There are over 1,500 microbes that are known sources of disease among the human population, and influenza is one of the most virulent among them.
Two of the more critical hallmarks that define the influenza virus are:
Under ‘normal’ circumstances, the impact of influenza is relatively benign because the populations have developed a level of immunity to the virus. And yet, it is estimated that between 1 and 1.5 million people each year die of influenza or its related complications. As a result, influenza pandemics are considered to be one of the most serious threats to the welfare of the global population.
A pandemic is an epidemic of infection disease that spreads through human populations across a large area (sometimes worldwide). Over the last 300 years, there have been 10 major influenza pandemics. The Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, where 30% of the world’s population fell ill and between 50 and 100 million people died, is considered the most severe.
One important factor in the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic was the advances in modern transportation, which in the beginning of the 20th century offered a global advantage to the flu virus. The Spanish Flu virus was very quickly spread around the world by infected crew members and passengers on ships and trains.
Recently, the outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2002-2003, the Bird Flu in 2008, and the Swine Flu in 2009 served to demonstrate the quick-spreading power of the influenza virus through the convenience and ubiquity of global air travel.
Travel can be a big contributor to the global spread of the flu for a number of reasons:
An infected individual at the ‘acceptance phase’ of the illness, is more likely to cancel outbound travel, but nearly all travelers will do the utmost, even breaking quarantine, to return home when they are sick.
The global transportation system is a major gateway that allows the virus to spread far faster at the global level than the regional level. Experts believe that the next influenza pandemic could be very severe and the widespread illness and absenteeism could cause cascading disruptions to our social and economic systems.
It’s important to understand that the flu is a global disease, so wherever you go this flu season protecting yourself and others is critical to staying healthy.
1. The first and number one prevention step is to get vaccinated.
Vaccines are an important tool for preventing the flu and flu vaccines are widely available in the U.S.
During your trip, the following preventative steps are simply good health measures to take care of yourself and keep others well too:
People at highest risk for serious flu complications
It’s important to recognize that not everyone gets the vaccine and some people are at a greater risk of having serious complications. Those include:
Above all, the people at the highest risk for developing serious complications due to the flu are the ones also highly encouraged to get vaccinated.
See the CDC recommendations for flu season for additional information.
As flu season approaches, travelers often ask us whether their travel insurance protects them in case of the flu.
Essentially, there are three coverages that may help travelers infected with the flu:
With your travel insurance plan, the illness must be disabling enough to make a reasonable person cancel their trip – and that illness must be verified by a medical doctor who must say you are too ill to travel.
If you cannot be examined by a medical doctor before you cancel your trip, some travel insurance plans allow you a 72-hour window to accomplish the examination, but the result must still be the same: the physician must certify that you are too ill to travel.
As proof of the loss, you will be expected to show the physician’s report, so be sure to get a couple of copies.
See How to find medical care on my trip for additional information.
Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.