5 Small Steps You Can Take to Protect Yourself from Coronavirus

As the coronavirus spreads around the globe, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family.

“I told my children that while I didn’t think that they were at risk right now, we, as a family, need to be preparing for significant disruption of our lives,” says Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Currently, if you live in the U.S. the risk of getting the virus remains very low, but public health officials say there will likely be outbreaks in the United States. So this is a good time to review your emergency game plan.

Here’s what you need to know to make good decisions to plan, prepare and even prevent the spread of the disease.

1. This virus is contagious, but so far it’s not as deadly as other outbreaks

In China, more than three-quarters of the cases have been classified as mild. Symptoms include low-grade fever and a cough. Some people also experience fatigue, headaches and, less frequently, diarrhea.

Overall, the death rate in China is estimated at 2%, and the average age of death among those with COVID-19 is in the 70s. People with underlying medical problems, and particularly smokers, seem to be at higher risk.

Compared to prior outbreaks of novel viruses, this coronavirus appears less deadly than other human coronaviruses that have spread in recent years. For instance, the death rate was about 34% for MERS and about 10% for SARS.

The flu causes more than 12,000 deaths a year in the U.S. An annual vaccine is the most effective way to prevent flu, but there are other strategies to prevent it. So far, there’s no vaccine against the new coronavirus, but some of the same strategies to prevent flu can also protect against coronavirus.

2. To fend off coronavirus, follow flu prevention tips

The top tip: Wash your hands. Why? Viruses can spread from person to person via respiratory droplets. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, close contacts can be infected. In addition, the virus can end up on doorknobs, elevator buttons and other surfaces. If you touch those surfaces and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you can become infected.

This is why it’s important to wash rigorously. Here’s the CDC’s guidance.

“Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.”

(And here’s a quick handwashing tutorial from Maddie Sofia, host of NPR’s Short Wave podcast!)

“Americans are friendly. We not only shake hands, we also hug. These are ways we can transmit the virus,” says Rebecca Katz, who directs the Center for Global Health Science and Security. She recommends an elbow bump. Or, you can try these no-touch salutations that NPR’s Bob Boilen, host of All Songs Considered, and I demonstrate.

Here are five more things to remember, per the CDC:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
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