Health Organizations Warn of Spread of Coronavirus: Tips for Travelers to Stay Safe

The coronavirus continues to spread globally, with five cases now confirmed in the United States and roughly 4,500 reported around the world. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) raised its travel warning this week to level 3, its highest alert, urging U.S. citizens to avoid all nonessential travel to China. Even so, there are those who will travel because it is imperative for them to do so.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), which on January 22 determined that the current situation did not yet warrant a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), the virus is most commonly spread from one infected person to another through the air by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact including shaking hands, and touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes before washing hands.

Since there is currently no vaccine to prevent the spread of the infection, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDS) has issued several guidelines for travelers to follow in order to better protect themselves. First, wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or in place of water use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. It is advised to also avoid close contact with those who are sick. Next, cover a cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Last, clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. The organization further warned that travelers avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and products that come from animals, such as uncooked meat.

For those who were in China in the last 14 days and feel sick with fever and coughing or have difficulty breathing, the CDC advises: Seek medical care right away but also call the emergency room or doctor’s office ahead and tell them about recent travel and symptoms; avoid contact with others; and avoid additional travel while sick.

The CDC also recommends Americans get vaccinated since it is currently the season for flu and respiratory diseases, and the organization warns that older adults and those with underlying health issues may be at increased risk for severe disease. The CDC advises that health-care professionals remain on the lookout for those with a history of travel to China, along with any fever and respiratory symptoms.

According to the WHO, the organization stands ready to reconvene at the end of the month, or earlier, in order to evaluate the situation, should the director-general deem it necessary.

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