Dying to Travel

Don’t despair, paranoid traveler! You’re no longer limited to checking the CDC website to see what diseases you can catch while traveling. Now, there’s a handy, colorful, and interactive map based on the Maplecroft Avian Influenza Risk Index. The map interactively ranks countries, shows you the threat level (the Avian Influenza Risk Index, or “AIRI,” of course), and can provide hours of hypochondriac pleasure. You can find it here. What it will tell you is that you’re safest in Australia, out of 179 surveyed countries.

When you’re done with avian flu map, pull down their menu to bring up other interactive maps, including HIV/AIDS, land mine risks, TB risk, and malaria risk, among other goodies. (They also include a host of other rankings, with respect to climate, politics, and disaster risks. They’ve got an index for everything: for example, the US is listed as having an “extreme” (2.488!) “debt index” score–too bad they didn’t break out Manhattan separately.)

When you’re satiated (that is, once you feel the fever coming on, and after you’ve canceled your next vacation) click over to Euro Assistance, and sign up for your weekly World Pandemic Monitor newsletter. I’m waiting for my free copy to arrive. It sounds gripping and informative: “Hundreds of international articles and reports are being carefully scrutinized and summarized in the form of a weekly newsletter keeping pace with events such as: new countries affected, confirmed cases, actions and remedies introduced by authorities of concerned countries. This information comes with graphs and maps, in-depth articles selected for the relevance of their analyses.” So, travel with confidence! As Jeff Mills of the Financial Times joyfully, and helpfully, put it yesterday: “traversing the world need not be a death sentence.”

Caution: Ticks & Lyme Disease

TicksTicks usually aren’t a concern of mine when traveling, unless of course there is a huge problem with them in the area, but for the most part I have been tick worry free. However, the other day, one of our unsuspecting walkers on the Steps Across team had one on her shirt searching for her flesh. Searching to take a nice cool bath and sip of her ruby red blood, I’m positive. Before the little creature could prove successful in its mission (thankfully) another walker from our group saw the vicious insect lying low and swooshed it up and off the other’s shirt. Whew! Too close of a call if you ask me. Point of this story – know your insects I guess and if you don’t plan on studying fuzzy creepy crawlers, then at least know where more of them are hiding out. There is a current short piece from the Chicago Tribune listing states with the highest Lyme disease rate, which means the ticks are lurking. Here’s the list of CDC figures from Backpacker magazine as found in the Chicago Tribune:

  • Rhode Island 68.39
  • Pennsylvania 46.34
  • Connecticut 40.28
  • New Jersey 33.42
  • New York 28.13
  • Delaware 25.93
  • Massachusetts 23.81
  • New Hampshire 14.76
  • Wisconsin 13.52
  • Maine 13.40

No Detaining Sick Fliers

PlaneImagine you’re walking through the airport security screening; shoes off, hat off, belt off, laptop visible, all
pocket changed removed, when your allergies suddenly begin to act up and you sneeze while passing through. An airport
siren starts to sound off, TSA dropkicks you, pins you down to the ground and a representative of the CDC comes running
from who knows where to probe you with a thermometer. Your temperature is slightly over normal body temps and next thing
you know your flight to Paris is departing without you. You’ve been quarantined to help prevent the spread of an avian flu pandemic. Luckily things haven’t gotten to the point where people have
to worry about scenarios like the one described above at the airport and thank goodness the plans to detain sick
passengers on planes have come to a pause.

According to this USA Today piece many are opposed
to plans of detaining sick airline
and cruise ship passengers
, noting that amount of information needed from each passenger would be a violation of
passengers’ rights. Aside from our very valuable personal information being placed in some scary government database
critics say the plan is quite costly and difficult. Under the CDC’s plan to quarantine passengers he following would
take place:

  • Government could detain passengers for up to three days without proof that they
    were sick.
  • Airlines would store passenger and travel companion information in databases.
  • Flight and ship crews with little medical training would be responsible for identifying potentially sick people.
  • Other passengers will be notified that they had been exposed.

As good as the
CDC’s intentions are in keeping all the frequent and non-frequent fliers from falling ill, I too think I’m opposed to
the plan. They’ll have to come up with a plan a smidge better than this.

Take Those Malaria Pills!!!

Malaria PillsLet’s say you’re on your way to vaca abroad in
some foreign land where the food is strange and even a little smelly, they drive on the opposite side of the road and
perhaps the locals are less inclined to wear deodorant; these are all things you can live with upon your return home.
Now let’s also imagine someone told you about an infected mosquito carrying a tiny pet parasite that could potentially
grow and multiply in your liver, wreak havoc on your red blood cells and multiply some more after the mosquito has
dearly departed  from your flesh. Without the appropriate protective measures you could potentially die from what
seemed like the average insect bite. Chances are you’d break out in a cold-sweat thinking of the dangerous winged bug
and could even be ready to call off your great  adventure through the Amazon basin of Bolivia.

Please
don’t let the scenario above throw off the mood of your entire trip, but I bring this up because not enough people seem
to be taking antimalarial pills before trekking out into the unknown. The LA
Times has an article
pointing out the number of malaria related
deaths (a million die annually) and how a third of travelers
tend to skip out
on taking prescribed antimalarial drugs. It seems many aren’t thinking enough about the disease and
rely on insect repellent and bed netting to protect them when they should be used in addition to the pills. Other doctor
recommended suggestions include limiting outdoor activities from dusk to dawn when mosquitoes bite as well as wearing
long sleeve shirts and pants.

Antimalarial pills should be taken before, during and after visiting high risk areas. Additional malaria information can be found by
visiting the CDC.