How to Survive
Pack a small medical kit that contains face masks, alcohol wipes, and ibuprofen, and consider getting a prescription for an antiviral like Relenza or Tamiflu, which can reduce or prevent flu symptoms. On the ground, check Google’s new flu trend tracker, which uses aggregated search data to estimate flu activity up to two weeks in advance of published reports (google.org/flutrends), and stay abreast of any fast-spreading infections with Twitter feeds from the World Health Organization, which monitors outbreaks around the globe (twitter.com/w0rldhealthorg). If the WHO announces a Phase 6 pandemic (such as the swine flu), check the Centers for Disease Control’s new Pandemic Severity Index (cdc.gov). The index rates a virus’s lethality on a scale of Category 1 to Category 5 (swine flu was rated a 2; the 1918 Spanish flu would have been considered a 5). (!!) If the pandemic is rated Category 5, “change your trip plans and get home immediately,” says Davidson Hamer, M.D., director of Boston Medical Center’s travel clinic. “Try to make travel arrangements over the phone or Internet in your hotel room where you’re not going to be exposed.” If you can’t get a flight, but overland travel home or to a safer area is possible, rent a car or arrange a ride. In extreme cases, border closures may force travelers to remain in-country. Find a secure spot to hole up and wait it out. “An optimal location would be a place where you’re still able to obtain food and water but where you’re unlikely to have close contact with people,” Hamer says. “You’re probably safest in your hotel room.” If you venture out to resupply, avoid confined places and maintain at least six feet of space from other people—what epidemiologists call “social distancing”—and wear a mask to minimize virus exposure (a bandanna or T-shirt will do in a pinch). Program the closest U.S. Embassy’s number on speed dial. If you get sick, they’ll locate medical care, arrange money transfers, and inform your family.