Update February 25th: There are now 83770 confirmed cases and 2707 deaths with an overall mortality rate of 3%. There have been a worrying amount of cases in countries such as Japan, Iran and Northern Italy lately. As a doctor and a traveller, I am very concerned. But probably not for the same reasons you are. The mortality rate for young, healthy people is actually very low (0.2% under 40 and 0.4% under 50, most deaths are occurring in the elderly >80.) However, our elderly and immunocompromised are at risk because of the rapid rate of spread and lack of available vaccine (which we do have for regular flu.) It is more important than ever that we take sensible precautions when we travel and keep up to date on WHO advice.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a very large rock or taking a digital detox on a deserted island, you can’t have failed to have heard about the latest health crisis – Novel Coronavirus?
This virus emerged in Wuhan City in the HUbei Province of China in late 2019 and has started spreading rapidly with over 10,000 cases in China and 213 deaths.
It has started to spread beyond China and there are 98 cases internationally at the time of writing. It has been declared a global health emergency why the World Health Organisation.
Understandably, people are concerned about travelling, particularly to Asia.
And whilst it would be sensible to avoid travelling to China (and many flights have been cancelled anyway) there are currently no restrictions for travel elsewhere in Asia.
Update 25th February: WHO is advising avoiding all but essential travel to China. There are also some travel restrictions in certain affected regions In Italy, South Korea and Iran. Italy is restricting people from arriving or leaving affected areas. Current countries considered higher risk are; China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, Northern Italy, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. This includes some areas where there are lots of flight transfers from affected regions. If you return from any of these destinations and develop symptoms of cough, sore throat, fevers and shortness of breath (even if mild) You should self-isolate and get medical advice. In the UK, Contact NHS 111.
The sad fact is, that we could actually catch Coronavirus by staying at home since there are now cases in the UK, US, Canada and Australia. So regardless if you are travelling or not, you need to take some sensible precautions and get informed about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.
In this article we will be looking at the risk to travellers and how you can help protect yourself from getting sick.
What you can expect from this article...
- 1 What is the 2019 Novel Coronavirus?
- 2 Are travellers more at risk of getting Coronavirus?
- 3 How can we lessen the risk of getting sick from Coronavirus when we travel?
Who am I to be giving you this advice?
As well as being a travel blogger, I am also a general practitioner doctor based in the UK. The clue is in the blog name!
I have had no specific training on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus but I am trained in dealing with similar viruses. I am also in a better position to interpret medical advice than your average travel blogger.
This article will be useful for anyone who is travelling and worried about Coronavirus but you should also stay up-to-date with the World Health Organization advice as they will be updating it as the situation progresses.
Coronaviruses are commonplace and you may well have had a type of coronavirus in the past – usually it just causes a common cold.
However, the 2019 Novel Coronavirus is a particularly nasty strain of Coronavirus which often causes a pneumonia.
At the time of writing this, it has resulted in 213 deaths with the death toll expected to rise.
Coronavirus can make you feel very sick but the vast majority of people will survive it – the death rate is about 2% currently. Most of these deaths have been people who are elderly or immunocompromised.
The biggest problem with Coronavirus is how fast it spreads. As well as protecting ourselves from getting a nasty illness, we need to work together to help slow down the rate of spread to protect the most vulnerable people in our communities that do have a higher mortality rate if they contract it.
Therefore, everyone needs to take Coronavirus seriously and do everything in their power to reduce the risk of transmission.
But equally, you shouldn’t panic. If you are young and healthy and get Coronavirus, you are probably going to feel rotten a while, you will have to segregate yourself until you are better and it is going to suck. But there’s a 98% chance you will be ok.
People panicking puts a greater strain on our health systems who are already under additional strain.
Who is at risk?
