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A Year Later, H1N1 Flu and Your Summer Travel Plans

Sharon Foster - TRICARE Management Activity

Last summer the H1N1 flu dominated the news. It was described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the first pandemic of the 21st century. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that between 7,880 and 16,460 H1N1-related deaths occurred between April 1 and Dec. 12, 2009.

A year later, the H1N1 flu has fallen off the public’s radar but the WHO reports it’s still a global problem. There could be danger in believing the risk is gone, especially for TRICARE beneficiaries traveling internationally or going on cruises.

It is important to think about how the seasonal and H1N1 flu may affect vacation and travel plans. Many people associate flu or influenza with cold weather. Indeed, influenza generally occurs during the winter months, but in some regions, it is most active from April through September or throughout the year, according to the CDC.

Traveling to areas where seasonal and H1N1 flu activity is higher than in the U.S. can put vacationers at risk. So can taking a cruise or visiting a resort with travelers from areas where influenza activity is higher. Any traveler who wants to reduce the risk of getting sick with influenza should get the vaccine. It is best to get the vaccine at least two weeks before the start of a trip, according to the CDC.

“In years past, the elderly represented most of those who died from the flu,” said Col. Wayne Hachey, DO, MPH, director, Preventive Medicine, TMA. “With the emergence of the 2009 H1N1 flu, everyone is at risk. Young, healthy people die from the flu. If you have not been immunized, you place yourself and your loved ones at unnecessary risk.”

TRICARE covers the following vaccines for the seasonal and H1N1 flu for all beneficiaries:

  • Flu shot: an inactivated vaccine containing a killed virus and given with a needle. This form of the vaccine may be used in all age groups.
  • Flu mist: nasal-spray flu vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses. This form of the vaccine is limited for use in people who are between the ages of 2 and 49 years, and who are not pregnant when they receive the vaccination.

Flu vaccines are provided by select TRICARE-authorized providers or through a network pharmacy that participates in the vaccination program at a zero co-pay to TRICARE beneficiaries. No referral or prior authorization is required when this benefit is obtained at one of these pharmacies, but state laws may have specific requirements for a prescription or required minimum age limits. To locate a participating pharmacy, beneficiaries can go to (www.express-scripts.com/TRICARE) or call Express Scripts, the TRICARE pharmacy program contractor, at 877-363-1303.

All active duty and National Guard and Reserve personnel should follow the Department of Defense’s guidance. Non-active duty Prime beneficiaries must have a referral and authorization from their primary care manager to receive the seasonal or H1N1 vaccine from a non-network provider who does not accept TRICARE’s allowable charge as payment in full. Without authorization, the beneficiary is responsible for the bill.

For more information about the seasonal and H1N1 flu and to learn about preventing the flu, visit the TRICARE Flu Resources Web page at www.tricare.mil/flu/ or the TRICARE Novel Influenza A (H1N1) Web page at www.tricare.mil/flu/fluh1n1.aspx.

TRICARE beneficiaries can always help in the global fight of controlling the spread of influenza by staying at home if they are sick, washing their hands frequently and covering coughs and sneezes.

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