Swine Flu information for Whitties abroad
April 30, 2009
Dear Whitties abroad,
You have undoubtedly heard about swine influenza A (also known as swine flu or H1N1) that has originated in Mexico and spread over the past week. This strain of influenza virus is unique because it is a combination of genes from swine, bird, and human influenza viruses. Infected individuals report flu-like symptoms of high fever, aches and pains, sore throats, coughing and trouble breathing. Some people have also reported diarrhea and vomiting. In order to help you stay informed about swine flu and take appropriate precautions, please read the following information regardless of your study abroad location. While the situation is serious, we also do not want to unduly alarm you, as the number of confirmed infections worldwide is still very small. But it is important to understand the H1N1 virus and how you can reduce the risk of infection.
Mexico has the highest number of reported cases (with some resulting in death). Other confirmed or suspected cases of swine flu have been reported in the U.S., Canada, Austria, Germany, Spain, New Zealand, Israel, and the United Kingdom. World health authorities are monitoring the situation closely and are particularly concerned about rapid human-to-human transmission of this virus and the virulence of this strain. They are concerned about the potential for an influenza pandemic like the one that occurred in 1918.
With respect to international travel, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is currently recommending that all nonessential travel to Mexico be suspended. However, there are no other CDC or WHO travel restrictions at this time. Before finalizing your end-of-semester travel plans, refer to the CDC and WHO websites for travel alerts and consult with your program staff as the situation is still volatile.
Influenza is typically spread between humans through droplets in the air from sneezing, coughing, etc.
What can you do? Basic precautions while abroad:
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Wash your hands carefully and frequently with soap and warm water.
- Carry antibacterial hand sanitizing lotion and medical masks with you, if available, to use in the event that there is an outbreak of swine flu in your host country. While a wearing a surgical mask is not a fool-proof barrier to infection, it can help reduce the spread of the virus when someone already sick with the flu wears it.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw the tissue in the trash after use. Use the crook of your elbow when you cough or sneeze if you do not have a tissue.
- Consider practicing social distancing (keeping a distance of 4-5 feet from others) and avoiding large congregations of people if there is an outbreak in your area.
- Defer non-essential travel when your program ends, due to the fact that we cannot predict where the next outbreak(s) will occur and if there will be further outbreaks. Please keep in close contact with your program staff regarding travel back to the U.S. and personal travel within the region where you are studying, as they are likely to be monitoring the local situation.
- Some airports are checking passengers for fever and other flu symptoms, so you should anticipate possible delays. Arrive for your flights early. Again, check with your local program staff about the situation in your host country.
- Stay informed by checking the CDC website periodically at wwwn.cdc.gov/travel and the WHO website at www.who.int/en.
- For specific recommendations about travel in affected areas, please see the following sections of the CDC webpage: wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/contentSwineFluMexico.aspx and www.cdc.gov/swineflu/?s_cid=swineFlu_outbreak_001.
- For details about the symptoms to watch for, please see the link below. If you exhibit symptoms, please seek proper medical attention immediately and inform your program staff: www.paper-clip.com/Media/Sites-AdministratorsSiteNavigation/swinefluHEstudent%20guide.pdf
- Please check the Whitman homepage for updates and information or refer to the following links:
Please do not hesitate to contact me or any of the Whitman Study Abroad Office staff, if you have any questions about this. And best wishes for your finals as you wind up your semester abroad!
Director of International Programs