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What can you do to protect yourself from COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)?


COVID-19 is a viral disease that is spread by airborne droplets,

COVID-19 is a viral disease that is spread by airborne droplets, similar to other viral diseases such as the common cold. Symptoms include respiratory issues such as coughing and sneezing, and for this reason many people look towards masks to prevent the spread of this disease. Whilst masks have their place in the treatment and management of respiratory illnesses in the healthcare setting, for the general public masks are of little use. Most members of the public use simple surgical masks, and these are not as effective as the approved N95 particulate respirators used by healthcare professionals.

THE PROBLEM WITH MASKS

Simple face-masks help prevent large droplets and particles from teaching your mouth and nose, particles that may contain viruses and bacteria. In surgery they prevent bodily fluids from being transmitted between patient and surgeon, such as blood. However their design does not block the very small particles that are transmitted by coughs and sneezes. Furthermore they are loose fitting and so particulates can still enter through the gaps between the mask and the skin.

N95 respirators on the other hand are specially designed to prevent very fine particulate matter from entering the users nose and mouth. However even these are not perfect as they are only rated to block 95% of all such matter. Their use also depends on having a tight seal around the face, and cannot be used with facial hair. Application of the mask must also be done in a particular manner without touching the mask to ensure it remains sterile. It needs to be replaced as soon as it is damp, and by only touching the straps behind your head. Before and after putting on the mask your hands should be cleaned with alcohol based gels, or with soap and water.

Because of the issues associated with masks, the WHO has released recommendations on when members of the public should use masks:

· If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.

· Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.

· Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

THE IMPORTANCE OF HYGEINE

So if masks are not effective, what should you do? The simple answer is you should maintain good personal hygiene to minimise the risk of infection. Simple, frequent hand-washing with soap and water or with alcohol gel physically destroys the virus on your hands. This minimises any transmission risk to yourself and to other people. If sneezing, you should sneeze into the crook of your elbow or into a tissue, and dispose of this. After this you should once again clean your hands and dry them thoroughly. Washing your hands for 20 seconds is more effective at reducing the risk of infection than wearing a mask.

Antibiotics will not help in treating COVID-19 as this is a viral disease. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses because they are completely separate types of organisms, as different as a human is to a potato. Other drastic measures such as irradiating your body or using highly irritant cleaning products on the skin such as bleach can cause harm and create further medical problems. Using traditional or homemade medical therapies advocated on social media or by word-of-mouth are similarly not effective in destroying the virus. Some treatments can be harmful to your body as they are untested with no evidence to show they work, and unfortunately can provide you with a false sense of security. If you wish to obtain advice you should do so from a qualified health professional or from the World Health Organisation site on public advice. This can be found on https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public.

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