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Safe and Healthy Travel to an International Mass Gathering

Massive group of people

International events draw huge crowds and come with unique risks to travelers. Whether they are planned years in advance (Olympics) or happen more spontaneously (Nelson Mandela’s funeral), mass gatherings are associated with crowding at venues, poor hygiene from temporary food and sanitation facilities, and challenging security situations. The risk of infectious diseases increases because of crowded conditions and the influx of attendees from around the world.

A mass gathering can be thought of as any gathering of people that is large enough to strain local resources. Typically, they involve a large number of people (sometimes numbering in the millions) at a specific location, for a specific purpose, for a defined time frame.

Zika Travel Information

If you are traveling to an area with Zika, be sure to follow CDC recommendations to stay healthy and safe. All travelers to areas with Zika should prevent mosquito bites. Zika can also be spread through sex from a person who has Zika to his or her sex partners, so travelers should use condoms if they have sex.

Because Zika during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects, pregnant women should not travel to areas with Zika. Couples who are trying to become pregnant should talk to their doctor about their travel plans and see CDC guidance for how long you should wait to get pregnant after travel to an area with Zika.

Even if you do not feel sick, you should take steps to prevent mosquito bites for 3 weeks after returning from an area with Zika. If a mosquito bites an infected person while the virus is still in that person’s blood, it can spread the virus by biting another person. People who traveled to an area with Zika should also use condoms or not have sex to protect their partners. See CDC’s Zika prevention page for suggested timeframes. People with pregnant partners should either use condoms or not have sex during the pregnancy.

For more information on Zika and travel, visit the Zika Travel Information website.

Before Your Trip

If you plan to attend an international mass gathering, take steps to protect your health and safety. First, consult with a travel medicine provider at least 4 weeks before your departure date. This will allow adequate time to receive most vaccinations. Discuss your itinerary and any planned activities with your provider so that he or she can make customized recommendations to ensure a healthy and safe journey.

Crowd Crushes

If you are caught in a crowd crush (sometimes called a stampede), keep your hands in front of your chest like a boxer and keep firm footing. Don’t resist the force of the crowd; when there is a lull in movement, work your way diagonally to the edge of the crowd. Try to stay on your feet, but if you fall down, protect yourself by curling into a ball. Stay calm and get up as soon as you can.

Also discuss your medical history, to ensure any existing medical conditions are well controlled before departure. If a travel medicine provider is not available near you, a primary care provider may be able to ensure you have the adequate vaccinations and health information necessary. Visit the CDC’s Travelers’ Health website to learn more about specific destinations and view any travel notices for your destination.

It’s also a good idea to register travel plans with the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. You can subscribe to notifications on travel warnings, travel alerts, and other information for specific destinations as well as ensure that the Department of State knows where you are if you have serious legal, medical, or financial difficulties while traveling. In the event of an emergency at home, STEP can also help friends and family at home reach you.

Someone washing hands

Keeping your hands clean is one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of disease.

During Your Trip

  • Wash your hands regularly (use hand sanitizer if facilities are not available)
  • Use insect repellent and sunscreen
  • Choose only bottled water and foods served hot to avoid food poisoning
  • Carry bottled water to stay hydrated
  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Study a map of the event and visualize an emergency evacuation. Step by step, what would you do?
  • Locate emergency exits and arrange a place to meet your family or traveling companions if you get separated.
  • In case of a fire, remember that heat and smoke rise; crouch down low to get oxygen.

Having a plan will help you stay safe and healthy during your trip, and make it more likely for you to bring home happy memories rather than a stomach bug.

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