Italian answer to swine flu–automatic holy water dispensers

Visitors to many Italian churches will see a new addition next to the door–automatic holy water dispensers.

Priests have been noticing that worshipers are reluctant to put their hands in the font containing holy water for fear of catching swine flu. About thirty people have died in Italy from the disease and people are a bit jittery about sharing the same water as hundreds of strangers, however holy it might be.

Some churches have even closed their communal fonts, like Milan’s cathedral, pictured here.

When inventor Luciano Marabese saw what was happening, he got to work. He invented an automatic dispenser that works along the same lines as a soap dispenser in a public bathroom, but has the look of a traditional font. The faithful put their hands under the dispenser where an infrared detector senses them and squirts out some holy water. There’s a video of the dispenser in action here.

Now if we can only get people to wash their hands after going to the bathroom. . .

Airlines not taking any swine flu risks – bumping sick passengers

It was only a matter of time, but H1N1 fear has finally spread to the airlines.

Yesterday, United Airlines passenger Mitra Mostoufi was kicked off her plane when the flight crew suspected she may have swine flu.

The 50 year old from Hawaii was questioned in front of her fellow passengers, and pulled from the plane.

United Airlines said that they do allow their staff to determine whether someone is too ill to fly, and this is obviously done to protect the other passengers and crew on the plane. Especially on a plane, the air circulation system can spread germs to everyone on board in a matter of minutes.

According to Mostoufi, she had thrown up in the airplane bathroom due to a reaction to a restless leg syndrome medication. When she asked for an air sickness bag, a United Airlines staffer ordered her to gather her belongings and leave the plane.

Even though the airline bumped her, they refused to rebook her on a different flight that day, so she had to spend the night with relatives.

I’m torn on this issue – obviously, airline staff are not trained physicians, so they have no way of making a 100% accurate judgment on our health. However, if they notice someone with flu-like symptoms, I’d be quite happy if they asked that passenger some more questions. Throwing someone off a flight just because they are puking does not seem very fair though.

What do you think? Should airlines abandon passengers with (swine) flu like symptoms?

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In Oberammergau: the most “passionate” performance you will ever see

Now you can visit a plague-ridden era and watch history unfold. No, this is not an invitation to get busy with swine flu. Instead, head out to Oberammergau, Bavaria and witness a performance that has been carried out for centuries.

In 1633, Oberammergau’s population was decimated by the Plague. The villagers were brutalized, but their spirit remained strong, and they promised to act out the events of the last days of Jesus Christ, ending in the resurrection, every tenth year. This Passion performance, sans any influence from Mel Gibson, is an extremely local affair. If you weren’t born in the village or haven’t lived there for at least 20 years, the best you can do is watch with the masses. The stage is reserved for the true villagers.

Half the village is engaged to assist, from acting to playing music to creating costumes – in the case of Oberammergau, that’s 2,500 people out of a 5,200-person population. In what seems like a scene from The Greek Passion by Nikos Kazantzakis (who is more famous for his other book, The Last Temptation of Christ), lead roles are sketched out on a chalk board, while all of Oberammergau waits anxiously. The parts are assigned the year before. In the run-up to the performance, the cast grows its hair long and cultivates beards (not the women, of course), as wigs are not permitted.

While you’re in the village, ask around to see if the actors assume the characteristics of their assignments, as they did in the book by Kazantzakis. In the novel, the poor guy assigned to play Judas couldn’t get anyone to hang out with him. But, he took the part for a good cause.

From May 15, 2010 to October 3, 2010, the forty-first Oberammergau Passion will be performed 102 times, with each showing lasting around five hours. It runs from 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM to 10:30 PM, with the time in between reserved for dinner. Though the symphony-sized orchestra is protected from the elements, the actors are exposed to the whims of the seasons, much like the figures they depict.

If you’re interested in experiencing this rare event, catch a flight to Munich, and drive the 55 miles to Oberammergau. Packages are available in town for one or two nights. Without a doubt, this is a unique performance, and any travel or theater junkie should absolutely experience it at least once. You could put it off a decade … but why wait?

Here’s a bit from ol’ Mel, in case you need a refresher:

Going on a trip? Stop and get a flu shot at the airport

Luggage? Check. Passport? Check. Flu shot? If you’ve yet to get yours, you can take care of the task on the way to your next flight at clinics set up in several airports around the US.

Among the nearly 20 airports that will be offering flu shots beginning within the next few weeks are Atlanta, Boston Logan, O’Hare, Denver, Honolulu, LAX, JFK, and San Francisco. Costs range from $20 to $35, which is about what you’d pay at most clinics, unless your insurance covers it. Hours vary by location, but all are open from at least 8am to 4pm on weekdays. Currently, airport locations are only offering the regular seasonal flu vaccine. The H1N1 flu vaccine may be offered at these locations when it becomes available.

I’ll confess: I have never gotten a flu shot. I try my best to avoid being poked with a needle so the thought of actually requesting it seems counter-intuitive. I know I should get it though. 200,000 people were hospitalized for the flu last year, and travelers like myself who spend a lot of time breathing recycled air in the close quarters of planes may be at an increased risk. There’s also this little thing you may have heard of, called the H1N1 “swine” flu, which the CDC expects will reach pandemic proportions. It just makes sense to get the vaccine. And now getting a flu shot won’t even require a special trip to my doctor. I’m out of excuses. I may have to muster up some courage at the airport bar first, but it looks like my next vacation will start off with a flu shot.

Check out full details on airport clinic hours and costs here.

Mexico City offers free health insurance to tourists

After near-hysteria over Mexico’s outbreak of the H1N1 (swine) flu virus crippled the country’s tourism industry and resulted in record low hotel occupancy rates, Mexico City’s tourism is slowly rebounding. To help get tourism back to its pre-“aporkalypse” levels, the Mexico City Tourism Ministry is unveiling a new plan that officials hope will help convince people that it is safe to visit.

Any tourists who stay in one of Mexico City’s hotels will receive free health insurance. Under the plan, tourists are covered for not only treatment of the H1N1 virus, but also for any other disease or accident they suffer from while staying in Mexico City. Prescription drugs, emergency dental care, hospital stays, and ambulance transportation are also covered. There’s even assistance in case of robbery, luggage loss, or the delay or cancellation of a flight.

Mexico City normally welcomes around 7 million (international and domestic) visitors each year. When news of the H1N1 flu broke, tourists began to disappear and hotel occupancy rates plummeted, reaching as low as 5% in April, according to USA Today. Now they are around 59%, but the industry is still feeling the pinch. Officials hope that the offer of free health insurance may help sway those who were considering a trip to Mexico, but were concerned about the risk.

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[via Los Angeles Times]