Friday, May 29, 2009

Swine flu.


S
igh. International travel is not easy these days as there seems to be so much turmoil in the world that makes some folks (not me) think twice about leaving the safety of their surroundings.

The day I flew back from Lima, Peru in the summer of 2006 was the day the US announced the ban on carrying liquids in hand luggage. I had no clue what was going on until I got back home. No one in Peru was panicking and so there were no restrictions when I boarded the plane with my usual bottle of water.

The day I flew back from Kathmandu to Delhi in October 2007 was the day that Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan from years of exile in Dubai. That day, security in the entire Indian subcontinent region was heightened out of fears that her return would spark violent riots. Airport security was tighter than anything I had ever experienced before - 5 checkpoints at the airport in Delhi. Tragically, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated 3 months later at a political rally in Pakistan.

Just a short time before Lei and I left for Turkey and Croatia, a car bomb targeting Turkish soldiers, killed five people and wounded 68 in the city of Diyarbakir, a predominately Kurdish city located in southeast Turkey. The attack appeared to be in retaliation for three airstrikes by Turkish warplanes against Kurdish rebel shelters in northern Iraq the previous.

Around the same time, Montenegro declared its independnce from Serbia threatening to reignite a decades old hatred between Serbian and Croatia, which was siding with Montenegro.

Just prior to my second trip to Turkey 2008, the stock tumbled with several major financial institutions declaring bankruptcy. I just kept hoping that neither the airlines I was flying on or the banks that I had my money in were going under.

This time, my trip might be derailed not by the threat of violence or a financial crisis but by lingering fears of swine flu.

To me, the 2009 swine flu outbreak came and when in a the blink of an historic eye but for others, concerns of a possible still live on.

In late April 2009, WHO (World Health Organization) declared a "public health emergency of international concern" under the rules of the WHO's new International Health Regulations when the first cases of the H1N1 virus, as the swine flu is officially known as, were reported in the United States. Swine flu has come and gone in previous years but this was the first time that cases of human to human infection were reported and people were dying from it. Put into perspective though, more people die each year of the common flu than swine flu but (and I blame this on the media), panic followed annoucements of the first swine flu death.

While the rest of world has moved on from the scares that gripped entire nations for nearly three weeks in early May, China seems to be still reacting out of fear. Just today I read an article on washingtonpost.com that started with the story of a traveller from Alexandria, VA who was quarantined for 3 days in a Beijing hospital because his body temperature registered 98.9 degrees Fahrenheit....just 0.3 degrees above normal. As quoted from the article,
"In Beijing, more than 650 people have been quarantined since the scare began in April. Many of them were identified at the city's international airport, where masked technicians inspect each passenger and check for fever with a thermal forehead scanner that emits a beam of light.

Those unlucky enough to have flulike symptoms are taken to a quarantine building, decorated with posters about SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, at Beijing's modern Ditan Hospital. For the time it takes to get the results of a test for swine flu -- two or three days -- this is their home.

Each patient is given a single room, painted light blue, with a bed, sink, shower, telephone and TV. Patients get three meals a day -- their choice of Chinese cuisine (mostly chicken and rice) or Western cooking (chicken and rice prepared a different way). Many of the medical professionals speak English and are very kind, patients said."

I hope that by the time I travel in mid June, Chinese fears will have abated and I won't have to worry about ending up quarantined in a Chinese hospital. I will be keeping my fingers crossed until I pass through immigration!