The travel industry can be said to be at the forefront of monitoring and combating the H1N1 influenza - commonly known as swine flu. Airlines ping people around the planet at warp speed, hotels put travelers in close proximity with one another and with local staff, and cross-border travel advisories - or prohibitions, in severe cases - have a direct and drastic effect on travelers.
Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, travel providers are gearing up for the fall and winter flu season. So far, the World Health Organization (www.who.int) estimates, about 430 people worldwide have died from H1N1, an exceedingly sparse number considering that hundreds of thousands of people die every year from garden-variety seasonal flu, by the WHO's own count. Still, worries persist that the flu could mutate in strange and scary ways, so preparations are afoot for an expected surge in swine flu.
According to the WHO, "Manufacturers are expected to have vaccines for use around September. A number of companies are working on vaccines, and have different timelines.''
Media reports say the UK government fears that up to one-third of the British population could come down with the bug.
In line with that, British Airways says it is monitoring its passengers for signs of the disease. BA staff are instructed to note any passenger who exhibits symptons. BA spokespeople don't say exactly how many people that adds up to so far, but allow that they have pulled aside a small number of travelers. "If they (BA staff) have any concerns about a passenger when they present for check-in, they have a 24-hour medical number to call and the passenger can then be checked,'' an airline spokesperson said.
Last month, the WHO raised its flu alert to phase 6 - a pandemic. But, as the United States airline trade organization the Air Transport Association (www.airlines.org) notes in a statement, "The definition of a pandemic is triggered by the geographical spread of disease; as WHO has explained, pandemics can range from mild to severe.''
In the meantime, WHO, ATA and major travel organizations such as the Pacific Asia Travel Association (www.pata.org) are urging travelers to use common sense and avoid traveling - especially in the confined space of an jetliner cabin - if they feel sick.
PATA, the WHO and America's Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are all posting H1N1 flu updates on their Web sites. For now, keeping close watch on ever-changing updates and carrying on with travel plans is the best approach to what the California Travel and Tourism Commission waggishly calls the swine flu "infodemic.''