'Horrendous experience' with swine flu scare tainted trip to China
By Elizabeth G. Cook
Dr. Jewell Mayberry of Salisbury hopes her one-week quarantine in a Beijing hotel at the beginning of July was her last brush with swine flu in China.
If all goes well, she’ll be home in the next 24 hours, sharing insights into Chinese culture that were not on her itinerary.
The Chinese take pandemics very, very seriously.
“It has been quite a little adventure, one that I hope never to experience again,” Mayberry said in an e-mail last week.
Mayberry, who heads the Department of Languages and Literature at Pfeiffer University, was participating in the 2009 J. William Fulbright Hays Seminar Abroad Program. For her and 15 others, that meant a five-week opportunity to study Chinese history and culture.
When Mayberry arrived in Beijing on June 30, someone on her plane had a fever and tested positive for swine flu. The next day, a team dressed in HazMat attire went to Mayberry’s hotel with police officers and rounded up the people who had sat closest to the infected person. That included Mayberry and at least one other educator in the Fulbright Hays Program.
They spent the Fourth of July week quarantined in a hotel with about 160 people and no air-conditioning. The hotel had turned it off for fear of spreading germs.
Then they continued with the Fulbright Hays Program’s scheduled meetings with public officials, educators and business leaders in five Chinese cities.
As she prepared to come home, Mayberry learned that authorities at the Hong Kong airport where she was supposed to make a connecting flight were still checking the temperatures of arriving passengers and quarantining those with fevers and the people around them.
She changed her reservations to fly directly from Shanghai to the United States today.
“As interesting and exciting as China has been, that horrendous experience for the first week has tainted much of the trip and my attitude toward China,” Mayberry said in an e-mail last week.
“We met a tour company representative while we were in quarantine, and since she returned home, she’s been interviewed by several media in Arizona and California since they want ‘expert’ advice, and she has told them that after this experience, she could never in good conscience encourage a client to visit China as long as they are employing these draconian measures.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site carries a warning for those travelling abroad, especially to China and Japan. “Travelers coming from the United States may be checked for fever and other symptoms of novel H1N1 flu,” the CDC site says, “and their travel may be delayed.”
The site also explains in bold-faced type that the U.S. Department of State cannot interfere with the process or influence the length of quarantine.
The CDC posts these tips for people traveling internationally about the screening steps they might encounter:
– Pass through a scanning device that checks your temperature.
– Have your temperature taken with an oral or ear thermometer.
– Fill out a sheet of questions about your health.
– Review information about the symptoms of the swine flu.
– Give your address, phone number and other contact information.
– And, as Mayberry learned: Be quarantined for a period of time if a passenger on your flight is found to have symptoms of novel H1N1 flu.
As of Friday, there had been nearly 44,000 confirmed cases of the flu in the United States, including 302 deaths.
The World Health Organization predicts as many as 2 billion people could become infected in the next two years.
The Chinese government is fairly determined to let as few of those cases as possible surface in its country.
Mayberry’s husband said Friday that his wife was relieved to change her reservations so she wouldn’t have to go through another Chinese airport and encounter more arbitrary procedures.
“It’s not been the trip she’d imagined,” said Dr. David Mayberry, a Salisbury dentist. But in time, he predicts, “she’ll look back on the experience and be glad she went.”