crisis because nobody traveled. What did I do in the middle of it? I went to Hong Kong and stayed at the Mandarin Hotel. The hotel was only 3 percent full, and the staff-to-guest ratio was 600 to—me!
Now I'm not telling anyone they shouldn't be concerned about the swine flu. You should be concerned about any communicable disease. But much of the time, prevention comes down to personal hygiene and common sense.
Make sure you wash your hands before and after eating, before and after going to the bathroom, and if you're flying, wash your hands before getting on and off the plane. You can also take a cue from airlines like Virgin America and Southwest, which removed pillows and blankets during the first outbreak. Bring your own or skip them altogether. If you're really worried about it, bring some disinfectant wipes and wipe down everything you touch: the headrest, the armrest, the seat backs, tray tables, everything.
So who's most at risk? Young children, adults age 65 and above, and those with underlying health conditions. These people are most likely to experience complications from H1N1. So if you have a condition that might compromise your immune system, visit your doctor to get cleared to fly.
If you develop any flu-like symptoms before departing, postpone your travel plans for at least seven days after you get sick or 24 hours after you stop having symptoms, whichever is longer. Once you return from your trip, monitor your health for seven days and see a doctor if you feel ill.
There's nothing wrong with an abundance of caution; the problem is when there's an abundance of fear. So rely on common sense, not fear, to determine when and where you travel, whether you're heading to Cancun, Mexico or Mexico, Missouri.