How to travel safe during the coronavirus outbreak, according to an expert


Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the US State Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had advised Americans to avoid unnecessary travel to Wuhan and the Hubei Province where the virus originated.

Health authorities maintain that the risk of infection is low in the US and Europe, where the first three patients were confirmed Friday, yet warn that they expect more cases. 

But with cases now reported in 11 other countries and travelers from various cities in China arriving to the US and other nations in masks, anxieties over transit and travel are high.  

To ease your mind if you have upcoming travel plans and are concerned over the coronavirus, DailyMail.com spoke to a former chief medical officer for the CDC about the best ways to keep your trip infection-free. 

Travelers arriving to the US from China were seen on Friday wearing masks amid the coronavirus outbreak. These can help, but experts say other prevention methods are more important to safe, healthy travel

Travelers arriving to the US from China were seen on Friday wearing masks amid the coronavirus outbreak. These can help, but experts say other prevention methods are more important to safe, healthy travel 

So much remains to be learned about the new coronavirus, which emerged about a month ago in Wuhan, China.

Since the first cases were reported, it’s quickly spread around the globe, infecting nearly 950 people worldwide. 

We know now that it spreads to humans not just from animals – namely, those at the open-air Huanan Seafood Market – to humans, but between humans, via saliva droplets in coughs and sneezes.  

So far, the virus – going by the temporary moniker 2019-nCoV – appears to be less deadly than its coronavirus cousins, SARS and MERS, but to spread just as fast, if not faster. 

But this particular coronavirus is so new that the details of its spread are still shrouded in mystery.  

‘There’s still a lot to be learned about the current outbreak in China and, now, with travelers from other places [being infected, people] may get sick while traveling,’ says former CDC chief medical officer and dean of New York Medical College, Dr Robert Amler says. 

‘Some guidance will probably change. 

‘With a very large population in the index city where it seems to be coming from’ – Wuhan – ‘it’s very likely there will be travelers going to very distant places and some spread of the disease.’ 

As of now, the CDC’s guidance for protecting yourself is much the same as its suggestions for any other respiratory illnesses, like the flu. 

The CDC's official advice is to avoid travel to Wuhan. Meanwhile, the virus has spread to at least 11 other countries

The CDC’s official advice is to avoid travel to Wuhan. Meanwhile, the virus has spread to at least 11 other countries 

STAY AS FAR AWAY AS SICK PEOPLE AS YOU CAN 

The best way to avoid someone sick with coronavirus – or any other,for that matter – is simply to stay home. 

But barring that, ‘keep a social distance of at least three feet,’ advises Dr Amler. 

‘Greater is better, but keep a minimum of six feet if someone is coughing or expectorating. Try to avoid that.’ 

Like flu, coronavirus is transmitted through tiny droplets of spit so, as far as we know, you won’t likely get it from just being across the room from someone, but if you’re close enough to unintentionally inhale tiny particles, you may be vulnerable. 

THE SIMPLEST TOOLS REALLY ARE BEST: WASH YOUR HANDS OFTEN AND WELL 

When the WHO said it was ‘too early’ to call the coronavirus outbreak an international emergency and advised hand-washing for prevention, it was met with outrage on social media. 

But experts back up the group’s recommendation. 

‘One of the best ways to avoid infecting yourself is with frequent hand-washing,’ says Dr Amler. 

‘Hands are frequently transporting germs.’ 

Washing your hands is the best way to prevent viral infections because the soap and water help kill germs and scrubbing mechanically removes them from your hands

Washing your hands is the best way to prevent viral infections because the soap and water help kill germs and scrubbing mechanically removes them from your hands

How often is often enough?

‘As often as you can,’ says Dr Amler, adding: ‘there’s not scientific definition.’ 

Roughly, how often you need to wash your hands varies depending on the sorts of environments you’re in and the company you keep. 

‘If you’re all by your self and there’s no one else around, less frequent is probably okay,’ says Dr Amler. 

‘If there’s a child in your house or an a sick adult and you’re taking care of them, keep washing your hands.’ 

He adds that hand sanitizer will do in a pinch, especially if it has a relatively high alcohol content, but washing is far superior because the physical scrubbing action helps to remove germs. 

