Washington: The United States on Friday warned against non-essential travel to Italy, a top destination for US tourists, over the growing coronavirus epidemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "recommends that travellers avoid all non-essential travel to Italy. There is limited access to adequate medical care in affected areas," it said in a statement.

The State Department raised its travel advice a notch for Italy to "reconsider travel", pointing to a "sustained community spread" of the virus there.

Italy has reported 650 coronavirus cases and 17 deaths - the most in Europe from the epidemic that originated in China, which is by far the most affected country.

Italy has urged tourists not to stay away, even as nearly a dozen cities in the north are under lockdown.

More than 5.6 million Americans visited Italy in 2018, the second highest of all nationalities after Germans, according to Italian statistics.