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How to protect yourself from coronavirus (COVID-19)

The new coronavirus, first detected in China and also known as SARS-CoV-2, is responsible for a rapidly raising infection (COVID-19), that is easily spreadable by droplets of saliva or respiratory secretions when coughing or sneezing.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to ones of a normal flu, like coughing, fever, shortness of breath and headache. The way the virus acts in the body is still unknown, therefore the WHO recommendations are for all the people with symptoms that have been in China, Italy or other country with raising number of cases or in contact with possibly infected people to contact their local health authorities, to know on how to proceed.

Check the main symptoms of COVID-19 and take our online symptom checker to evaluate your risk of being infected.

How to protect yourself from coronavirus (COVID-19)

General care to protect yourself from the virus

For the people that are not infected, the recommendations are to protect and prevent a possible contamination. That protection can be made through some measures against any type of virus, that include:

  1. Wash the hands frequently with water and soap for, at least, 20 seconds, especially after being in contact with someone who might be sick;
  2. Avoid public, enclosed spaces with a lot of people, like shopping centers or gyms, giving priority to stay at home as much as possible
  3. Cover the mouth and nose whenever you need to sneeze or cough, using a disposable tissue or clothing, for example;
  4. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth;
  5. Use an individual face mask if you are sick, to cover your mouth and nose whenever you need to be in a confined space or with other people;
  6. Do not share personal objects that may be in contact with droplets of saliva or respiratory secretions, such as cutlery, glasses or toothbrushes;
  7. Avoid the contact with wild animals or any animal that looks sick;
  8. Air all the confined spaces, opening windows to ease the air movement;

Besides that, it's also recommended to cook well all the food before eating, especially meat, and wash or peel the skin of food that don’t need to be cooked, such as fruits.

1. How to protect yourself at home

During a pandemic situation, like the current one with COVID-19, it is possible to happen a lockdown, where you will be asked to stay indoors the majority of time, to avoid crowded places.

In these cases it is important to follow the guidelines on how to behave inside your house in order to protect your family. That should include:

  • Take off your shoes and clothes at the entrance, especially if you have been in a public place with a crowd;
  • Wash your hands before entering the house or, in case that is not possible, immediately after entering the house;
  • Clean regularly all surfaces and most used objects, such as tables, benches, door handles, TV remotes ou mobile phones, for example. For the cleaning you can use your normal detergent ou a mixture of 250ml of water with one tablespoon of bleach (sodium hypochlorite). Make sure you use gloves when dealing with bleach;
  • Wash all clothes you used outside or with some visual stains. Ideally, you should wash it at the highest temperature recommended to the specific type of material. During this process you should also wear gloves;
  • Avoid sharing plates, cutlery or glasses with family members, including sharing food;
  • Avoid a very close proximity with family members, especially those who can regularly go out to public places, avoiding kisses or hugs in this epidemic period.

Adding to it, it is important to maintain all the general good practices against viruses, such as covering the nose and mouth whenever you need to sneeze or cough, but also avoid too many people inside your house.

If there is an infected person in your household, it is important to go a bit extra on prevention, going as far if needed to allocate that person to a single room.

How to prepare an isolation room in your house

An isolation room is used to separate the infected person from the rest of the healthy family members, until the Consultant tells you you no longer have to isolate or until a coronavirus test result is negative.This is due to the coronavirus symptoms are very similar to the flu and cold symptoms, and there isn’t a way of knowing who is in fact infected or not.

This type of room doesn’t need a special prep, but there should always have the door closed and the infected person should not leave, if not necessary. In case of needing to use the bathroom, it’s important the face mask is used when walking through the corridors. In the end, the bathroom should be disinfected every single time is used, mainly the toilet, the shower and sink. 

Inside the room, the person should maintain hygienic practices such as using a disposable tissue to cover the mouth and nose whenever they need to cough or sneeze and wash the hands frequently. Any object that is used inside of the room, like plates, glasses or cutlery should be moved with gloves and washed immediately with water and soap.

If a healthy person needs to enter the room, should wash their hands before and after being in the room, and also use gloves and disposable face masks.

Who should be put into the isolation room

The isolation room should be used by people that sick, with mild to moderate symptoms that can be treated at home, such as general malaise, cough, constant sneezing, low fever or runny nose, for example.

In case the symptoms worsen, high fever or difficulty to breathe, it is important to contact your local health authorities and follow the guidance of the health professionals. If need to go to the hospital, avoid public transports and always use a face mask.

How to protect yourself from coronavirus (COVID-19)

2. How to protect yourself at work

During this pandemic period, like what’s happening with COVID-19, the ideal is working from home when possible. However, when not possible, there are a few rules that will help to low the risk of getting the virus at your workplace:

  • Avoid the proximity with your work colleagues through kisses or hugs;
  • Ask all the sick workers to stay home and not coming to work. The same applies for people with unknown cause symptoms;
  • Avoid crowded places, for example, the canteen, maybe having shifts for your lunch breaks;
  • Clean frequently all the surfaces at your workplace, like tables, chairs, laptops and computer screens. To clean it, use your normal detergent or mix 250 ml of water with one tablespoon of bleach (sodium hipochloride). Always clean with disposable gloves.

You should also allow the renovation of air, opening the windows whenever possible.

3. How to protect yourself in public places

Like in your workplace, public places must only be used if necessary. That includes going to the supermarket or pharmacy, to buy food or medicine, for example.

