travelling on a plane can sometimes feel like being trapped in a germ incubator.This year, that is especially true.
In America the flu season is so bad that many travellers are delaying their trips or are taking precautions — such as avoiding the hotel gym or waiting for an empty lift.
Some hotels, such as the Omni Berkshire Place in New York, are preparing chicken soup for sick guests.
The flu isn’t much fun, especially if you are away from home. Thankfully, there are lots of websites that enable travellers to check just how virus-ridden their destination is. Google’s Flu Trends aggregates data on flu-related Google searches to estimate activity in about 30 countries.
The 2012-13 season has been the worst in the tracker’s seven-year history. Clicking on America reveals that activity is “intense”. If you are visiting the Dakotas, the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi or Nevada, you might just escape it. If you head anywhere else, pack a few extra tissues.
The Google data don’t precisely match the information provided by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, but they are close. The agency’s flu map shows sniffling all over mainland America, except in Tennessee and the District of Columbia.
It does not give the severity of outbreaks, instead providing national weekly hospitalisation rates. And there is lots more information on the site to make hypochondriacs nervous.
Other countries track the flu too. In Britain the Health Protection Agency gives weekly updates. The Public Health Agency of Canada’s FluWatch displays widespread outbreaks in the southern portions of Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia, (ie, where most of the big cities are) as well as in Newfoundland, where it’s already miserable in winter.
There is no shortage of advice on how to avoid catching the virus. The simplest way, says Canada’s health agency, is to wash your hands—a lot. An annual flu vaccination will help, too. It also advises people to stay at home and avoid crowds when sick. That is very sensible, but it can take up to a week for symptoms to appear.
The truth is you are likely to encounter someone with the flu while travelling. Then again, the chances are you would have anyway if you were at home, especially if you have school-aged children. But if you really have to travel, Australia and Romania are looking relatively snot-free.
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