The spread of the coronavirus across China and to at least 10 other countries including the US, South Korea and Japan has prompted experts and health authorities to offer advice on how to reduce the chances of contracting the illness.
All but four of the 80 reported deaths so far have been recorded in Hubei province where the outbreak started. Experts have warned, however, that about 100,000 people may already be infected – far more than the 2,700 cases reported by China’s National Health Commission in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the virus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.
The UN agency advises people to:
Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
Writing for the Foreign Policy website, Laurie Garrett, a former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, has practical advice for lowering the risk of contracting the virus.
She recommends wearing gloves when leaving home, and keeping them on while using public transport or spending time in public spaces.
If people find themselves in social situations where removing their gloves is unavoidable – such as to dine or shake hands – Garrett urges them not to touch their face or eyes, “no matter how much something itches”.
She adds: “Keep your hands away from contact with your face. And before you put your gloves back on, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, scrubbing the fingers. Put your gloves on.” Gloves should be changed daily and washed thoroughly, she says, adding that damp gloves should be avoided.
Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection of the airborne disease.
There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces – 23 times an hour, according to one study.
Dr David Carrington, of St George’s, University of London, told BBC News that “routine surgical masks for the public are not an effective protection against viruses or bacteria carried in the air”, because they were too loose, had no air filter and left the eyes exposed.
Masks could, however, help lower the risk of contracting a virus through the “splash” from a sneeze or a cough and offer some protection against hand-to-mouth transmissions, he said.
The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided they are used correctly. That means securing them over the mouth, chin and nose, using the bendable metal strip at the top to keep it snug against the contours of the nose.
Experts say the best way to avoid germs, with coronavirus and other airborne illnesses, is to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, try not to touch your face or eyes and avoid contact with people displaying symptoms.