Learning from the deadly Wuhan virus pandemic

Wuhan virus deaths increased by 640 percent in the last week

coronavirusThere are now more than 17,300 cases of Wuhan virus, spread among 27 countries. Almost 2,300 people are in critical condition, and more than 360 have died. About 99 percent of the cases are in China.

Any discussion about this Wuhan virus or coronavirus must also include this perspective. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that in the U.S. during the 2019–2020 influenza season, at least 19 million people have been infected. More than 180,000 hospitalized and 10,000 people have died from the flu.

The U.S. government is taking strong Wuhan precautions with anyone who has recently traveled in China. Travelers seeking to enter the U.S. as well as its residents and citizens should be much more concerned about contracting influenza than the Wuhan virus.

Publisher note: Due to the changing nature of this threat check the Centers for Disease Control Site for the latest information.

Last week, Wuhan cases increased by 870 percent, exceeding the total number of SARS cases in its entire outbreak

In China, the number of new confirmed cases of Wuhan continues its rapid rise. In the last week, Wuhan deaths increased by 640 percent and cases by 870 percent. The number of new cases of Wuhan last week exceeds the number of SARS cases in the entire 2002–2003 outbreak.

Today, travel to China makes no sense, even for “critical” business travel. Businesses are finding that, for now, video conferencing will suffice to remain in contact with China.

The Wuhan virus is a coronavirus. This large family of viruses causes illnesses including fever, cough and breathing difficulties. Serious cases result in severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and death. Coronaviruses can be transmitted between animals and people, and people to people.

Wuhan virus is contagious during its two- to fourteen-day incubation period, with no symptoms present. People spread the disease through a cough, kiss, or other contacts with saliva. According to the CDC, coronaviruses don’t survive long outside the body. A person could carry the Wuhan virus in their body for weeks. The coronavirus will likely survive on surfaces for just hours, though it will vary to an extent, due to the surface type, temperature, and humidity.

Are there lessons to be learned from the Wuhan virus outbreak in China?

What should travelers learn about travel and health from the Wuhan virus pandemic? What should travelers do when a contagious disease breaks out?

Research and notification:

Travelers should consult information from public health organizations. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC track disease outbreaks and detail national health problems. These organizations release precautions, as well as travel warnings. Check their recommendations when booking, prior to departure, and while traveling. I never travel anywhere without carefully researching my destinations on those websites.

Political boundaries and geography:

While 99 percent of Wuhan cases are in China, 48 percent of cases outside of China are concentrated in just four nearby countries plus Hong Kong. Diseases aren’t contained within national political boundaries. They cross borders via infected travelers. At this time, travelers should stay out of China. However, travelers to nearby countries should seriously consider commonsense precautions to protect themselves from contracting Wuhan and other illnesses.

Take commonsense precautions to prevent contracting Wuhan and other viral illnesses

Surgical Masks and Vaccinations:

Most of the masks that people are currently wearing to protect themselves from Wuhan are simple surgical masks. These paper masks, and even polyurethane foam masks, don’t filter out Wuhan, a microorganism. The only positive thing these masks can do is prevent wearers from easily touching their face, which can spread the disease. Even “N95 masks” won’t offer significant protection unless they fit properly, and they don’t work for children or people with facial hair.

Unlike influenza, there is no vaccine available for Wuhan. If vaccination is available for a disease infecting significant numbers of people in a country, such as the flu in the US, travelers should be vaccinated prior to their journey, unless they have a medical reason to avoid it. In that case, travelers should seriously consider a travel delay.

Avoid crowds and densely populated areas:

When traveling in a country that is near to China during the pandemic or that has a disease breakout of its own, avoid dense crowds and densely populated areas in general. Viral germs spread more quickly in these areas.

Sanitizing and Handwashing:

In airplanes and other public transportation modes, wipe down armrests and tray tables with alcohol-based sanitary wipes. At hotels, wipe down TV remotes and light switches.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, but washing with soap and water is preferred. It can help prevent you from contracting many viruses, including norovirus.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands to avoid spreading viruses in case you’ve come in contact with them.

Buy travel insurance to protect your financial health

When booking an expensive journey, buy travel insurance that will cover losses should the trip be canceled because of a disease breakout at your destination(s).

At this time, the decision to avoid travel to China is easy. However, what if there are plans for travel to Japan, South Korea or another nearby country next week? Today, these countries have more than a handful of Wuhan cases, but what would happen if two weeks from now Japan has 200 Wuhan cases? If you’re considering travel to the U.S., shouldn’t you be vaccinated for influenza? Following my recommendations can help you stay well, but it won’t eliminate every chance you might become ill.

(Image, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control)