How to reduce your chances of catching coronavirus

By Thomas Hornall, PA

Thorough hand-washing, maintaining distance from others, and avoiding hand-shakes are among the most effective measures for reducing your risk of catching coronavirus, experts say.

As fears intensify over the European spread of Covid-19, health professionals have said everyday precautions like carrying hand sanitiser are the best tools to protect against contracting the illness.

Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when you cough or sneeze, rather than your hands, and binning used tissues immediately is also helpful, according to NHS guidance.

NHS guidance (NHS/PA)

– How long can the virus survive on an object?

Studies on related viruses like Sars have shown that the germs can survive anything from a number of hours to several days, depending on the surface and its temperature and humidity, said Leeds University virologist Stephen Griffin.

He told BBC Breakfast it was related to the amount of virus on an object, and as you reduce the amount its longevity gets “severely shortened”.

“By and large these are very fragile viruses, easily disinfected with alcohols and bleach,” he said.

Hand-washing is the single most important act (Nick Ansell/PA)

– What is the best way to avoid picking it up?

Dr Griffin and GP Dr Rosemary Leonard agreed that good hand hygiene is the most effective deterrent.

Dr Leonard said a 20-second routine, tackling areas between fingers, under nails, and all surfaces on the hands and wrists, is the “most important thing you can do in terms of stopping the transmission of this virus”.

“The previous Sars outbreak was stopped by good hand-washing,” she added.

Avoid touching your mouth with your hands, maintain “social distance” from other people, and stop shaking hands, the experts said.

– Does a strong constitution make me safe and can you catch the virus twice?

Typically, after someone catches a viral illness, the immune system kicks in and develops antibodies which prevent a patient catching the condition again.

“In general, once you’ve had it as long as your immune system is working properly … you should not get it again”, said Dr Leonard.

She said there was not enough information surrounding reports of a woman in Japan who is said to have caught the virus twice to be confident that was the case.

Healthy people who have generally strong defences against colds and other illnesses are not better protected against Covid-19, Dr Griffin said, adding: “Having other illnesses has no relation to this virus in particular whatsoever.”

Health professionals have advised people to get flu vaccines if they have not already done so, as you are more vulnerable to a second illness if your body is already fighting one infection.

A pedestrian wears a face mask while walking in central London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

– Are masks useful?

A mask will prevent some viral spread when it is new but once it becomes damp “they hardly stop anything”, Dr Leonard said.

But a mask can help by stopping someone touching their face and mouth, she added.

Dr Griffin said: “Once they are worn for a time, they become moistened and protection diminishes further. Exhaled droplets also reduce in size quickly by evaporation, and of course virus particles are far smaller than the fibre mesh in these sorts of masks.

“However, wearing a mask can reduce the propensity for people to touch their faces, which happens many more times a day than we all realise and is a major source of infection without proper hand hygiene.

“There are higher specification masks that contain filters and, when properly fitted and sealed, provide significantly better protection. However, these aren’t as easy to come by and are obviously more expensive.”

NHS staff with facial hair at Southampton General Hospital have been urged to shave to help limit the spread of the virus.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, stubble and beards “make it impossible to get a good seal of the mask to the face”.