Letter Re: Avoiding Influenza When Traveling Overseas

My work forces me to travel frequently – 80 to 90% of the time. And it’s not to fun places like Miami or Rio but rather third world locales (just coming back from a swing through the ‘stans – Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan — where I have a large telecommunications project). As such I get exposed to every imaginable sort of illness. I finally found a doctor I could work with when he started to ask where I had been lately rather than what the symptoms were.

As such I have a larger than normal medical kit I take with me on the road. (I also have a 1 quart water bottle sized survival kit I take with me, but more on that in another letter). So I have traveled for years and over the time the kit has grown based on the needs I could not meet in the locales I was in. It really took off when I spent one early December in Beijing and for three weeks the entire stock of western medicines in Beijing was sold out – no decongestants, no ibuprofen, and no sleep as a very bad cold kept me up.

Over the years I have found certain habits to be essential to keeping healthy overseas. First and foremost is a regular dosage of Vitamin C. As soon as I think I am coming down with something I start on a regime of Golden Seal mixed with Echinacea. Finally, I make sure that I have various OTC cold medicines with me at all times – such as Mucinex and 12-hour Sudafed. I also carry Ciprofloxacin, various sulfa drugs, and more recently Tamiflu, as well.

On top of this I am a hygiene nut – washing hands frequently, making quite sure that the water for tea is boiling before I get it, carrying hand wipes with me (Okay, since my youngest is finally out of diapers I am using up the last of the small diaper wipe packets), and the like.

Now while frequent close contact is the norm in many cultures and cannot be avoided without causing undue friction–I still can’t bring myself to do the nose rub with the Arabs–and although I do teach impromptu martial arts classes to all comers in hotel gyms, I do try to limit it.

But all my precautions were to no avail with the Swine Flu. I am just getting over it and have passed it on to my 17-year old son. I assume that the rest of the family will follow in short order (five kids means lots of germ breeding goes on). And if you were in the Frankfurt airport on Saturday – I probably gave it to you as well.

As such I would strongly recommend that folks, while preparing with masks and gloves and the like, concentrate on preparing for getting swine flu. I did everything “right” from a prevention stand point without turning myself into a hermit. And yet here we are with it spreading in my family.

What I have found in my personal case is that the three key medicines to have on hand were Mucinex [expectorant], 12-hour Sudafed [decongestant], and Albuterol Sulfate (found in most of the asthma inhalers and commonly used in nebulizer treatments for breathing disorders). Fortunately, with my travels I have a prescription for, and carry, one of the asthma inhalers for those times that I have come down with various forms of pneumonia while on the road. – Hugh D.