What Travelers Need to Know About the Coronavirus, According to a Doctor and Public Health Expert (Video)
The U.S. State Department released a "Do Not Travel" advisory for China after the World Health Organization declared the virus to be a global health emergency.
As the deadly coronavirus continues to spread around the world and scientists race to understand it, educating yourself and adopting measures to make sure you remain healthy are paramount. Along with the government stated alerts and warnings the information for travelers can seem overwhelming as the United States has most recently issued a "Do Not Travel" advisory to China.
Over 200 people have died with nearly 10,000 cases of the disease confirmed around the world.
Dr. Rebecca Katz, a professor and the director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University, called the spread of the disease “an incredibly rapidly evolving situation," she said, "we learn more and different things every single day.”
Experts in China, where the virus first presented itself, declared that someone infected with the virus can be contagious before symptoms even start, CNN reported. And while most international cases of the virus have been people who traveled from China, there have been several cases confirmed in the U.S. that are all being treated.
The number of confirmed coronavirus is more than the number of cases confirmed during the SARS outbreak in mainland China in 2003. However the death toll of the coronavirus is still less than the 348 people who died during the SARS outbreak.
While much remains unknown about the virus, Dr. Katz said there are a few things people can do to help protect themselves.
Know the symptoms
Dr. Katz said symptoms of coronavirus are a lot like the flu: “You'll get a fever, cough — it’s primarily a lower respiratory virus — general malaise, there may be some gastrointestinal distress.” Complications of the virus could include pneumonia or kidney-related complications.
According to the CDC, symptoms of this year’s coronavirus can appear in two to 14 days after being exposed to the virus.
And if you think you may be sick with coronavirus, Dr. Katz said you should call your doctor rather than showing up in person.
Monitor travel advisories
Dr. Katz insisted that it was very important to keep a close watch on travel advisories and information from relevant agencies.
“I would more importantly, carefully follow guidance from the CDC and WHO [World Health Organization],” she said. “The best advice is to carefully monitor the evidence-based guidance.”
Hours after WHO declared the coronavirus a global emergency — the sixth time such an emergency has been designated —the US government issued a "Do Not Travel" advisory to China.
"Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice. Commercial carriers have reduced or suspended routes to and from China," the advisory read.
British Airways, United Airlines and Indonesia's Lion Air has suspended flights to China while attractions and businesses like Shanghai Disneyland and a few McDonald's locations in China have closed.
Ahead of the advisory, U.S. airlines amped up their screening process. In 20 airports around the country — including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York JFK, Chicago O’Hare and Atlanta — passengers will be stopped at a health screening station upon arrival.
Get a flu shot
While a flu shot will not necessarily protect you against contracting coronavirus, it will make a diagnosis easier and keep you healthier in general. Dr. Katz said that because the symptoms are so similar, “it will help pull away any confusion.” The World Health Organization (WHO) also reccomends that people follow flu prevention practices during this time.
Wash your hands
Dr. Katz said practicing good hygiene is paramount to help avoid catching a virus.
“The No. 1 thing is people can wash their hands often… this virus spreads when you touch a thing and then you touch your face,” she said. “Practice good precautions if you have to be around someone who is sick.”
Numerous airlines are also eliminating the use of hot towels, blankets, and magazines to decrease circulation of germs.
Carry a mask
Wearing a mask may sometimes seem socially taboo in certain cultures, but Dr. Katz said it could really help in a situation like this.
“If possible… avoid large crowds in areas there have been confirmed cases,” she said, but added: “Sometimes that's hard and if you can’t avoid, think about having a mask with you.”
As precautions are taken around the world, airlines are on high alert for not only their passengers but employees. Flight attendants at Cathay Pacific are permitted to wear face masks while working on a flight while employees Thai Airways are spraying down each cabin while wearing hazmat suits.
While it’s understandable that people get nervous, Dr. Katz said it’s important to look at the facts and not panic.
“I think it’s worth showing sufficient concern, staying aware and informed,” she said. “It is something to be concerned about and pay attention to and take personal precautions, but at the moment to not panic.”