Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Flu guidelines for travel

Watch Dr. Robert Winfield, chief health officer, talk about H1N1 flu >

As the number of countries reporting cases of H1N1 swine flu continues to grow — 30 as of today — university leaders are receiving questions about the safety of travel, particularly to the Southern Hemisphere, which is about to enter its regular flu season.

As of now the ban on university-sponsored travel to Mexico remains in effect. In the absence of clear guidelines from the CDC, university leaders also offer some precautions and guidance for those faculty and staff who will be traveling to the Southern Hemisphere this spring and summer, during their flu season.

“While the H1N1 flu virus now seems to be relatively mild, and no worse than a normal seasonal flu, it appears likely that it will continue to spread globally,” Dr. Robert Winfield, chief health officer, and John Godfrey, assistant dean of international education at the Rackham Graduate School, wrote in an e-mail to members of the community.

The message offered these guidelines and precautions:

• Persons traveling to certain countries in the Southern Hemisphere, where health-care systems may be less likely to have the resources to respond to an H1N1 flu outbreak, are advised to consider taking with them a five-day supply of the oral antiviral medication Tamiflu, which has been shown to be highly effective in lessening the symptoms of the new H1N1 flu. This precaution may be particularly important for people age 65 years and older, children younger than 5 years, pregnant women, people of any age with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), and people who are immunosuppressed (e.g., taking immunosuppressive medications, infected with HIV).

• Those travelers should discuss a Tamiflu prescription with their own physicians and fill it before departure. As part of an office visit, students also may discuss this with a University Health Service doctor or nurse. If you take Tamiflu, it is recommended that Tamiflu be taken only with the onset of flu-like symptoms, and not as a preventative medication.

• Travelers should familiarize themselves with H1N1 flu symptoms, which are similar to those of seasonal flu and include fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius) or higher, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. A significant number of people who have been infected with this new H1N1 virus also have reported diarrhea and vomiting.

• Travelers who believe they are developing flu symptoms should contact a local physician, if possible, or contact their physicians via e-mail or telephone, who can give advice. Persons should strictly follow directions for taking Tamiflu.

• All travelers also are strongly encouraged to buy university-sponsored travel insurance (www.uhs.umich.edu/tai) through HTH Worldwide. Persons who already have left the United States may purchase this low-cost insurance for the remainder of their journey. HTH has the capacity to deliver Tamiflu as needed to insured travelers if ill. Travelers are urged to stay informed of local health conditions, and to be vigilant for flu in the country or region where they are traveling.

Those with questions can e-mail FluTravel@umich.edu. A travel related FAQ can be found at www.umich.edu/flu-travel.php.