The U.S Department of State has warned that U.S. citizens traveling abroad should be prepared for screening and quarantine procedures that may be put in place at some foreign airports as a way to reduce the spread of the H1N1 flu.

A specific alert was issued at the end of September about quarantine measures in China, which recently strengthened the policy it implemented last summer allowing for the quarantine of arriving passengers who exhibit fever or flulike symptoms. "Although the overall percentage of U.S. citizens being quarantined remains low, the nature of the selection process makes it almost impossible to predict when a traveler may be placed into quarantine," the alert states. The Travel Alert expires on December 30, 2009.

Meanwhile, numerous international airports have put thermal scanners in place to detect passengers with fevers. Those with elevated body temperatures may be subjected to additional health checks or quarantines.

Some other screening procedures may involve asking travelers to:

  • pass by a scanning device that checks body temperature,
  • have their temperature taken with an oral or ear thermometer,
  • fill out a sheet of questions about their health,
  • review information about the symptoms of 2009 H1N1 flu,
  • give their address, phone number, and other contact information, and/or
  • be quarantined for a period of time if a passenger on the flight is found to have symptoms of 2009 H1N1 flu.

If a traveler has a fever or respiratory symptoms or is suspected to have 2009 H1N1 flu based on screening, he or she may be asked to:

  • be isolated from other people until he or she is well,
  • have a medical examination,
  • take a rapid flu test (which consists of a nasal swab sample), and/or
  • be hospitalized and given medical treatment, if he or she tests positive for 2009 H1N1 flu.

The State Department's recommendation, first and foremost, is: If you have symptoms of flulike illness (fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue), don't travel.

International meeting planners are advised to consider travel insurance because of the potential delays that could be caused by H1N1 screening. The State Department Web site has a list of insurance companies.

There is no central directory showing which countries are actively screening or quarantining passengers. The CDC suggests visiting the travel information pages of the individual countries to which you are traveling.

The United States is not screening travelers who arrive from other countries or depart for other countries. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does require airline crews on flights bound for the United States to report, prior to arrival, any passenger with "observable signs" of the H1N1 flu to the CDC Quarantine Station at the airport where the plane will land. Quarantine officials will work with the airline to transport the patient upon arrival in accordance with disease control and containment measures. Read the requirements.