- The deadly coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China has spread to eight other countries.
- Hundreds of millions of people are expected to travel to and within China for the Lunar New Year, which raises the risk that the virus could spread further.
- Health experts recommend a few precautions to protect yourself while traveling.
A coronavirus outbreak that started in Wuhan, the most populous city in central China, has killed 18 people and infected more than 630.
On Tuesday, the first case was reported in the US. The disease has also spread to at least eight other countries: Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and the US.
At first, authorities suspected that the coronavirus — which most likely originated at a seafood market — could be spread to humans only from animals. But they have since determined that humans can transmit the virus to one other.
The coronavirus family is a large group of viruses that typically affect the respiratory tract. Coronaviruses can lead to illnesses like the common cold, pneumonia, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which resulted in 8,000 cases and 774 deaths in China from November 2002 to July 2003.
The outbreak’s timing is especially worrisome, since hundreds of millions of people are expected to travel to and within China for the Lunar New Year celebration, which begins Saturday and lasts until February 8.
“Travel spreads this kind of virus like wildfire,” Adrian Hyzler, the chief medical officer at Healix International, which offers risk-management solutions for global travelers, told Business Insider. “I think we’re going to see cases popping up in cities all over the world.”
Here’s how to stay safe while flying.
Before the Wuhan virus reached the US, it had already started to spread across Asia.
On Tuesday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that a man in his 30s living in Washington state’s Snohomish County — north of Seattle —had contracted the virus. The man had recently returned from a trip to China and is now in good health.
“I think it’s laudable that the Chinese authorities have identified this quickly,” Hyzler said. “There seems to be a good sharing of information.”
Travelers should avoid close contact with people who are sick — particularly those with cold symptoms.
Some people who contracted the Wuhan virus reported symptoms including a fever, chills, headaches, and a sore throat. A few said they had difficulty breathing.
Travelers should try to avoid contact with people who display symptoms similar to those of pneumonia or the common cold, such as coughing or runny noses.
“What we don’t know is to what extent this disease can be transmitted by people who are only mildly ill,” Toner said. “That’s one of the things that we’re trying to figure out right now.”
Wearing a mask isn’t particularly helpful
Many people in China have lined up to purchase face masks, which have reportedly started to sell out at some stores. But Toner doesn’t think masks will do much to protect anyone’s health.
“There’s little harm in it,” he said. “But wearing masks, except in the situation of a healthcare provider, has never been shown to be a very effective way to protect yourself from infectious diseases.”
Travelers not to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
Travelers should wash their hands frequently with soap and water, making sure to scrub for at least 20 seconds, the CDC says. There are no vaccines to protect humans from contracting a coronavirus.
“There is no cure for this virus,” Hyzler said. “If there is a vaccine, it’ll take years.”
If you’re traveling to or within China, steer clear of live animals
Scientists have traced the Wuhan virus to a local seafood market with live animals, and think it might have jumped from bats to snakes to people.
Recent research suggests the virus that caused SARS in China may have spread to humans from horseshoe bats.
“Ever since SARS, there have been calls for improving or closing down the live animal markets in China,” Toner said. “There’s an awful lot we don’t yet know, but it is fair to say that live animal markets are a threat not just to the people who work in them, but to public health more generally.”
If you do become ill after traveling to or within China, report your symptoms to a health authority right away.
Toner said people who have been ill and visited China recently should tell a doctor about their travel history.
“I think they’re doing the right things,” Toner said of the Chinese government’s response. “They are screening for patients or passengers that are coming in. They are trying to educate them to make sure they get care. They’re trying to isolate them as soon as they start getting sick. These are the things that prevent a transmission.”
By Aria Bendix @ Business Insider