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Coronavirus travel fears overblown, doctor says

There is a clear psychological component to the fear of travel when so many questions remain about the coronavirus.

SACRAMENTO, Calif — Many people who made travel plans before the coronavirus was first identified are now reconsidering their trips.

But health experts say the fear of the virus has far outpaced the danger of it, and travel, even to countries neighboring China, is safe.

"The risk right now is primarily travel to China," explained Dr. Dean Blumberg, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of California, Davis. "So 99% of all the cases are in China, and 80% are in Hubei province where Wuhan is located, the epicenter of the outbreak. So your risk of travel to any other country is extraordinarily low."

Dr. Blumberg said he believes the U.S. government has already put sufficient safeguards in place, including adding a travel advisory to China. Dr. Blumberg added that he would travel to countries that neighbor China.

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"If you’ve got plans to go to Thailand or Malaysia or Japan or Korea where we know there’s been cases, but a very small number of cases, I would still go," Dr. Blumberg said. "The risk is extraordinarily small. The real risk is travel to China at this point."

Still, there is a clear psychological component to such fear of travel when so many questions remain about the coronavirus.

"It's hard to damp down that natural protective factor," explained clinical psychologist Dr. Eunie Jung. "You know it's kind of what keeps us safe. Like the evolutionary mechanism to keep ourselves safe is really strong."

The reality, however, even for those who catch the virus, the risk of death is only between one and two percent.

"If we think about it, lots of things are out of our control," explained Dr. Jung. "But that doesn’t mean those things are going to happen to you. And so if you were to follow your fear around everything, most people would have to stay at home because any moment you step outside, something can happen.

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"But it usually doesn't. It usually doesn't happen. That's why we're standing here going to work and hanging out with people and doing the things we want to do."

Dr. Jung said it's important to be gentle with oneself and others if they feel that fear build.

"I mean I would first validate," said Dr. Jung. "It's a natural reaction. Like it’s not wrong, it’s not bad. But to try and get as much space and see it as an emotional reaction and not reality."

Follow the conversation on Facebook with Mike Duffy.

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