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Traveling While Contagious

Allianz' "Basic" plan covers the following:
  • travel insurance policy money
    * Complete Cessation of Services
  • * Death of Family Member
  • * Death of Insured
  • * Death of Traveling Companion
  • * Foreign and Domestic Terrorism
  • * Hijacking
  • * Home Uninhabitable
  • * Illness of Family Member
  • * Illness of Insured
  • * Illness of Traveling Companion
  • * Injury of Family Member
    * Injury of Insured
    * Injury of Traveling Companion
    * Jury/Subpoena
    * Involved in a Traffic Accident
    * Military Obligations

    There is nothing at all equivocal about most of these; it is important, however, to understand the insurer's stance on pre-existing conditions (the bugbear of the insurance industry at all levels). In the simplest terms, pre-existing conditions are not covered, unless you purchase a policy that specifically covers your condition. This applies to longer-term conditions (a broken leg) as well as to more temporary conditions (a stomach bug); in short, they don't want you to buy travel insurance after you are already sick or injured.

    A raft of "General Exclusions" may also apply; the Allianz Basic plan lists the following:
    In addition to any other exclusions that may apply to a particular benefit, no coverage is provided for any loss that results directly or indirectly from any of the following unless as specifically included: existing medical conditions; intentional self-harm, suicide or attempted suicide; pregnancy (unless unforeseen complications or problems), fertility treatments, childbirth or elective abortion; mental or nervous health disorders, (like anxiety, depression, neurosis or psychosis); use or abuse of alcohol or drugs, or related physical complications; war (declared or undeclared), acts of war, military duty, civil disorder or unrest; participation in or training for any professional or amateur sporting competition; participating in extreme, high risk sports; flying or learning to fly an aircraft as pilot or crew; nuclear reaction, radiation or radioactive contamination; natural disasters; epidemic or pandemic; air, water or other pollution or threat of pollutant release; unlawful acts; expected or reasonably foreseeable events or problems; financial default of a travel supplier; terrorist events; travel bulletins or alerts; and government prohibition or regulations.
    Clearly these two lists contradict one another in places -- the "Covered" list includes terrorism, as does the "Exclusions" list -- so as noted above, you will want to read and understand the fine print when purchasing insurance. We recommend calling the insurer and asking directly about any questions you may have.

    And again, when filing a claim based on illness, you will almost certainly need a doctor's note -- so get one!

    Learn More About Travel Insurance

    Fine, Those are the Policies ... But Doesn't Anyone Care That I Am Contagious?!?
    Yep, you are. But the airlines aren't going to give you much slack for it -- that is simply a risk you take when purchasing nonrefundable fares. Of course, this is why it is unsurprising that contagious diseases are being spread on airplanes -- faced with hundreds or thousands in penalties and upcharges, most folks just get on the darn plane.

    doctor stethoscope patient write prescriptionSo what can you do to reduce the risk to yourself and others when contagious -- and when should you absolutely skip the flight and throw yourself on the mercy of the appeals process?

    I asked Dr. Alla Kirsch, Medical Director with Travel Clinics of America, several questions that may help guide you the next time you are in the position of deciding whether or not to travel when not feeling well, both for your own health and that of others.

    Are the risks mainly for spreading illness to other passengers, or does the infected traveler also take on additional risk?
    The risk of an ill person spreading the disease is not only to those traveling near him but populations at large. Past outbreaks of TB, measles and mumps in United States and elsewhere have been started by one ill person traveling from another country. Also, recognize that risks may extend to unborn children, such as in the case of a pregnant woman contracting chicken pox on a plane. This would put her unborn child at risk for congenital abnormalities.

    Is there anything specific to traveling that makes the situation more critical?
    A person who has early appendicitis may have only vomiting and malaise. If he is on a long flight, pain may become severe and the appendix may even burst before he can be taken to surgery. Obviously traveling under such circumstances may be very dangerous. Intermittent chest pain may be an early warning sign of a heart attack and may become an emergency during a flight. Flying is already a risk to dehydration and someone with vomiting and diarrhea may be unable to keep up with fluid replacement and become severely dehydrated. Flying with a sinus or an ear infection can make one miserable from pain as well.

    What do you recommend as the best precautions to take when traveling while contagious?
    To protect others, do not touch anything that others could also be touching. Consider wearing a mask. Best advice: If you are contagious, do not travel.

    Which common conditions present the most risk of transfer to other folks?
    Viral respiratory illnesses, influenza and gastroenteritis are most common but measles, mumps, tuberculosis and others can also occur.

    Do airplanes present a greater challenge in this case than do, say, trains or buses?
    Supposedly not because the air is filtered. I, as a practicing physician, see many who become ill after a flight. This could be because of overcrowding and close seating.

    At what point or under which circumstances do you recommend that someone cancel their travel?
    I would advise canceling the trip if someone is running a high fever (over 101), has vomiting or severe diarrhea, or is unsure of the diagnosis. In the end, it is worthwhile to remember that sick people travel every day -- they also handle and exchange money in stores and banks, lick envelopes, cook for their families and in restaurants, open doors, etc. When it comes to travel, though, an ounce of prevention may be worth a week's pay in fees.

    Go Anyway,
    Ed Hewitt
    Features Editor
    The Independent Traveler

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