International media attention is focusing heavily on the identification of a new disease: 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was first reported Dec. 31, 2019 in Wuhan, China. Since then, transmission of the disease has remained primarily centered in Wuhan, though imported cases have been identified in several other Chinese provinces, as well as Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, and the US. Additional cases will likely be identified in new areas in the coming days and weeks due to heavy population movement during the Lunar New Year occurring Jan. 25, and the Lantern Festival on Feb. 8. The World Health Organization (WHO) will soon meet to determine whether 2019-nCoV activity merits the declaration of a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).
The escalating nature of this outbreak indicates Chinese authorities may have known about the disease prevalence for some time, but attempts to contain the outbreak and avoid the press proved unsuccessful.
Animal-to-human cases have been confirmed, and transmission at a seafood market in Wuhan is suspected. More likely coronavirus vectors are domestic poultry or contamination of food products by bats; these claims are under investigation. Limited human-to-human transmission has been confirmed among family members and healthcare workers in China, though it remains unclear how easily 2019-nCoV spreads between people. Older individuals with chronic illness or compromised immune systems are more susceptible to infection and more likely to experience significant symptoms. All cases presenting with severe pneumonia have been hospitalized for treatment in isolation. At this early stage, this disease is not as severe as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Common Human Coronavirus Symptoms
While international authorities investigate this new disease to determine its mode of transmission, the following are the most common symptoms seen in other human coronavirus infections, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and SARS:
- Sore Throat
- Runny Nose
- Difficulty Breathing
The primary sign of 2019-nCoV infection is fever. Only a few patients reporting significant breathing difficulties and pneumonia, primarily in the older population with pre-existing conditions, and most deaths have occurred among this demographic. Care for coronavirus patients is typically supportive in nature and includes supplemental oxygen, fluids, and in severe cases, mechanical ventilation.
There is no evidence that influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions, such as frequent handwashing with soap and water or use of hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable.
Travel Implications of Imported Cases of 2019-nCoV
As of Jan. 22, cases of 2019-nCoV have been identified in travelers returning to Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong SAR, Macau, South Korea, and the US from Wuhan, China. In this rapidly evolving situation, some countries have chosen to implement traveler health screenings at airports for flights arriving from Wuhan.
As of Jan. 22, The UK is screening passengers on all direct and some indirect flights arriving from Wuhan, and the US is screening for cases at five airports: JFK, SFO, LAX, ORD, and ATL. Additional countries may implement their own enhanced health screenings in the coming days.
The US CDC upgraded its travel health notice Jan. 21 to “Alert-Level 2” due to 2019-nCoV activity in China. This level of notice advises travelers to practice enhanced precautions: travelers to Wuhan should avoid contact with sick people, animals (alive or dead), and animal markets, as well as maintain diligent basic health precautions, primarily frequent handwashing.
Travel Within China
Authorities in Wuhan are enhancing health screenings throughout the city to help contain the spread of 2019-nCoV. Enhanced health monitoring, including infrared thermometers, are in place at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport (WUH) and railway and bus stations to monitor travelers through the city. Officials indicate police are conducting checks on private vehicles arriving and departing Wuhan to inspect for live animals. Authorities in Wuhan have announced that all outbound travel from the city via rail, long-distance buses, flights, and ferries will be shut down from 1000 Jan. 23
Increased security measures are likely near transport hubs and on major roads to and from Wuhan. Screening measures could cause check-in, security clearance, and immigration delays. Localized traffic disruptions are possible where authorities are conducting private vehicle checks. Health officials will provide masks for most passengers with a fever, and authorities could quarantine passengers suspected of having the virus.
Stay informed on travel around China with our intelligence alert hub.
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