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Before You Go

Avian Influenza A (H5N1) and Pandemic Influenza

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Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I find up-to-date medical and planning information on avian influenza Type A (H5N1) and pandemic influenza?
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How can I prepare for a pandemic?

You can follow the advice that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has developed to guard against infection during a pandemic. It includes simple techniques such as:

  • washing your hands
  • practicing cough etiquette
  • staying home when you or family members are sick
  • limiting close or direct physical contact with others
  • avoiding public gathering places
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How can I obtain antiviral medications?

If you are overseas, you should find out if antiviral medications are available and whether you need a prescription. If adequate medical treatment or antiviral medications are not readily available at your overseas location or travel destination(s), talk to your doctor about buying a supply before you travel overseas. You can buy antiviral medications in the United States with a prescription from your doctor or healthcare provider. Due to legal restrictions, U.S. embassies and consulates cannot provide private U.S. citizens with medications, supplies, or medical treatment.

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What should I do if I need a doctor or medical treatment?

It is important for you to consider the local availability of medical treatment, including hospital care and medication, in the event of a pandemic. For a current list of doctors/hospitals in the country to which you are traveling, you can access the U.S. Department of State's list of embassies and consulates. You will find a list of medical practitioners either in the Consular Services or American Citizen Services section of the embassy website.

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What if I have a pre-existing medical condition?

The WHO and CDC have identified several chronic medical conditions that may cause a higher risk of suffering complications from influenza. If you have one of these conditions, you should consider returning to the United States early at the onset of a severe pandemic or postponing your travel. Those at high risk may include pregnant women; adults and children who have chronic pulmonary (including asthma), cardiovascular (except hypertension), renal, hepatic, hematological, or metabolic disorders (including diabetes mellitus); adults and children who have suppressed immune systems (caused by medication or by HIV); and adults and children who have any neurological condition (e.g., cognitive dysfunction, spinal cord injuries, seizure, or other neuromuscular disorders) that can compromise respiratory function. In the event of an actual severe pandemic, additional groups might be at particular risk of becoming ill.

You should check the HHS/CDC and WHO websites for the latest information. You can obtain additional country information from the U.S. Department of State's country information pages and on the embassy or consulate’s website. You may also call the U.S. Department of State's toll-free number, 1-888-407-4747, or if calling from overseas, 1-202-501-4444, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST.

 

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Will the U.S. government evacuate U.S. citizens from a foreign country?

Regularly scheduled commercial flights or transportation are always the best option when local communications and transportation infrastructure are intact and operating normally. In extreme situations, if there are no commercial options (planes, trains, boats/ferries, etc.) available and if we have consular officers at the embassy or consulate, we may work with the host government, other countries, and other U.S. government agencies to arrange available transportation for U.S. citizens seeking to depart. Costs are the responsibility of the U.S. citizen.   A pandemic could result in quarantines, border closures, or a lack of equipment or crews, and some people may be forced to remain abroad for these reasons.

You should make sure, in advance, that you have access to adequate supplies of food, drinkable water, and medications in case you are unable to leave a foreign country during a pandemic. Refer to the U.S. Department of State's Options during a Pandemic page.

In the event of a pandemic, monitor the HHS/CDC and WHO websites for the latest information. You can get additional information about the country where you are located from the U.S. Department of State's country information pages and the embassy or consulate’s website. You may also call the U.S. Department of State's toll-free number, 1-888-407-4747, or, if calling from overseas, 1-202-501-4444, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST weekdays.

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What will happen if I can't return to the United States?

If a pandemic causes border closures, quarantines, or other temporary disruptions in commercial transportation, your only option might be to remain in the foreign country to wait out the pandemic. At that point, U.S. government assistance to you might be limited to emergency services from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Examples include communicating urgent messages to/from family and friends, monitoring quarantine/detention conditions as permitted by local health authorities, arranging for transfers of funds from your family or granting temporary subsistence loans, and providing information regarding the availability of local medical care (to be paid for by the individual). Some of these services may not be immediately available during a severe pandemic. Due to legal restrictions, the U.S. Department of State cannot provide private U.S. citizens with food, water, medications, supplies, or medical treatment in the event of a pandemic.

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What if foreign health officials quarantine me overseas?

The U.S. Department of State cannot demand your immediate release if you are detained or quarantined abroad in accordance with local public health and legal authorities. Every effort will be made to assist you, but U.S. government offices overseas may limit operations because of reduced staffing or other conditions. Once the pandemic subsides and travel resumes, the U.S. Department of State can once again provide full consular services to you, including routine repatriation assistance.

Last Updated: May 23, 2018

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