Whilst anybody who comes into contact with the Novel Coronavirus is at risk, there are some people who are at more risk than others. The following people are more susceptible to infection in general and may suffer worse symptoms if they contract Coronavirus;
- People with chronic lung disease
- People with chronic kidney disease
- Anyone with a suppressed immune system
- The elderly
The following symptoms are common with Coronavirus;
- High fever
- Shortness of breath
The virus has an incubation period of 2-14 days. So if you come into contact with Coronavirus, you may develop symptoms up to 14 days later.
What should I do if I have symptoms and have travelled to China recently?
If you have returned from China within 14 days and exhibit any of the symptoms above, you should seek medical advice.
Stay at home and limit contact with other people. Only leave the house when you are going to seek medical attention and then try to wear a face mask or scarf to cover your nose and mouth if you will be sat in a waiting room where viruses are spread easily.
Make sure you wash your hands frequently and throw all tissues straight in the bin when they’ve been used.
Whilst you should seek medical help it’s important not to panic either. Chances are you have a regular virus with no need to worry. Even if you do have Coronavirus, most healthy people will be fine in the long run.
It is important to take it seriously but not to blow it out of proportion either. Mass panic is the last things we need and will put a lot of burden on our already burdened health system.
If someone you have been in close contact with gets diagnosed with Coronavirus, you are at significantly more risk of getting it yourself and may not show symptoms for up to 14 days.
To reduce the risk of spreading it, try to stay home, avoid close contact with others and take care of your hygiene to reduce risk of transmission to your loved ones.
Yes and no. If you are not travelling to China, theoretically your risk would be the same whilst travelling as it would be at home. BUT travellers are actually a little more susceptible for the following reasons
- The sheer number of people you come into contact with when you’re out exploring everyday, moving between accommodations every few nights.
- Often when we travel, we let our own health needs slip a bit. We do less exercise, eat what we fancy, drink more alcohol and probably get less sleep. This makes us more susceptible to infections in general.
- Confined spaces like airplanes are breeding grounds for infection.
- Try to avoid touching your face too much – you can spread infection from surfaces this way.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time taking care to wash between fingers which is an area that people often miss when they are in a hurry.
- If you do not have access to water and soap, use a hand gel with at least 60% alcohol content.
- When you cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue but make sure you throw the tissue straight in the bin otherwise it can spread the virus.
- If you feel you are getting sick, do not travel. Planes are one of the worst places to spread viruses.
- If you get sick, stay in your hotel and avoid contact with other people unless you are seeking medical attention.
- Take care of your general health when travelling. This means;
- Not drinking too much alcohol and having plenty of alcohol-free nights
- Try to get 8 hours of sleep each night
- Pace yourself. Travelling too fast can be exhausting and leave you feeling rundown
- Eat plenty of fruit and veg
- If you’re somewhere where its hard to get your dose of greens, consider a vitamin tablet
- Use a filter water bottle to keep tap water safe to drink – staying hydrated helps our immune system.
- Avoid smoking – it reduces your immune system.
- Always check the latest travel advice with the World Helath Organisation before you depart from any trip. Keep updated whilst you are away.
- Always keep in touch with loved ones and let them know where you are.
- ALWAYS have travel insurance with good health care cover. Make sure it also includes medical evacuation. Nomads are a trustworthy insurance company that I recommend for this. I also recommend getting it as soon as you book your trip as then you are likely covered for cancellations for example if Coronavirus spreads and travel becomes restricted. Have you got yours yet?!
Do face masks help?
Possibly a little but not as much as you’d think.
They help with hand to mouth transmission – you are less likely to mindlessly touch your mouth with hands that may carry the infection.
However, they do not prevent inhaling the virus, especially if not worn properly.
In fact, wearing the same mask over and over can harbour infection.
They are best used by people who have the virus to prevent transmission to others. Although in theory, those people should be self-isolating anyway…
If you found this article helpful, please share it with your friends and family. Staying aware of how to keep ourselves safe and reduce the spread could save someone’s life. Just hit the social share buttons at the top and bottom of this article.
Read these travel health articles next:
- Travelling with Diabetes
- Travelling with Epilepsy
- Travelling with Back Pain
- How to deal with the travel blues when you are travelling