MASKS – ESPECIALLY HEAVY-DUTY ONES – HELP, BUT AREN’T GUARANTEED PREVENTION

Photos have shown countless people in China and in airports wearing surgical masks, images that hearken back to the 2003 SARS outbreak. 

But the evidence suggests that masks may somewhat reduce the risks of, but certainly not entirely prevent viral transmission. 

‘A mask is going to be protective if it’s worn well,’ says Dr Amler. 

‘But if it’s worn for a long period of time, ti tends to slip around a bit.

Thicker masks like the N-95 are better to wear while traveling because they keep out 95% of particles

Thicker masks like the N-95 are better to wear while traveling because they keep out 95% of particles 

‘It’s not going to prevent every droplet from getting into your mouth or nose, but for short periods of time it might be helpful.’ 

Masks’ efficacy also depends on what kind you use. Thicker ones are better. 

‘Some masks’ – like surgical ones – ‘ allow more air and droplets to go through,’ Dr Amler says. 

‘The N-95 [industrial] one is more effective because it is designerd to prevent 95 percent of particles that would go in.’ 

The downside is that the thick masks, often used for light construction and paint jobs, are uncomfortable and may make it a bit more difficult to breath. 

BYOB: USING PILLOWS AND BLANKETS YOU BROUGHT AND WIPING DOWN SURFACES ON THE PLANE MAY CUT RISKS

With airport screening in place in affected countries, the odds of having a seatmate who has coronavirus and is contagious (people are currently thought to mostly be contagious while they have symptoms that screening checks for) are low. 

But if you have an underlying illness or are particularly worried, minimizing what you share on a flight may be a good idea. 

‘I don’t think there’s any way to really know about pillows and blankets on an airplane,’ says Dr Amler. 

‘They’re sitting there in airspace for long periods of time.’ 

It's not clear how many germs might reside on airplane-supplied pillows and blankets - but it's inevitably safer to bring your own

It’s not clear how many germs might reside on airplane-supplied pillows and blankets – but it’s inevitably safer to bring your own 

Though he says they’re not likely to be a ‘vehicle’ for infection, he adds that it’s ‘impossible to know for sure, unless you bring your own pillow or blanket.’ 

On the other hand: ‘Most studies of common commercial aircraft show that  the tray table and the seat-back pocket carry germs from previous passengers,’ he says. 

‘For somebody that’s particularly worried or have an immune problem, they might want to stay home or bring some sanitary wipes to wipe those surfaces when they get to their seat.’ 

WEAR GLOVES WHILE TAKING PUBLIC TRANSIT

As cases of the coronavirus rose sharply in Wuhan, authorities there quickly shut down public transit, a drastic containment strategy. 

In the rest of the world, the risk of picking up 2019- nCoV on a bus or train is minimal, but there’s no question that public transit is teeming with tons of germs.

‘When you’re travelling on public conveyances, you’re in close quarters, touching surfaces that lots of other people have touched,’ Dr Amler says. 

It's winter and everyone is wearing gloves any way. Dr Amler says having them on while holding poles and handrails on public transit can cut risks of picking up germs

It’s winter and everyone is wearing gloves any way. Dr Amler says having them on while holding poles and handrails on public transit can cut risks of picking up germs 

‘Wearing gloves – especially this time of year, when a lot of people carry gloves – when you’re holding banisters and so forth is a good idea.’ 

He notes that following this advice and keeping up with the CDC’s recommendations will not only help you minimize your risks of getting coronavirus while traveling, but of picking up a much more common and even more deadly bug: the flu.  

THE CDC’S OFFICIAL GUIDANCE FOR TRAVELERS  

As of Friday, January 24, the CDC recommends: 

  • CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to Hubei Province, China, including Wuhan. 
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and products that come from animals (such as uncooked meat).
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Older adults and travelers with underlying health issues may be at risk for more severe disease and should discuss travel to Wuhan with their healthcare provider.
  • If you traveled to Hubei Province, China, including Wuhan, in the last 14 days and feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, you should:
  • Seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.
  • Avoid contact with others.
  • Not travel while sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

  



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