ADVISORY ON SWINE FLU
Earthwatch Institute, Maynard, MA, 28 April 2009- The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed at least 40 non-fatal cases of swine flu influenza A (H1N1) in the US, 6 non-fatal cases in Canada and 26 confirmed cases with 7 fatalities in Mexico. Currently, the virus is being transmitted between humans. The WHO has not issued any travel restrictions for swine flu infected areas, however the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommend deferring all non-essential travel to Mexico. At this time, Earthwatch projects in these areas are proceeding as scheduled but with careful monitoring; Earthwatch will send out another advisory by mid May with a final decision regarding our project scheduled to field in Mexico at the end of May. Earthwatch has been following the situation closely, and advises all staff, scientists and volunteers to take basic precautions by observing good hygiene, and to be aware of the potential for travel delays. As always, safety is our primary concern.
The threat of the virus spreading to additional countries is high due to the frequency of international air travel; therefore, medical screening procedures have been implemented throughout the world's international airports. Earthwatch recommends all travellers contact their airline to obtain additional information concerning screening procedures specific to their location and destination. Participants entering/exiting an infected country should expect to be screened both upon departure and arrival. Participants should be prepared for delays on both ends and allow extra time for travel through the airport. Volunteers in transit should carry their expedition briefing and relevant contact information with them, and contact project staff if they expect to miss their scheduled rendezvous. In the event a passenger is symptomatic and departing an infected country, they may be prevented from boarding their flight and could potentially be quarantined.
It should be noted that though the WHO has not issued any travel restrictions for swine flu infected areas, significant further deterioration of the situation could lead authorities in a given country to control/prohibit travel to and from infected areas with little or no notice. International airports are currently operating normally in Mexico, though travellers are being screened for symptoms of the virus.
Signs and symptoms of swine flu include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, runny nose, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhoea, and joint pain. Earthwatch advises staff, scientists and volunteers to take precautions by observing good hygiene and avoiding people who are obviously sick. It is recommended that any persons experiencing symptoms should consult a physician.
The Earthwatch Field Management team, as part of our daily duties, keeps a close eye on conditions that might affect volunteer safety on our projects. We regularly monitor announcements from the WHO, the CDC, the US State Department, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In addition, we receive daily updates from International SOS, our emergency medical and evacuation assistance provider.
Our first team of the year to Mexico is scheduled to field at the end of May 2009. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and respond as appropriate to any further developments. We will make a final decision on whether this team will field by mid May 2009.
Earthwatch cannot guarantee anyone's safety completely. Natural and political disasters can and do happen without warning. Volunteers should read the expedition briefing thoroughly and think carefully about their personal comfort level with the field conditions of the project, the volunteer tasks and their own physical and mental capabilities. We encourage volunteers to educate themselves about Swine Flu by consulting the following resources:
World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/en/index.html
Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: http://www.dfat.gov.au/
Australian Government Smart Traveller: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/key_facts.htm
United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travelling-and-living-overseas/travel-advice-by-country/north-central-america/mexico
International Society for Infectious Disease: http://www.promedmail.org/pls/otn/f?p=2400:1000:
International SOS: http://www.internationalsos.com/en/index.htm - Member Login: 14ACPA000075, or http://urgent.internationalsos.com/default.aspx .