Q: Hi Peter! I will be traveling to China in November. I have taken out travel insurance, but it doesn't cover being quarantined or treated for swine flu. I also have asthma. I will be taking my meds and a mask with me. What other precautions I should take? Is there anything else I should be thinking about?
–Mary Jane Romano, Oswego, N.Y.
A: Many parts of China are very polluted and have poor air quality, which can trigger asthma attacks in those who suffer from the problem. So it's important that you take precautions when you go there. It's best to consult your doctor about your asthma concerns before you go on your trip, but here are some pointers:
- Try to stay in a nonsmoking or smoke-free hotel, and make sure the room you choose has central air.
- If you find it helpful, take a portable air purifier.
- Bring your own bedding, sheets, and pillow covers—especially if you're staying in a hotel that doesn't provide allergy-proof bedding.
- Move at a slower pace, and don't pack too many activities into each day.
- Stay indoors as much as possible.
- Wear a mask if you find that the air is bothering you.
- Rinse your nasal passages with a nasal solution to relieve congestion and remove pollutants.
As far as swine flu, better known as H1N1 virus, you have no greater chance of getting it in China than you would anywhere else in the world. However, Chinese health officials are quite vigilant about making sure that no more infected people enter the country, so you may have your temperature taken at the airport by a thermal scanning device. If your temperature registers too high, you might be quarantined while authorities determine whether or not you have swine flu. There's nothing you can do about this, I'm afraid, except wait it out and try to maintain a good attitude.
If your travel insurance policy doesn't cover treatment abroad for swine flu and it's a real concern of yours, you could try to find a policy that will cover you. Better yet, just assume you won't get sick. The H1N1 virus is not spread through airborne particles, and it's actually pretty easy to avoid being infected by simply practicing basic hygiene, such as frequent hand-washing and not touching your face with your hands. Your chances of getting ill are actually very small, but if you do get sick, if you're an otherwise healthy person, you should recover within about five days or so. The best prescription is bed rest, liquids, and isolation.
A standard travel insurance policy should cover treatment in the event that you have an asthma flare-up. Even better would be to buy medical evacuation and repatriation insurance, which will entitle you to be flown back to the United States if you get deathly ill. Many reputable companies, such as Travel Guard and MedJet Assist, offer such plans, which you can buy on a per-trip or annual basis.
Additionally, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends contacting the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers, which publishes a directory of English-speaking physicians in countries around the world. Visit www.iamat.org for more information.