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Coming and Going: Swine Flu, 2010 World Cup, Gay Weddings

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

SWINE FLU

A Q&A for Travelers

The government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising people to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico, but at press time Thursday night, flights were still operating, the borders remained open and vacationers were left to decide whether to cancel that long-awaited trip. The call is still yours, but the path may seem simpler with CoGo's examination of the issues.

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Are there parts of Mexico that are safe? For example, I understand that no residents of the Cancun area have been infected with the swine flu virus, yet young people from the United States who were there on spring break are infected. How could that be, and should I go?

Mexico's most popular tourism spots have had relatively few cases of swine flu.

Several have been reported in Veracruz, Acapulco and Baja California, near San Diego. As of April 30, the state of Quintana Roo, which includes Cancun, Riviera Maya and Cozumel and is more than 1,000 miles from the flu's epicenter in Mexico City, had had no reported cases of the disease. But several U.S. residents who recently visited the region have come down with swine flu.

Daniel Hoffman, co-director of the Emerging Infections Diseases program at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, said it's possible that the U.S. travelers picked up the illness on airplanes.

"Traveling is the bigger risk," Hoffman said. "The U.S. cases involved air travel, so speculation is that the illness was picked up during flights."

Hoffman said he would not cancel a trip to Cancun or Cozumel, but he would pack antiviral medicine, alcohol sanitizers and masks. (Antiviral medications must be prescribed by a physician.)

"This is an exercise in risk management," Hoffman said. "I would not go to Mexico City and ride the subway right now. If I had a vacation to Cancun, I would go, but I would take precautions."

Mexico's Ministry of Health has set up checkpoints at airports, cruise and bus terminals and hotels to identify those who show signs of illness.

I have decided that I don't want to go under any circumstances. Will I have to pay a penalty fee when I cancel my trip?

Probably not. Most airlines, including American, Continental, US Airways and United, have waived their strict penalty fees. But each one has different restrictions and requirements. For example, on American, you must have bought your ticket on or before April 24 to qualify, while on US Airways, you are being given only a month-long window around your travel dates to change your flight arrangements.

Most major hotels, including Hyatt, Marriott and Intercontinental, and many travel agencies, including Apple Vacations, Funjet Vacations and GoGo Worldwide Vacations, are also waiving penalties. But again, restrictions vary, so you need to check with your travel provider.


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