Other places like shopping centers, cinemas, gyms, coffee shops or any other store should be avoided as it is not considered basic necessities and can become crowded.

However, if you do need to go go out, make sure:

  • Stay inside for the minimum time possible, leaving immediately after your shopping;
  • Avoid using door handles with your hands, using instead your elbow to open the door whenever possible;
  • Wash your hands before leaving the place you were, to avoid carrying any contamination agent to your car or house;
  • Preferably, go when there are less people around.

Open public places and with good ventilation, such as parks or gardens, can be used safely for walks or exercise, but it’s advised to avoid group activities.

What to do if you suspect you're infected

It’s considered to be a suspected infection by the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, when the person:

Was somewhere with raising number of infected cases, less than 14 days ago, and presents symptoms of high fever, persistent cough and shortness of breath;

Was in contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and presents symptoms of the infection, intense cough, shortness of breath and high fever.

In these cases is recommended that the person informs the local hospital through the phone and follow the instructions. If necessary going to the hospital for confirming diagnostic, it is important to:

  • Use a face mask;
  • Cover the mouth and nose with a disposable tissue whenever coughing or sneezing;
  • Avoiding the direct contact with other people through touching, kissing or hugging;
  • Wash your hands before leaving the house and as soon as you get to the hospital;
  • Avoid public transports to the hospital or GP practice;
  • Avoid small spaces with a lot of people.

It is important to inform all the people that you were in contact with from the last 14 days, such as friends and family, if there is a suspicion of infection, so that those people can be vigilant on the occurrence of any symptoms.

In the hospital, suspected COVID-19 case will go into an isolation room to avoid the virus to spread and then some blood tests will be made, like PCR, some respiratory secretions analysis and a lung PET scan. People can only leave isolation when the results come back negative for COVID-19.

How to protect yourself from coronavirus (COVID-19)

Is it necessary to wear a mask?

The disposable face mask it’s not mandatory to the general population, but it’s advised to be used by sick patients that need to go to the hospital or other public place, such as GP practice or pharmacy. The face mask protects the other people from getting in contact with the droplets of saliva that can be release on a sneeze or cough.

For healthy people, they do not need to use a mask. Washing your hands regularly with water and soap, avoid the direct contact with possibly sick people and avoid touching the face are far more efficient ways of fighting the virus.

But if you do want to use a face mask, use the type “surgical face mask”. This type of mask is safe for places with not many known cases, due to the fact of covering the nose and mouth, preventing the droplets to spread through the air.

In regions more affected by the virus, it’s important to use other types of masks, for example, N95, N100, PFF2 or PFF3, but also protection goggles, to protect your eyes. This type of protection is generally used by healthcare professionals, when in contact with infected people.

How do you get COVID-19

The virus from the Coronavirus family can infect animals like camels, bats or snakes, and the first cases of COVID-19 were, indeed, identified in people who had contact with wild animals. Therefore, is believed the virus had suffered some mutation and passed to people through animals.

However, loads of people infected with the new coronavirus weren’t in contact with those animals, but were instead close to people infected by animals, confirming the transmission from person to person by inhalation of droplets and contact with infected people.

It’s important to always wash your hands, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and avoid public spaces with loads of people.

How long does the new coronavirus survive

Accordingly to a research group from America, in March 2020, SARS-CoV-2, the new virus of China can survive up to 3 days, however than can vary depending on the material and environment.

Generally speaking, the survival time of the virus that causes COVID-19:

  • Plastic and stainless steel: up to 3 days;
  • Copper: 4 hours;
  • Cardboard: 24 hours;
  • Aerosols: up to 3 hours.

This study suggests that the contact with infected surfaces can also be a way of transmission of the new coronavirus. However, is necessary more research to confirm this hypothesis. Nevertheless, it is mandatory to adopt precaution measures, like washing your hands, use of hand gel and cleaning of possible infected surfaces. This cleaning can be made with normal detergents, 70% alcohol or a mix of 250 ml of water with a tablespoon of bleach (sodium hipochloride).

How the virus infects the body

The new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, known as SARS-CoV-2, was discovered recently and, for that, it is still not known what can cause to the body.

However, it is known that in some risk group the infection can cause symptoms more intense that can be life threatening. Those groups include people a weakened immune system, such as:

  • Elderly above 65 years old;
  • People with chronic diseases like diabetes, respiratory problems or heart disease;
  • People with renal failure;
  • People who are currently undergoing cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy;
  • People who had had surgery, especially transplant.

In these groups, the new coronavirus causes similar symptoms to pneumonia, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that need intensive care at hospital.

Bibliography >

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  • WHO. Basic protective measures against the new coronavirus. Available on: <https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public>. Access in 16 Mar 2020
  • BOSTON PUBLIC HEALTH COMMISSION. Cleaning & Disinfecting to Prevent COVID-19. 2020. Available on: <https://www.bphc.org/whatwedo/infectious-diseases/Infectious-Diseases-A-to-Z/Documents/Cleaning%20and%20Disinfecting%20for%20COVID%2019.pdf>. Access in 18 Mar 2020
  • CDC. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Clean & Disinfect. 2020. Available on: <https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/cleaning-disinfection.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fcommunity%2Fhome%2Fcleaning-disinfection.html>. Access in 18 Mar 2020
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  • OMS. Novel Coronavirus(2019-nCoV): Situation Report - 7. 2020. Available on: <https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200127-sitrep-7-2019--ncov.pdf>. Access in 28 Jan 2020
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