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Novel Coronavirus Epidemic – What Every Traveler Needs to Know?

Updated: May 21


Global threat from this new kind of coronavirus (novel coronavirus) is now for real. Although coronavirus infection is not new to humans, this latest mutation named Covid-19 is much more aggressive. It is dangerous as it causes lower respiratory tract infection or pneumonia in most cases. Thus, the high level of mortality. This particular strain also differs in a way that it is more contagious and difficult to control.


Understanding coronavirus better


Coronavirus was first isolated from the cases of the common cold in 1966. It is one of the frequent causes of common cold globally, along with another virus called rhinovirus. Coronavirus affects many species of mammals. Although this particular mutation is thought to have jumped from animals to humans, now it is primarily spreading from human to human.

Coronavirus has not shown its aggressive nature and ability to mutate for the first time. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS CoV) were both sub-types of coronavirus. From the epidemics of SARS and MERS, science knows that coronavirus can cause a global epidemic, and can survive and spread in varied climatic zones.


How coronavirus spreads?


Novel coronavirus primarily spreads through droplets released into the atmosphere via coughing or sneezing. As the velocity of sneezing is high, it can cause droplets to travel up to eight meters – that is why one should cover mouth while sneezing. These droplets are much heavier than air and can remain suspended for only about 10 minutes, as MIT research shows.

Once these droplets have settled down, the virus may survive on the surface for few hours to days, depending on the environment.

Most individuals who have this infection will develop symptoms within a week; some may develop later than that. It is thought that the incubation period of coronavirus is up to 14 days. Moreover, some of the individuals may not develop any severe symptoms and thus confuse the condition with other respiratory infections like a common cold.


Here are a few things to know about how coronavirus spreads:


  • Human to human is now the primary way of spreading of the infection

  • It primarily spreads through droplets (sneezing), or by coming in close contact with a carrier

  • It may spread by touching the contaminated objects as the virus may survive for a few days under certain circumstances, especially when the environment temperature is below 30 degrees Celsius and there is no direct sunlight

  • Children and women, although have equal chances of getting infected, illness in them is less severe. Why children or even teenagers are less prone to severe illness remains a mystery for science. Researchers think that this is due to the difference in immunity. Further, these population groups have fewer chronic diseases (kids are less probable to have diabetes, heart issues, hypertension, and so on). Unlike older male adults, they also have healthier lungs. Similarly, women usually have healthier lungs, and hormonal differences may also play a role.

  • Older adults are at higher risk of developing severe complications, especially those above the age of 50 years old.


Although it is not well known why it happens, statistics show that mortality is extremely rare among children below the age of 10, primarily due to healthier lungs and a lack of chronic illnesses. Mortality remains low even in those below the age of 50 (less than 1%). However, the risk increases sharply in older adults with mortality as high as 15%, particularly among individuals older than 80 years. This means that older adults should especially avoid traveling during this period.


Coronavirus and air travel


It is entirely wrong to think that people breathe stale air in the plane, thus the risk high. In airplanes, air-conditioning is very efficient, and it changes the air every 2-3 minutes. Moreover, the air in the plane is filtered with high quality, better maintained, high-efficiency particulate air filter (Hepa) that can even remove the viruses.

The only fact that increases the risk of catching the infection in the airplane is that people are sitting closer to each other. Moreover, people do not move much. Further, flights are more stressful for the body, especially long-haul flights.

What if someone in a flight is infected? In such a case person sitting next to the infected person is at high risk. Studies show that the risk of catching an infection is high in the adjacent rows, but it is quite low in other rows. Interestingly enough, the study also shows that the risk is minimum when sitting at a window seat, and is high when occupying an aisle seat – this could be explained by the way air-conditioning works in airplanes.


Coronavirus and traveling


Coronavirus is not everywhere. At most locations, there are only a few known confirmed cases of the infection. This means that whether the person is traveling for work or holiday, one may not necessarily need to cancel the trip. One should only avoid going to places with a high prevalence of infection. At present (mid-march 2020), there are only a handful of countries posing a real threat.

So, before traveling, it is better to assess the risk. Many online resources are updated day-to-day, to provide the most relevant information. One of the most dependable sources is a data dashboard maintained by the WHO. Find the latest information about the spread of infection here or here.

At present, high-risk countries are China and Iran, followed by Italy, South Korea, Japan, and Germany. WHO has already declared it a pandemic, meaning that global risk is now seen as high. Further, many countries have currently closed their borders for tourism or other less relevant purposes.

The situation in this regard is changing on a daily basis; thus, it is better to check current information before making any travel decision.

In the US, the CDC is responsible for providing travel advisory information. It also provides unbiased information, in easy to understand language, for better understanding the disease.

Another good source for travel advice and advisories is from govt of Canada.


Preventing the spread of the infection


Principles used to prevent the spread of flu or flu-like conditions are also applicable for coronavirus. Thus, avoid non-essential traveling. Maintain distance from the people. In some situations, wearing a mask may help, mainly when located among too many people.

  • WHO website says masks help when hands are sanitized regularly with the help of alcohol-based sanitizers. One of the major reasons for the failure of masks to help is that most people do not wear them properly.

  • It is also recommended to avoid touching face for no apparent reason, especially avoid rubbing eyes, nose, and mouth.

  • Do not forget to practice respiratory hygiene and cover your mouth with a bent elbow while sneezing or coughing.

  • Social distancing is another essential step to take, thus reduce socializing, avoid shaking hands, do nor visit places where too many people gather.

  • Needless to say that any contact with an ill person must be avoided.

  • In case you have some symptoms or doubts, seek urgent medical attention.

More information about disease prevention for every kind of situation can be found from the CDC website here.

Additionally, treating chronic pre-existing health conditions and paying particular attention to diet may also help strengthen the body from inside.


Symptoms of coronavirus illness


Studies from Wuhan, China show that the most common symptoms are fever and cough (in more than 80% of cases). Other symptoms include difficulty in breathing, muscle aches, confusion, headache, sore throat, runny nose, chest pain, even diarrhea.

In Wuhan, as many as 75% of patients showed the sign of bilateral pneumonia or a lung infection. Severe lung infection is the primary cause of mortality in most cases.

However, there is no need to panic, as most people will get well with supportive treatment.

Respiratory support is necessary if symptoms become severe. There is currently no vaccine available, however, antiviral drug and vaccine research is ongoing.


Thus, for those planning to travel, information from reliable sources, preferably from the govt websites, is the best way to learn and travel safely.





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