What Travelers Need to Know About the Coronavirus, According to a Doctor and Public Health Expert

As the deadly coronavirus continues to spread around the world and scientists race to understand it, educating yourself and adopting measures to make sure you remain healthy are paramount.

Dr. Rebecca Katz, a professor and the director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University, called the spread of the disease “an incredibly rapidly evolving situation," she said, "we learn more and different things every single day.”

Just this weekend, experts in China, where the virus first presented itself, declared that someone infected with the virus can be contagious before symptoms even start, CNN reported. And while most international cases of the virus have been people who traveled from China, there have been several cases confirmed in the U.S. that are all being treated. 

So far, coronavirus has killed more than 100 people and infected thousands in China and several other countries. The U.S. State Department on Monday issued a level three travel warning, the second highest warning, for U.S. citizens traveling to China and has issued a level 4 warning, its highest, for Hubei province in China, where the city the disease is believed to have originated in, Wuhan, sits.

While much remains unknown about the virus, Dr. Katz said there are a few things people can do to help protect themselves.

Know the symptoms

Dr. Katz said symptoms of coronavirus are a lot like the flu: “You'll get a fever, cough — it’s primarily a lower respiratory virus — general malaise, there may be some gastrointestinal distress.” Complications of the virus could include pneumonia or kidney-related complications.

According to the CDC, symptoms of this year’s coronavirus can appear in two to 14 days after being exposed to the virus.

And if you think you may be sick with coronavirus, Dr. Katz said you should call your doctor rather than showing up in person.

Get a flu shot

While a flu shot will not necessarily protect you against contracting coronavirus, it will make a diagnosis easier and keep you healthier in general. Dr. Katz said that because the symptoms are so similar, “it will help pull away any confusion.”

Wash your hands

Dr. Katz said practicing good hygiene is paramount to help avoid catching a virus.

“The No. 1 thing is people can wash their hands often… this virus spreads when you touch a thing and then you touch your face,” she said. “Practice good precautions if you have to be around someone who is sick.”

Carry a mask

Wearing a mask may sometimes seem socially taboo in certain cultures, but Dr. Katz said it could really help in a situation like this.

“If possible… avoid large crowds in areas there have been confirmed cases,” she said, but added: “Sometimes that's hard and if you can’t avoid, think about having a mask with you.”

Monitor travel advisories

Dr. Katz said that while she “would avoid any unnecessarily travel to China” for now, it was very important to keep a close watch on travel advisories and information from relevant agencies.

“I would also, more importantly, carefully follow guidance from the CDC and WHO [World Health Organization],” she said. “The best advice is to carefully monitor the evidence-based guidance.”

Don’t panic

While it’s understandable that people get nervous, Dr. Katz said it’s important to look at the facts and not panic.

“I think it’s worth showing sufficient concern, staying aware and informed,” she said. “It is something to be concerned about and pay attention to and take personal precautions, but at the moment to not panic.”

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