Options During a Pandemic
The U.S. Government and international health agencies continue to provide information to U.S. citizens living, working, or traveling overseas on how to prepare for a severe pandemic, should one strike.
In 2009, a strain of influenza called 2009-H1N1 spread rapidly around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared 2009-H1N1 to be a pandemic, based on its wide spread, and categorized it as moderate, since most individuals infected with this virus fully recover.
The WHO has now determined that we are in the post-pandemic period, but health professionals remain concerned that the spread of influenza viruses has the potential to significantly threaten human health. If a particularly severe form of influenza virus develops and begins to spread easily from person to person, it could spread globally and lead to many deaths. If this happens, a severe pandemic would be declared by international and national public health and disease prevention organizations, such as the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
You should be aware that you may not be able to travel internationally during a severe pandemic because travel may be restricted to reduce the spread of the virus. For example, governments may close borders suddenly and without advance warning; commercial air, land, and sea carriers could cancel some or all services; and some countries may even quarantine people who appear sick. These developments could delay your travel to the United States, another country, or another region. You may need to remain where you are until conditions improve, which could take several weeks or months.
Private U.S. Citizens Residing Abroad or Working Overseas Long-Term
If you are a private U.S. citizen, you will need to rely on local healthcare providers and locally-available medications. U.S. Government facilities overseas, such as Embassies, Consulates, and military facilities, lack the legal authority, capability, and resources to dispense vaccines, medications, or medical care to private U.S. citizens. Consider local conditions and evaluate your ability to maintain adequate supplies of food, water, and medication. Decide where you would be safest during a pandemic and plan accordingly. Ask your doctor and health insurance company in advance about how you could get appropriate medication for treatment if you become ill, keeping in mind it could take many months to develop and produce sufficient quantities of a vaccine during a pandemic.
Short-Term Visitors, Tourists, and Students Abroad
Consult with your doctor before you travel and ask about medications you should take with you. Research the availability and quality of medical facilities at your destination and consider purchasing medical evacuation insurance. Be aware that hotels may cease to provide housekeeping and meal services during a severe pandemic, and many may close or steeply raise prices. Consider changing your travel plans or returning to the United States once there is evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of a more severe form of influenza, since commercial air transportation may quickly become unavailable.
If You Cannot Return to the United States
In the event of a severe, global pandemic, you should be prepared to remain abroad longer than your planned trip. You should avoid non-essential travel beyond your residence and workplace. You should also limit activities that could expose you to others who may be ill. Based on varying conditions abroad, you should prepare contingency plans and emergency supplies (non-perishable food, potable water or water-purification supplies, medications, etc.) for the possibility of remaining in that country up to twelve weeks. Visit the U.S. Government's federal influenza website to see examples of comprehensive planning checklists for individuals, businesses, schools, and other groups.
You should wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds to eradicate viruses and bacteria. When soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with a minimum of 60 percent alcohol content, following product instructions. Shield your coughs and sneezes with a disposable or washable item (tissue, handkerchief, etc.). Get vaccinated against seasonal flu. Ask your employer, organization, or school about pandemic contingency plans. Please review detailed community mitigation guidelines, as well as information on the use of masks and anti-viral medications in a pandemic, available on the federal influenza website.
During a Pandemic
You should practice social distancing measures such as teleworking, limiting handshaking and face-to-face meetings, avoiding crowds, and maintaining a distance of six (6) feet or more from other people. If you are healthy, consult with your employers about whether you should go to the workplace during a pandemic, taking into account local conditions and the risk of infection. If you are sick or are staying with a sick person, you should consult with your healthcare provider to determine the appropriate course of action, which could include home treatment.
Keep Yourself Informed
If you are in a country in which a virus with a high mortality rate, such as H5N1, is circulating, consider the potential risks and plan accordingly. Check our FAQs about Avian Influenza A (H5N1) and Pandemic Influenza and keep current with the latest medical guidance and practical information for travelers by visiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Travelers' Health website and the WHO's International Travel and Health website.
Learn About Your Destination
Check your overseas medical insurance coverage: Ask your medical insurance company if your policy applies overseas, and if it covers emergency expenses such as medical evacuation. If it does not, consider supplemental insurance.