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The coronavirus, a previously-known virus that often leads to the common cold, has recently appeared in a new and challenging form that has been designated 2019-nCoV. Human infections began in China and cases have emerged in multiple countries, including the United States. Coronaviruses also caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreaks of 2002 and 2012, respectively.
In December 2019, 41 people in China became ill with pneumonia, which was resistant to the usual treatments. The virus was first identified and named in Wuhan, the capital of the Chinese province Hubei. Symptoms of infection with this virus include cough with shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and fever. These symptoms may begin as soon as two days after exposure or as many as 14 days later. Extreme cases can lead to severe acute respiratory syndrome or pneumonia. Kidney failure or even death may occur.
Coronavirus is commonly found in multiple species of animals, but is rarely passed from animal to human. This new strain of coronavirus is believed to have been transmitted from animal to human at the outset, but the type of animal has not been positively identified. It is now known that the new virus is being passed from human to human, which accounts for the increasing number of cases. The first human to human case in the United States was transmitted by a patient who was in close contact with a person who had traveled to Hubei, China, but had not personally gone abroad. Generally, the virus is only considered contagious once a person becomes symptomatic, but there is growing evidence this coronavirus may transmitted before the carrier has experienced any symptoms.
What Measures Can I Take to Protect Myself?
Since no vaccine is available to protect against 2019-nCoV, adopting a routine of “universal precautions” is important.
Dr. Eric Cloe-Pena, the director of global health at New York’s Northwell Health and the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell recommends proper hand washing and to avoid touching one’s face, especially the eyes, nose, and mouth areas, after touching possibly infected surfaces.
Steps to Follow:
- Wash hands a minimum of 20 seconds with soap and water
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if no soap and water are available
- Stay home if you become sick and avoid others with symptoms
- Cover your mouth when coughing and wash your hands afterwards
- Disinfect/clean surfaces and objects often
Precautions to Take When Traveling
Severe travel bans are currently in effect concerning entering or leaving China. If you must travel to China (or to any area affected by an epidemic), obtain information from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) about what type of mask is most effective to prevent infection and secure one for each traveler before the trip.
Once you arrive at your destination, avoid contact with any person who appears to be or is known to be sick. Exercise extreme precaution in hand washing and avoiding possibly infected items or surfaces. Other precautions to take when traveling to China or other epidemic-affected areas include:·
- Discuss your upcoming trip with your healthcare provider
- Be aware that senior citizens and/or people with chronic health issues may be at increased risk
- While traveling, avoid animal markets or any animals (alive or dead), including uncooked meat
- Follow proper hand-washing techniques using soap and water
- Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol when hand washing is not possible
People returning home from China will be routed through specific airports and will receive a health screening immediately upon return. If symptoms of cough, breathing difficulties, or fever are present, further assessment will be required. You may be quarantined for up to 14 days after returning home from your visit regardless of whether or not you are symptomatic.
Given the uncertainty of travel during this epidemic, it is a good idea to obtain travel insurance for your trip. Traveling abroad at any time or place warrants careful plans for what to do if your trip needs to be cut short for a covered reason. In the case of the coronavirus, the only type of coverage that will allow you to cancel your trip and be reimbursed is an optional Cancel For Any Reason upgrade, since it is a known event and excluded by standard travel insurance. Please see our page about coronavirus and travel insurance for more information.
In addition to exposure to viruses in another country, a personal accident, medical emergency, or sudden death or sickness of a relative at home may necessitate a speedy exit from your destination with a safe means of returning home. Should a problem arise and you need to return home early, contact your travel insurance provider to discuss details of trip protection for yourself and anyone traveling with you.