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Unclear how flu outbreak will affect travel

Written by editor

Travel agents said it is too early to tell how seriously the outbreak of swine influenza will affect travel to Mexico, where 149 people have died from the illness.

Travel agents said it is too early to tell how seriously the outbreak of swine influenza will affect travel to Mexico, where 149 people have died from the illness.

The federal Centers for Disease Control has not recommended against travel to Mexico but has issued a precaution urging travelers to affected areas to monitor the situation and practice healthy habits including frequent hand-washing, covering their mouths when they sneeze and not sneezing into bare hands.

“At this point it’s pretty early to say if there’s any impact or what the impact will be,” said Amanda Borichevsky, spokeswoman for Travelocity, a large online travel agency.

Dan Toporek, a Travelocity vice president in San Francisco, said the company has received “a relatively low volume of calls” from customers who have booked trips to Mexico, and is sending alerts to customers with travel plans in the next few weeks. Travelocity has waived all fees for changing travel plans, as have major airlines.

At STA Travel, a national agency that specializes in student travel, spokesman Patrick Evans said no reservations had been canceled yet, but he noted that this is a low period for student travel. STA has also waived fees for changing travel plans.

While the European Union cautioned against travel to the United States and Mexico, the acting director for the Centers for Disease Control said he thought it was “premature” to send that message. In the U.S., there have been 40 confirmed cases and only one of those cases involved hospitalization, according to the CDC.

In San Diego, tourism officials reported a surge in phone calls asking about the swine flu, and said they hope it would not exacerbate an already suffering tourist season.

“A lot of this tends to get blown out of proportion,” he said. “Obviously our industry is not healthy right now because of the economic issues, and we don’t want another issue to affect us when it’s not necessary. Not to minimize it, but the press on this is much more than the reality.”