Coronavirus: What should I do if I travel to Italy? And other questions

Tourists wearing protective facemasks and a Carnival mask visit the Piazza San Marco, in VeniceImage copyright
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There have so far been more than 78,000 cases of the new coronavirus, 77,000 of them in China. The disease, which has spread to 30 countries, has been declared a global health emergency, and about 2,600 people have died.

Here are the Health team’s answers to a range of of readers’ questions about the disease.

I am a British citizen living in Italy, what precautions should I take? Alex Darlbosco, Milan

A number of towns in the Veneto and Lombardy regions in the north of the country have been placed in quarantine and the Carnival of Venice has been cut short.

About 50,000 people will not be able to enter or leave affected areas for the next fortnight without special permission.

For people living in Italy – and the many thousands who travel there – a number of steps can be taken to limit the risk of coronavirus.

The virus spreads through human-to-human contact, via droplets from coughs.

So it’s important to wash the hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand sanitiser or warm water and soap, and to avoid touching the face.

In addition, you should avoid contact with anyone coughing, sneezing or with a fever.

Anyone who thinks they may have caught coronavirus should speak to their doctor on the phone.

Is coronavirus more infectious than flu? – Merry Fitzpatrick, Sydney

It is still early days for making a direct comparison but we know both viruses are highly contagious.

On average, people with the coronavirus infect two to three other people, while those with flu pass it on to about one other person.

However, people infected with flu tend to become infectious to others more quickly, so both viruses are able to spread with ease.

Could the virus be being spread by wildlife? – Robert Scammell, Fareham, Hampshire

It’s almost certain the initial outbreak of coronavirus in China began in an animal source.

Early cases of this new infection were traced to the South China Seafood Wholesale Market, where live wild animals were also sold, including chickens, bats and snakes.

However, an animal may not be the host that spread it to people.

And for people in the UK, the chance of catching the virus from an animal is extremely low.

We are now in a different stage of the outbreak, with cases being spread from person to person. This is the real threat.

Can coronavirus be transmitted by things like door handles and how long does it survive? – Jean Jimenez, Panama

If someone infected with the virus coughs on to their hand and then touches something, that surface may become contaminated. Door handles are a good example of a surface that might pose a risk.

It’s not yet known how long the new coronavirus might be able to live on such surfaces. Experts suspect it is hours rather than days but it is best to wash your hands regularly to help reduce the risk of infection and spread of the virus.

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Does climate and temperature affect the transmission of the coronavirus? – Ariyana, Märkisch-Oderland, Germany

We still have much to learn about this virus. It is not yet clear whether seasonal temperature changes will affect its spread.

Some other viruses, such as flu, follow a seasonal pattern, peaking in colder months. There is some research suggesting Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) – another virus from the same family as coronavirus – is influenced by climate conditions, being slightly more common in warmer months.

Can you catch the virus from food prepared by an infected individual? – Sean McIntyre, Brisbane, Australia

Someone infected with coronavirus could potentially pass it on to someone else if the food they prepare has not been handled hygienically. Coronavirus can be spread by cough droplets on hands. Washing your hands before touching and eating food is good advice for anyone, to stop the spread of germs.

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Once you’ve had coronavirus, will you then be immune? – Denise Mitchell, Bicester, Oxfordshire

When people recover from an infection, their body is left with some memory of how to fight it should they encounter it again. This immunity is not always long-lasting or totally efficient, however, and can decrease over time. It is not known how long immunity might last after being infected.

Is a face mask useful against the virus and how often does it have to be replaced? – Tom Lim, Bali, Indonesia

There is very little evidence wearing face masks makes a difference. Experts say good hygiene – such as regularly washing your hands and certainly before putting them near your mouth – is vastly more effective.

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Can coronavirus be transmitted sexually? – David Cheong, Singapore

It is not clear yet whether this is a route of transmission we should be concerned about. Currently, coughs and sneezes are thought to be the main source of spread.

Do people who have contracted coronavirus return to full health? – Chris Stepney, Milton Keynes

Yes. Many of those who contract coronavirus will experience only mild symptoms and most people are expected to make a full recovery.

However, it can pose a particular risk for elderly people and those with pre-existing problems such as diabetes or cancer, or weak immune systems.

An expert at China’s National Health Commission has said it can take a week to recover from mild coronavirus symptoms.

Can the coronavirus be transferred through items bought from Wuhan and posted to UK? – Stefan

There is no evidence this is a risk. Some diseases, including coronavirus, can spread through surfaces contaminated by people coughing or sneezing on them, but it is thought that the virus does not survive for long. Something that has been sent in the post is unlikely to be contaminated by the time it arrives at its destination.

Is it possible to vaccinate in order to prevent this respiratory illness? – Hans Friedrich

At the moment, there is no vaccine that can protect people against this type of coronavirus but researchers are looking to develop one.

It is a new strain that hasn’t been seen in humans before, which means doctors still have lots to learn about it.

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