Is it safe to take that family vacation to Mexico in the midst of a swine flu outbreak? No, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC says that all “nonessential travel” to Mexico — that would include family vacations — be avoided due to the swine flu outbreaks.  The U.S. State Department has joined in with a Mexico travel alert, effective through July 27, 2009.  Many airlines have responded by relaxing their restrictions on rescheduling flights.

“What defines non-essential? If you have a sick relative in Mexico you need to be with, some might say that is essential…others might not,” says Dr. Ronald Hershow, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health. “But certainly vacation travel is non-essential.”

Jaymie Dittman, a mom of young twin boys, who is scheduled to get married in the Riviera Maya area near Cancun next week, has not cancelled the trip. But she has pushed back the departure date for her sons until Saturday. She and her fiance flew to Cancun April 28 to survey the situation on their own and decide whether to allow their sons to fly in on Saturday with their grandparents.

If Jaymie and her fiance Ales don’t feel safe upon surveying the area and getting information about the situation from locals who live and work there, they won’t risk flying the boys down. “It makes me sad because we never wanted a big wedding. We always wanted to get married on the beach. But once we had the boys, we decided that they should be included and be there on that day. Now they may not be there,” says Jaymie.  

Almost three-quarters of Jaymie and Ales’ wedding guests have canceled their trip due to health concerns about the swine flu. “It’s a personal choice and I won’t blame them for not wanting to go down there,” says Jaymie. “I totally understand. And if the situation were reversed, I would be considering canceling my trip as well.”

Jaymie and Ales have already begun taking prescribed Tamiflu before traveling and say their plan is to be extra careful about handwashing, use hand sanitizer gel and wipes and not leaving the resort once they arrive to avoid additional exposure. They plan to be in Mexico for two weeks and are on a 10-day regimen of Tamiflu, with an extra 7-day supply in tow—just in case. 

 If you have no choice and must travel to an area where swine flu cases have been reported, government experts suggest paying close attention to announcements about the affected area and local public health guidelines. Because the flu is most hazardous to people with compromised immune systems including the very young, the very old, leave babies, elderly seniors and those who have been seriously ill at home if at all possible.

What to Expect

That flu shot you got this year won’t help. This a new swine flu virus, which has virus DNA from human, bird and swine strains of flu. The vaccine you got is in the same family of viruses, but the new swine flu, also known as H1N1, is different enough that the vaccine won’t protect you against the new strain.

If you’re headed to Mexico,  expect travel delays as Mexican authorities screen passengers more thoroughly.

Protect yourself by washing your hands thoroughly or using hand sanitizer. Cover your mouth with a surgical mask, but pay attention to the limits of the mask. Some are effective for little as four hours.

The CDC also recommends consulting your physician about taking anti-viral prescription medications as a preventative measure before/while traveling.

In Mexico

On April 25, the Mexican government closed all schools from kindergarten through the university level until May 6 in the Federal District, State of Mexico and San Luis Potosi. Many public and private companies are also closed through May 6. All government-sponsored events that would draw large crows have been canceled, and most tourist attractions such as museums are closed. Also closed in the Federal District are libraries, movie theaters, many restaurants, bars, and churches will be closed until further notice according to the Mexican Ministry of Health.

The World Health Organization (WHO), the Global Alert and Response Network (GOARN) and the CDC have sent experts to Mexico to work with health authorities.

In the United States

The U.S. government on Sunday declared a public health emergency, allowing the release of a portion of an anti-viral stockpile of Tamiflu and Relenza to be shipped to affected states and border states. Suspected cases have been reported in 19 of Mexico’s 32 states.  In the U.S., a total of 64 laboratory confirmed cases had been reported in Texas, California, New York , Kansas and Ohio as of April 27.

Tips for avoiding Swine Flu

Map of documented Swine Flu cases