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H1N1 (Swine Flu): Going on Vacation? How to be flu safe

November 15, 2009

For many of us, the anxiety of being exposed to H1N1 has made us a bit anxious and has caused us to change some of our behaviors…now, that is not all such a bad thing! However, even places like Disneyland and Disneyworld are looked at with a bit of trepidation.

Disney

Amusement parks – Large crowds, objects touched by millions of fingers, international visitors, long and close lines and touchy-feely interaction among guests and cartoon characters, these parks are a bit of a perfect petri dish!

Disney fans’ discussion boards are buzzing about the fears of transmission and whether some people are putting their fellow vacationers at risk. Visitor post on DISBoards.com, an online forum for Disney fans, “Please do NOT go to Disney World if you (or your children) are sick.”

It’s not just Disney parks, of course, that are suddenly being viewed as sources of possible contagions. Everywhere vacationers gather in big groups — whether Universal Studios or Dollywood — must now deal with the perception that visitors may end up going home with more than just pleasant memories. Theme park officials acknowledge the fears of some people about visiting a crowded place like a theme park but say that measures they have put in place to fight the spread of the H1N1 virus meet or exceed the recommendations of the CDC.

For Disney, those measures include ordering more than 200,000 individual hand sanitizers for Disney World and placing them in various locations throughout its parks, offering free seasonal flu vaccinations to cast members or employees, providing H1N1 information and flu prevention tips to workers and maintaining high sanitation standards.

“Disney parks maintain rigorous standards of hygiene and cleanliness for our cast members and guests. We provide employee training and implement extensive cleaning procedures as necessary,” said Michael Hankins, chief physician at the Walt Disney World Resort. “Hand washing and other basic hygiene steps, as recommended by the C.D.C., remain extremely effective ways to combat seasonal flu whether at school, on the playground or visiting a theme park.”

disney-1

If a sick child uses, say, Goofy’s costume as a tissue, a handler (one of the employees who act as the eyes and ears of the characters in costume) can instruct the character to change into a fresh costume. And visitors who display serious symptoms can be referred to a park’s first-aid center for medical assistance.

Other theme parks say they are following similar measures, working closely with the local health officials, hanging up signs that remind people to wash their hands, installing hand sanitizers and reviewing health and safety plans in case the issue escalates.

It’s not only visitors to the theme parks who worry about the danger of catching swine flu. Some park workers themselves are concerned about the germs that visitors may be bringing with them on vacation, especially those who want an up-close-and-personal experience. “What little girl doesn’t want to run up and hug Cinderella when they see her in real life?” said Donna-Lynne Dalton, a Disney character captain and an official of the Teamsters in Orlando, which represents many Disney workers.

crowds-at-disney-hollywood

About 17 million people visited the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World last year, according to the Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM. Disneyland, in Anaheim, Calif., had about 14.7 million visitors; Universal Studios in Orlando, 6.2 million; and SeaWorld in Orlando, 5.9 million.

Dr. Phyllis Kozarsky, a travel health expert at the C.D.C., said that fears about catching H1N1 on a Disney vacation might be overblown. “To single out Disneyland and Disney World is not appropriate with regard to transmission of H1N1,” she said in an e-mail message. “There are too numerous to count opportunities for people to be in close spaces together, whether in movie theaters, in crowded shopping malls, on public transportation as well as during most individuals’ daily activities.”

What are some tips if you’re planning a vacation to a theme park in the next few months?

  • Get your kids vaccinated with H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available in your area.
  • Get plenty of rest and eat well.
  • If any of your family members are sick, leave them at home, or don’t go at all — even though that might be a costly decision. Disney and Universal Orlando will refund your payment, minus $200, if you make a last-minute cancellation. As for airlines, most will generally allow travelers to use the value of nonrefundable tickets toward a future flight, typically minus a change fee that could be $100 or more.
  • Get travel insurance to cover nonrefundable expenses.
  • Consider getting a prescription for a drug like Tamflu before your trip.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • If you see someone sneezing or coughing, run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/travel/8pracflu.html?_r=1&nl=travel&emc=tda3

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