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Wuhan novel coronavirus and avian flu: advice for travel to China

PHE is aware of a reported outbreak of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan City, China, and has offered advice to travellers to the area regarding this as well as the ongoing avian flu risk.

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Public Health England (PHE) is monitoring the situation with international partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO). PHE has also issued advice to travellers ahead of Chinese New Year this month.

The risk to the UK population is very low and the risk to travellers to Wuhan is low, but they are advised to take simple precautions such as practicing good hand and personal hygiene and minimise contact with birds and animals in markets in Wuhan as a further precaution.

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission has reported 41 cases of the disease so far, the majority of which appear to be connected to a seafood and animal market in the city. There have been no deaths reported and there is no significant evidence of transmission from person to person or any signs of illness among medical and nursing staff.

Dr Nick Phin, National Infection Service Deputy Director at PHE, said on the reported Wuhan novel coronavirus:

Based on the available evidence, the risk to travellers to Wuhan from this disease is low and we are not advising them to change their plans.

In order to minimise the risk of transmission, people travelling to the area should maintain good hand and personal hygiene. Travellers should seek medical attention if they develop respiratory symptoms within 14 days of visiting Wuhan, informing their health service prior to their attendance about their recent travel to the city.

The risk to the UK population is very low. The UK has robust arrangements to manage emerging diseases and we can draw on our experience of developing pioneering diagnostic tests in humans for the coronaviruses - SARS and MERS.

Besides the evolving situation in Wuhan, all travellers should also be aware of the risk of avian flu when visiting China during the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, beginning on 25 January 2020.

Human cases of avian influenza have recently been reported in China, and historically there have been more cases at this time of year. Cases have originated from several provinces and municipalities across mainland China, and there have been a small number of avian influenza cases among Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan residents who have travelled to mainland China.

The majority of reported human cases in China have had close contact with wild birds or poultry. Although the risk is very low, Public Health England and the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) are reminding UK travellers to protect themselves from avian flu by minimising exposure to wild birds and poultry.

Dr Phin added on avian flu:

Although the risk of avian flu to UK residents travelling to China remains very low, anyone planning to visit China, Hong Kong SAR or Taiwan should minimise their exposure to any birds such as wild birds or live birds in ‘wet markets’ as a precaution.

We strongly urge people to avoid touching dead or dying birds and maintain good hand and personal hygiene.

Avian influenza remains a risk in a number of parts of China and if travellers experience coughing or difficulty breathing within 14 days of returning from China, they should call their GP or NHS 111 and report their recent travel.

Travellers can check NaTHNaC’s TravelHealthPro website for current travel health recommendations for:

Published 10 January 2020
Last updated 13 January 2020 + show all updates
  1. Updated to include latest information from the World Health Organization.

  2. First published.