CDC and State Department Travel Advisory Facts for International Tourists — Q and A

Although not travel advice per se, government-issued travel advisories offer vital facts for international tourists. Do not mistake them for hype! Learn how to read a state department travel advisory, where to find it, and why it is in your best interest to do so.

Q: What is a travel advisory?

A: A State Department travel advisory takes the form of either a travel alert or a travel warning. This information affects international travel only; data comes from the Bureau of Consular Affairs. All facts are sorted by country or vacation destination.

Q: What is the difference between a travel alert and a travel warning?

A: Travel alerts often cover health-related facts and problems. They also warn travelers of brewing unrests. There is a good chance that these problems are of a temporary nature only. For example, as of today, the last travel alert issued is dated August 19 and affects Bahrain. It cites “the potential for spontaneous civil and political unrest.”

In contrast, a travel warning is the American government’s notice that international travel to a particular destination is not in the best interest of tourists. Attacks on international travelers, civil war and acts of terrorism are just some of the reasons for these warnings. The latest warning, dated August 19, affects Somalia and cites “kidnapping, murder, illegal roadblocks, banditry, and other violent incidents and threats to U.S. citizens.”

Q: Are there health-related travel advisories I should know about?

A: Indeed, there are. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain an up-to-date list of health warnings it refers to as “travel notices.” These notices have four tiers; the first tier merely identifies a health problem as being in the news, which is not a warning yet. Case in point is the recent announcement that a traveler has contracted malaria in Greece, which is thought to have been free of the disease-causing virus since 1974.

The next tier is the “outbreak notice,” which denotes a geographically limited presence of a disease that travelers should avoid. The third tier is a “travel health precaution.” It refers to disease outbreaks that cannot be easily avoided and offers advice for travelers with respect to personal precautions. Last is the “travel health warning.” International travelers are strongly cautioned and urged to cancel leisure travel into the region.

Q: What about the flu?

A: One of the most frequently overlooked pieces of travel advice — not issued as a State Department travel advisory but instead a CDC situation update — is global flu activity. Do not neglect to check for current flu facts and figures; while it may not change your travel plans, it might have you head to the nearest pharmacy for a flu shot.

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