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Swine flu hysteria spanning global outdoors realm; is any place safe?

April 28, 2009 | 12:51 pm

Costa Rica's Saint Teresa beach.

The swine flu scare is now global and some of the world's premier outdoors destinations have become swept up in the hysteria.

So if you're a bird-watcher with plans to visit, say, Costa Rica, you may wonder whether it's safe. Of course it is, but there are no guarantees, just as there are none while staying home.

People are contracting the virus in Southern California and New York and in U.S. points between. The virus reportedly has been detected in Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada, Spain and numerous other countries.

There are wonderful destinations where it has not yet surfaced, among them Hawaii, Cuba and Costa Rica. Oops, check that: Two hours ago the Tico Times reported that "a 21-year-old Costa Rican woman has become the country's first case of swine flu and is in stable condition."

This does not mean that tourists should avoid Costa Rica, just as they should not strike every single location in Mexico off their travel list. But don't step onto the airplane with a cough, or you might be turned away after you land. Seriously. It's happening.

In Australia, for example, two women on a Qantas flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane were sent back home with Tamiflu medication because they'd become ill with flu-like symptoms and had been in contact with people from Mexico. The Mexico connection is a red flag, right or wrong.

blue-striped snapper school above coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Interestingly, World Health Organization spokesman Gregory Hartl told reporters that the source of some infections in the United States, Canada and Britain was unclear. Of travel restrictions or bans, Hartl said they do not work and recalled the 2003 SARS epidemic, which killed 774 people, mostly in Asia, and slowed the global economy.

"There was much more economic disruption caused by these measures than there was public health benefit," Hartl said.

So people apparently just need to remain calm and sensible, especially while traveling. Mexico City? Probably not a good idea. Costa Rica or Hawaii? Fantastic places worth visiting. Waiting till this all blows over, which it will? Not a bad idea either. It all depends on where you live and where you were planning to go.

--Pete Thomas

Photo of Costa Rica's Saint Teresa beach by Erin Van Rheenen. In second photo, blue-striped snapper school above coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Rick Loomis Los Angeles Times