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While the coronavirus is currently not a public health emergency, as per the World Health Organization, it’s not impossible that a novel disease could get out of hand in a hurry. I’m writing this article because, amidst all the coverage of the Wuhan virus which has quarantined 35 million and counting, I watched Contagion, thus spooking me out tenfold.
Contagion, a 2011 movie starring Matt Damon about an unknown virus that starts in China thanks to bat droppings and creeps its infected hands across the globe, paints a horrifying picture of what can happen when scientists aren’t able to keep up with a disease. (An eerily similar situation to what’s going on now, though fairly easy to predict granted China’s history with diseases.)
And while we are still nowhere close to pandemic levels, it’s still important to know what to do in a situation where the virus has landed in your country and is potentially making its way through your neighbourhood.
Before delving in, though, I want to say: do not panic, this is a hypothetical article about a very specific scenario—one that humanity has gotten pretty good at curbing. With that said: here are 10 steps you should take to minimize your chances of contracting a novel virus if things were to get that bad.
*Note, I am NOT a medical professional. These suggestions are a collection of several health websites throughout the web.
1. Protective masks
In some densely populated Asian countries, it’s not uncommon to see citizens wearing white medical masks on their faces, and in the videos circulating online of Wuhan, you’ll be quick to see just about everyone wearing one. This is because protective masks, while not fool-proof, can decrease your chances of breathing in air-borne projectiles through coughs or sneezes—if applied properly.
Professor of molecular Jonathan Bell at the University of Nottingham has said: “In one well-controlled study in a hospital setting, the face mask was as good at preventing influenza infection as a purpose-made respirator.” So strap up!
2. Washing your hands/avoid touching your face
One of the best things anyone can do to stop the spread of diseases is thoroughly washing your hands with soap and warm water. In times of real strife, it’s advised by the CDC that you wash your hands.:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
While that may seem obsessive, take this as an example: “In developing countries, childhood mortality rates related to respiratory and diarrheal diseases can be reduced by introducing simple behavioural changes, such as handwashing with soap. This simple action can reduce the rate of mortality from these diseases by almost 50 percent.”
All of this is hand-in-hand with not touching your face. The average person touches their face 23 times an hour. Avoid scratching or rubbing your face or nose with your hands, unless recently washed.
3. Avoid public transportation
Public transportation is a notorious playground for bacteria and diseases to make their way.
The combination of hoards of people, all tightly packed in tubes and all touching the same handles and doors is not ideal when avoiding an illness. But, there are a few steps you can take to make the ride a bit easier on you:
- Don’t feel the need to be polite. Don’t sit next to anyone sick. If someone that you suspect is sick sits next to you, move. There’s no need to take a risk
- Take a “seat check” before sitting down. Obviously, avoid visibly dirty seats.
- Again, the golden rule: wash your hands immediately after getting off the bus. Especially if you touched any straps, poles, belts, or other surfaces.
- Hand sanitizer aplenty, if you don’t have any way to wash your hands.
4. Glove etiquette
Gloves, though they do need to be changed fairly frequently, are a highly effective way to avoid bodily fluids. Saliva, the main culprit, can be spread easily via coughs and sneezes into hands, and then on to public transport. This is why the sleeve sneeze, or the “vampire sneeze,” is another great method to avoid getting others ill.
Other, more obvious bodily fluids to avoid include blood, vomit, urine, and feces, which all pose a higher risk of cross-contamination.
Pro tip: Avoid wearing gloves while preparing food. While this may seem like a good idea, it may actually make the odds of cross-contamination more likely. This is why many professional kitchens will opt for frequent washing rather than gloves.
5. “Extra steps”
The little things go a long way, whether it’s precautions or bacteria. There are several little things that can make a big difference, including alcohol wipes for cell phone screens. Cell phones are an often overlooked way of spreading bacteria. Avoid voice calls on your cell phone unless you’ve got a way to disinfect your screen first.
Other things you can do if you’re particularly vigilant are avoiding the handling of cash, and not allowing others to handle your debit card.
These suggested steps are still a bit further ahead in the future than the state we are currently in with coronavirus, and let’s hope we don’t ever need them. The last few notable public health crises’, (Ebola, Zika, H1N1) did do significant damage in given regions, but were all eventually contained and are all no longer considered public health risks and are now at what is considered “normal” levels.