BEND, OR -- More than 35 children have died from flu-related complications in the U.S., in the past couple months, and the Centers For Disease Control reports the flu is now widespread in every state but Hawaii. Health experts urge people with symptoms to stay home, but that can be a difficult request for a patient with travel plans.
KBND medical expert Dr. Eric Wattenburg knew it would be a bad flu season, given the timing of the first positive cases, "It is rampant here. In our urgent care clinic, we started seeing the flu in early December - We had positive flu A and B tests in early December. This one hitting right before Christmas, it was just a bad omen because we knew that everyone was going to travel over the Christmas holiday and spread this thing. And, what happened? We saw a nationwide, if not worldwide, explosion of the flu and now the kids are taking it back to school."
He says he’s seen dozens of patients with symptoms over the past few months who also have plane tickets or hotel reservations. "They are very disappointed. The best that I can do is treat the symptoms, treat with medications if necessary or indicated, and I can give a note – and I’ve done this many, many times. I have written a very simple note that says: ‘Patient has the flu. She should not fly and she should not travel until she is better'." He admits it's a long-shot effort to get non-refundable tickets changed. And, he says, many don’t heed his advice and travel anyway, which he believes is contributing to the spread of the flu. "You hear tell of people already afraid to fly on an airline when they’re healthy, because they don’t want to pick up whatever one or two people on the airline might have. We all know, at least anecdotally, if you put one or two ill people in a confined space, many other people will become ill."
AAA-Oregon's Marie Dodds says airlines and hotels often impose change fees to move reservations but some will accommodate requests. She recommends calling and pleading your case by phone. Dodds also urges travelers get travel insurance, which covers illness. She says it can often be purchased as late as 24 hour prior to departure.
There’s no way to know how many people have contracted the flu from an out-of-town visitor. Dr. Wattenburg says if you’re sick and can postpone travel plans, you should do so. If you must travel, he suggests wearing a mask and washing your hands often.