It’s not hard to get sick on the road. With the recycled plane air, germy hotel furniture, and close contact with other tourists, there are countless ways to pick up an illness. And now—due to the recent coronavirus and norovirus outbreaks—it’s even more important to protect our immune systems. Below, we’ve rounded up the worst health hazards spreading today and how to avoid contracting them while traveling.
If you haven’t heard the news, the coronavirus has become a global pandemic. Coronavirus COVID-19 is a new type of respiratory infection that was first identified in Wuhan, a large port city in China. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms—fever, cough, and shortness of breath—can range from mild to severe, even fatal. While the majority of cases have been in China, the virus has traveled to more than 30 other countries, including Italy, Iran, and South Korea. Recently The New York Times reported there have been at least 34 confirmed cases in the U.S. (although those people are in quarantine).
You can only pick up coronavirus through contact with an infected person, so if you are planning a trip to a country that has seen a spike in the virus, you should probably reconsider. For instance, the U.S. Department of State has issued a level 4 “do not travel” China travel advisory, and the CDC has released a level 2 travel health alert for Italy.
Norovirus is an extremely contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. It spreads through direct or indirect contact with someone who has it, or through contaminated food or water, according to the CDC. The virus spikes during the winter and is rarely fatal except in severe cases, mostly among children and the elderly.
The most common outbreaks occur when people are in close quarters, such as on cruise ships or in hotels. For instance, Princess Cruises’ Caribbean Princess was forced to end its voyage early and return to Florida after more than 300 passengers and crew members got sick with norovirus. Similarly, an outbreak spread in a Louisiana casino, affecting more than 200 people.
The best way to prevent norovirus while traveling is to wash your hands often, rinse fruits and vegetables well, and make sure food is thoroughly cooked before eating. Pack hand sanitizer, and if you feel like you might be experiencing symptoms, report them to medical staff immediately.
Ebola is a deadly virus located mainly in sub-Saharan Africa that can affect both humans and primates. In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that Ebola first appeared in the United States after an infected traveler returned to Dallas after visiting West Africa, the epicenter of the epidemic. Today, the virus is most active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Ebola can be spread from animal to human, or from human-to-human through contact with infected blood or bodily fluid, explains the CDC. Symptoms—like fever, aches and pain, vomiting and diarrhea, and unexplained bleeding—may appear from two to 21 days after you’re infected. The virus is often fatal, but those who seek medical attention ASAP can survive. Luckily, travelers today are at very low risk, besides for those in contact with primates or bats in Africa (aka, probably not you). If you are traveling to Africa, the surest way to prevent Ebola is to avoid touching animals and sick people and to wash your hands often.