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World Health Organization recommends people take simple precautions against the virus to reduce exposure and transmission
A Chinese man wears a protective mask, goggles, and coat during the lunar new year holiday in Beijing. Health authorities are urging people to take precautions against the spread of the coronavirus. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
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.
The World Health Organisation 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:
- Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
- Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
- Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
- Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods
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 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.
WHO experts advise against wearing gloves on the basis that hand-washing is more important and people wearing gloves are less likely to wash their hands.
• This article was amended on 6 February 2020 to make it clear that China’s National Health Commission figures related to China.