Swine Flu Concerns Americans Studying Abroad

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The number of American students studying abroad continues to set records. According to the Institute of International Education, U.S. Study abroad increases an average of 8.6 percent a year. It is estimated that 300,000 students will enroll in overseas study programs for a portion or all of the 2009-2010 school year. Along with this increase comes exposure to foreign illnesses, particularly the swine flu or H1N1. Good Neighbor Insurance has set up travel insurance plans for students, primarily in response to parents concerned for the health and safety of their children.

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There are three possible checkpoints where an American student could be quarantined anywhere from four to ten days even if they show no flu symptoms.

As students return to school in the Northern Hemisphere, advisors to President Obama are estimating that up to half of all Americans will get the H1N1 or swine flu this winter. Students studying in countries affected by swine flu should take special note of this. China is the fifth largest choice of destination for American students, and the Chinese government is taking stringent measures to screen all Americans flying into the country.

Good Neighbor Insurance urges schools and parents to ensure that students are covered by international travel insurance prior to travel. Although health officials in the United Kingdom allow foreign visitors access to their public health system for the diagnosis and treatment of the H1N1 virus, other countries are less accommodating.

Since the new virus was first identified in Mexico in March, China has had the most aggressive quarantine measures of any country. They have not only quarantined people with slightly elevated temperatures but also entire airplanes. China prides itself on the low percentage of infection in their local population, but US embassies in China have received complaints from stranded Americans.

Sharon Seeberger, whose organization coordinates American teachers and students in China, explained in a telephone interview, “There are three possible checkpoints where an American student could be quarantined anywhere from four to ten days even if they show no flu symptoms.”

The first is before they deplane, when a team of health officials boards the airplane to measure the temperature of every passenger. The officials then determine if they are going to transport any of the passengers to a hotel for quarantine.

Jeff Gulleson, President of Good Neighbor Insurance, states that if a student comes down with a cold or slightly elevated temperature before leaving the country, he or she should get a letter from a doctor clearing them of swine flu infection. “Students may still be quarantined on arrival in China,” Gulleson says, “but they will probably not be sent back on the next flight home if they have a letter from their doctor.”

The second possibility is after all the passengers have continued their travels into China. If anyone on their former flight becomes ill with the flu, Chinese officials may look up and quarantine everyone on that flight’s manifest.

The third situation is actually a quarantine mandated by officials local to the school. These regulations vary widely in China and may be a general quarantine of all incoming foreigners and anyone who went to the airport to meet them.

These quarantines are spotty and unpredictable as are the conditions of the quarantine. But then, Sharon adds, ''The only thing certain about China is that everything is uncertain.'' Travelers should bring extra snacks, soap and toilet paper just in case. ''This doesn’t mean you’ll be quarantined,'' she adds, ''But if (you’re prepared) and you’re not quarantined, then you’ll just be ecstatic.''

Gulleson continues, “Good Neighbor Insurance understands the financial and physical impact placed on the student and parents when a study abroad program is interrupted by an illness or quarantine. This is why we have set up student travel insurance plans that will decrease – or almost eliminate – these burdens.”

Good Neighbor guides school officials, students and parents in selecting the most appropriate international insurance. Good insurance plans extend significant benefits.

Trip interruption due to the random nature of the quarantines is a feature of this kind of insurance.

After the insurance company is contacted by the student or parent through a 24/7 collect call number, agents will be in direct contact with board certified (or the equivalent) medical personnel in the foreign country. Should it be required, medical evacuation to either a nearby facility or the United States will also be paid for by student travel insurance.

Emergency reunion benefits can offer peace of mind to students and parents if a student becomes ill in China. Coverage includes a round trip air ticket for a relative if the student is hospitalized for seven days or longer. Many travel insurance plans also offer concierge services to assist in making arrangements.

Another well-used benefit of student travel insurance is access to drug and medical phrase translation guides. Parents and students use them to communicate with on-site medical personnel.

In the event of terrorism or political upheaval, students will be evacuated.

Doug of Good Neighbor Insurance indicated in a phone conversation that almost all international travel insurance plans include coverage for swine flu. “Let’s say you get very ill on your trip and have to be air ambulanced to a nearby country for medical help. The entire cost of this medical intervention is $85,000. If you bought travel insurance for a two week trip, your only out of pocket cost is $23.00.”

Long-term insurance rates are affected by the age of the student. Group rates save considerable money.

Good Neighbor Insurance is proud to be able to now offer affordable student travel insurance.

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Miriam Sirag
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