- Hundreds of millions of people are expected to travel to China for the Lunar New Year, which raises the risk that the could spread. It can be transmitted between humans .
- Health experts recommend a few precautions to protect yourself while traveling.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories .
Two weeks ago, Chinese medical authorities reported a mysterious new coronavirus in Wuhan, the most populous city in central China.
On Tuesday, the first case was reported in the US. The virus has so far infected around 300 people and killed six.
At first, authorities suspected that the coronavirus which likely originated in a seafood market could only spread from animals to humans. But they have since confirmed that humans can transmit the virus to one other .
The coronavirus family is a large group of viruses that typically affect the respiratory tract. Coronaviruses can lead to illnesses like the common cold, pneumonia, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a potentially fatal illness that resulted in 8,000 cases and 774 deaths in China between November 2002 and July 2003.
The timing of the new outbreak is particularly worrisome, since hundreds of millions of people are expected to travel to China for the Lunar New Year , which begins on Saturday and lasts until February 8.
"Travel spreads this kind of virus like wildfire," Adrian Hyzler, the chief medical officer at Healix International, which offers risk-management solutions for global travelers, told Business Insider. "I think we're going to see cases popping up in cities all over the world."
Here's how to stay safe while flying.
Before the Wuhan virus reached the US, it had already started to spread across Asia.
Ruobing Su/Business Insider
South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan each have one confirmed case, and two cases have been recorded in Thailand.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that a man in his 30s who lives in Snohomish County, north of Seattle, Washington, had contracted the virus. The man had recently returned from a trip to China and is now in good health.
"I think it's laudable that the Chinese authorities have identified this quickly," Hyzler said. "There seems to be a good sharing of information."
Passengers traveling to the US from Wuhan will be rerouted to one of five airports.
Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images
The CDC announced Tuesday that five US airports New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and Chicago O'Hare International Airport will begin screening passengers for the virus.
Airports in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and South Korea are also screening passengers for fever.
"Screening is a very imperfect tool, but it's the only tool we have to try and prevent the importation of a disease," Eric Toner, a senior scientist at Johns Hopkins University, told Business Insider.
Travelers should avoid close contact with people who are sick particularly those with cold symptoms.
Some people who contracted the Wuhan virus reported symptoms including a fever, chills, headaches, and a sore throat. A few said they had difficulty breathing.
Travelers should try to avoid contact with people that display symptoms similar to those of pneumonia or the common cold, such as coughing or runny noses.
"What we don't know is to what extent this disease can be transmitted by people who are only mildly ill," Toner said. "That's one of the things that we're trying to figure out right now."
Wearing a mask isn't particularly helpful, Toner said.
NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images
Many people in China have lined up to purchase face masks , which have reportedly started to sell out at some stores. But Toner doesn't think a mask will do much to protect anyone's health.
"There's little harm in it," he said. "But wearing masks, except in the situation of a healthcare provider, has never been shown to be a very effective way to protect yourself from infectious diseases."
The CDC warns travelers not to touching their eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
Travelers should wash their hands frequently with soap and water, making sure to scrub for at least 20 seconds, the CDC says. There are no vaccines to protect humans from contracting a coronavirus.
"There is no cure for this virus," Hyzler said. "If there is a vaccine, it'll take years."
If you're traveling to China, steer clear of live animals.
Photo by Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images
Although scientists have traced the Wuhan virus to a local seafood market with live animals, they're not yet sure which animal spread the virus to people.
Recent research suggests the SARS virus in China may have spread to humans from horseshoe bats.
"Ever since SARS, there have been calls for improving or closing down the live animal markets in China," Toner said. "There's an awful lot we don't yet know, but it is fair to say that live animal markets are a threat not just to the people who work in them, but to public health more generally."
If you do become ill after traveling to China, report your symptoms to a health authority right away.
Toner said people who are ill and have visited China recently should tell a doctor about their travel history.
But restricting travel in areas that already have cases of the virus isn't likely to be effective, he added.
"I think they're doing the right things," he said of the Chinese government's response. "They are screening for patients or passengers that are coming in. They are trying to educate them to make sure they get care. They're trying to isolate them as soon as they start getting sick. These are the things that prevent a transmission."
- Read more about the Wuhan virus:
- What you need to know about China's Wuhan coronavirus and how it could affect you
- Everything we know about the mysterious, deadly Wuhan virus sweeping across China
- A mysterious virus in China is a reminder that the world isn't ready for a pandemic. Bill Gates says we should prepare for a deadly outbreak as we do for war.
- The spread of China's mysterious fatal Wuhan virus is poised to get infinitely worse as the Chinese New Year travel rush begins
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- This map shows where China's mysterious, deadly Wuhan coronavirus has spread across Asia, as a 6th death is confirmed
- A mysterious coronavirus in China is a reminder that the world isn't ready for a pandemic. Bill Gates says we should prepare for a deadly outbreak as we do for war.