Everyone’s talking about the new Corona virus, and it can be hard to determine the difference between the facts and the myths. Sometimes officials take action based on scientific evidence, but often it’s in response to fear. Here’s what you need to know.
In early January 2020, China and the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the identification of a new virus located in Wuhan, a city in the Chinese province of Hubei. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describe Corona viruses as a type of virus that commonly causes a fever and symptoms of the upper respiratory system, like a sore throat, coughing, and a runny nose. Sometimes Corona viruses can cause more severe symptoms like difficulty breathing, illnesses of the lower respiratory system like bronchitis and pneumonia, and sometimes death. Corona viruses were first identified in the 1960s and have “corona” in their name because, at the molecular level, they’re shaped like a halo. The common cold is a Corona virus, but so are more serious diseases like SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).
Scientists pay close attention to new viruses because they don’t know how they’ll behave and how dangerous they might become. For example, a virus that’s contagious only when the infected person is clearly sick and that causes only minor symptoms isn’t a big concern. But a virus that transmits rapidly, especially before an infected person even realizes they’re sick, is more dangerous. The new Corona virus is getting a lot of attention because it’s new there are a lot of unanswered questions.
On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Corona virus a global health emergency. The purpose of this declaration was to allow WHO to provide treatment and support to lower and middle income countries. No travel or trade restrictions were recommended. Their advice to international travelers was to practice the usual precautions. They also provided advice to countries about airport screening and information campaigns. As of February 9, 2020, there were more than 40,701 cases of the virus and more than 904 people have died. Most of those are in mainland China, but the disease has spread to two dozen countries, including the United States. It is believed that the outbreak will spread and the death toll will increase before we see a plateau. The number of Corona virus cases and deaths will continue to rise and we still need to learn a lot about it. But current evidence has experts believing it’s controllable. Keeping flu statistics in mind will keep this in perspective: During the current 2019-2020 flu season, it’s estimated that so far more than 15 million people in the U.S. have been sick with the flu and more than 8,000 have died from it. And many Americans aren’t getting a flu shot despite the number of deaths from flu. Last year, 62.6% of U.S. kids got a flu shot while only 45.3% of adults did.
Many countries are evacuating their citizens from China and placing them in 14 day quarantine when they return home. Countries are also screening arrivals at their borders, and some are restricting entry. The U.S. has suspended entry of non-U.S. residents and citizens who have been in China within 14 days. Some countries are asking citizens who have traveled to Asia to carefully monitor their health and to self-quarantine if they exhibit even mild symptoms. Some cruise ships are also being delayed or prevented from docking and a few have been quarantined. In late January, Italy delayed a Costa Cruises ship from disembarking passengers near Rome until testing revealed a sick passenger had the flu, not the Corona virus. The Diamond Princess was quarantined in Japanese waters until February 18, with 70 of the 3,700 aboard testing positive for Corona. A Holland America ship was recently denied entry at three ports of call in early February, even though there was no evidence that anyone on board was sick with Corona. Some cruise lines have also started restricting who can board. Some aren’t allowing passengers who have been in China, including transiting through Chinese airports, up to 30 days before embarkation. On February 7, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian announced that passengers and crew with passports from China, Hong Kong and Macao-regardless of country of residence-are not allowed to board until further notice.
Should you change your own travel plans? Some infectious disease specialists are saying that not all of the restrictions are medically necessary, but are being put in place for political reasons and to encourage trust. Studies have shown that travel bans don’t prevent outbreaks and can cause people to hide symptoms and not report to doctors. Travel bans can also have huge economic costs and increase, rather than decrease, fear.
Here are the important reminders to prevent illness:
- Always wash your hands with soap and warm water. If that’s not always possible, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your face because viruses and bacteria enter the body through the mouth, nose, and eyes.
- Cough and sneeze into your elbow to avoid spraying all those tiny virus droplets directly into the air.
- Regularly disinfect surfaces that get handled frequently, such as your phone and television remote. If you’re on a plane, use a wipe to clean off your tray table, armrests, and seat belt.
- Keep your distance from sick people. Avoid hugs, kisses, and handshakes.
- At restaurants, wash your hands after handling the menu and before you start to eat. At a buffet, only put food on a clean plate; don’t bring your used plate back to get more food.
Avoid traveling if you feel sick- your fellow passengers will appreciate it! With the increased monitoring since the discovery of the new Corona virus, travelers who do show signs of illness could be prevented from boarding a plane, cruise, train, or bus. Many airports and cruise ports have installed thermal imaging cameras to scan people as they walk by. Anyone showing a fever is pulled aside for additional questioning and maybe quarantine. If you have any symptoms of Corona virus, such as fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, go to your doctor immediately. If possible, call ahead to the office so that they can take precautions to isolate you from other patients while they carry out testing. Make sure to tell your doctor if you’ve been traveling.
This new virus will continue to cause a rapidly changing situation. Seek the advice of the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control when deciding what course of action you’re going to take. Everyone’s goal should be preventing a pandemic.