The risk for exposure to influenza during travel depends somewhat on the time of year and destination, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges people to take precautions. In the Northern Hemisphere, the flu season can begin as early as October and can last as long as into April or May. In the Southern Hemisphere, flu activity usually lasts from April to September.
For those going into the tropics, the CDC wants you to be aware that influenza occurs all year long. Travelers in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres can be exposed to influenza during months that fall outside of those listed above, especially when traveling as part of large tourist groups (e.g., on cruise ships) that include people from areas of the world where influenza viruses are circulating.
CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine yearly. People who have not gotten a flu vaccine for the current season and are traveling to parts of the world where influenza activity is ongoing should get a flu vaccine to protect themselves during their trip.
That is of particular importance, the government notes, for people who are classified as being at high risk of experiencing flu-related complications. That includes older people, young children and people with certain health conditions.
For those taking time these winter holidays to travel, the CDC wants to inform people that the flu vaccine used in the Northern Hemisphere “usually” protects against the main viruses that have been noted to be circulating in other parts of the world. Because it takes two weeks for vaccine immunity to develop after getting the shot, the CDC recommends people make sure to get vaccinated at least two weeks before traveling.
Of interesting note is that the influenza vaccine manufactured for the current flu season usually expires by next June. It is difficult to get the vaccine after that time, or at least until the vaccine is produced for the following fall.
So for those considering marking out time for summer travel, it’s best to make sure you’re vaccinated during the current flu season. The CDC notes that there is no data about the benefits of getting a second vaccination before summer travel, so it is not recommended.
Health providers advise that if you are sick with an influenza-type illness, you should not travel. Those symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache, and fatigue. Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, though children tend to have those symptoms rather than adults. If a fever is one of your symptoms, the CDC recommends you stay home at least 24 hours after the fever has subsided.
One of the best ways to be prepared while traveling is to investigate the current levels of flu activity in the region you are visiting. The site wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ is particularly helpful for information about flu and other illnesses or diseases.
During a trip, it’s critical to pay attention to announcements from the local government where you are visiting and to monitor the local health and security situation. The CDC advises travelers follow any movement restrictions and prevention recommendations.
According to the CDC, it is expected that most people infected with flu will recover without needing medical care. However, if you have severe illness or you are at high risk for flu complications, seek medical care.
A U.S. consular officer can help you find local medical care in a foreign country. To contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country you are visiting, call Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747 if calling from the U.S. or Canada. If you’re calling from other countries, call 00-1-202-501-4444. Awareness of illness shouldn’t stop when you’re home. Health officials advise you to monitor your health for seven days after your return and to seek medical care if you become ill with flu symptoms.
This year in Santa Barbara County, the influenza surveillance season began on Oct. 1. The county’s Public Health Department typically reports an update every two weeks throughout the season on activity in our area, though the reports increase in frequency depending on whether the cases of flu are seen to be increasing.
Of the county sites reporting in the last week, there were 12 patients seen with flu-like illness – through the closure of schools because of the Thomas Fire decreased the patient census. Of the hospital Emergency Departments that reported seeing patients the first two weeks of December, 253 of the 5,212 patients seen reported having influenza-like illnesses and 25 were admitted to hospitals.