In the past week, a coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China has rightfully got the attention of many. Certain diseases are prone to rapid infection rates, and in a world where people can traverse the globe in a day, this warrants attention. Still, as we often say, context is important, and while the story could change quickly, as of writing this (Jan 25th, 2020), we're personally much more concerned with travelers being infected with influenza. There is some good news though. Let's go over that, including general tips to stay disease free.
Coronavirus is actually a group of viruses that infect several classes of animals, frequently causing respiratory an gastrointestinal problems in humans. In 2002 and 2003, there was a famously bad outbreak of SARS, a coronavirus. In the past week, a significant number of cases of a different coronavirus have surfaced in Asia, with cases now reported in Europe and North America. The virus spreads primarily through close contact with infected persons who might cough or sneeze. There is not currently a vaccine for this type of virus, though most otherwise healthy people who become infected recover on their own.
How to Reduce Your Risk
While the World Health Organization, US Centers for Disease Control, the Chinese government, and other governments and businesses are taking measures to combat the spread of the disease, there are some simple measure you can take to reduce your own risks. Per the US CDC:
- wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
- avoid close contact with people who are sick
We should also note that while many wear surgical masks to reduce the spread of disease, and they have been shown effective in healthcare settings, especially in preventing spread from sneezing and coughing, there's little research on how effective they are outside of the healthcare setting. This means you shouldn't allow them to offer a false sense of security, or be a replacement for the CDC's advice.
Keeping Coronavirus in Context
- 1,287 cases have been reported in Wuhan, China, the sea of the outbreak. That's 0.000093% of China's population.
- 15 people in Wuhan, China have died related to coronavirus.
- Two cases of coronavirus have been verified in the US, with several more in Europe
- Five to 20% of the US population gets influenza (the flue virus) each year. That's as many as 65 million people.
- Per the CDC, 60,000 people in the US *died* of the flu virus in the winter of 2018 alone.
Based on the above, it's clear that for most people, influenza should be of exponentially greater concern that coronavirus. That is a great reason to make sure you get the flu vaccine. Your healthcare provider or local pharmacist can help with this, and most insurance plans cover this vaccine for no out of pocket cost - even just by walking in to your local grocery store, pharmacy, or public clinic.
The Good News
Hopefully, for those traveling soon who might have been worried about coronavirus, you see that while it's something to pay attention to, it's shouldn't be your chief concern right now. The better news, is that there is something that can be done easily, most places you go, and for free, that is a fantastic way to prevent the spread of most diseases: frequent and thorough hand washing. That's of course, also our primary tip for avoiding norovirus.
Hopefully this puts things in context and reminds everyone to wash their hands to stay healthy. While I spent years in the medical field, I am not a doctor (don't get health advice strictly based on some cruise-lover on the internet), and you should get medical advice from your healthcare provider (doctor, nurse practitioner, pharmacist, etc) or from your federal, state, and local heath departments. Of course if you're soon planning to travel (by cruise or any other means) anywhere near Wuhan China, make sure you check with your travel professional about any potential changes.
You can read more about coronvirus, influenza, disease prevention, and other health matters on the US Centers for Disease Control website. Please always verify that sources are legitimate ones - there have already been many completely fake stories being spread about this disease - you can see the debunked non-sense being spread at factcheck.org.