As an eye doctor and health care professional, I’ve been actively keeping tabs on the coronavirus COVID-19 disease as I suspect many of you have as well. The actual virus is called “SARS-CoV-2”. After being announced in January, it appears to be spreading worldwide at an alarming rate. According to the Deseret News, as of Friday, Feb 29, 2020, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control have yet to say it is a pandemic even though it has been diagnosed in 57 countries with 83,774 cases worldwide resulting in 2,867 deaths, mostly in China where it originated. It has yet to gain any traction here in the U.S., although health care personnel are gearing up and preparing for the time it begins to spread through our communities.
So what can you, individually, do on a daily basis to help prevent contracting and spreading the disease yourself? There are three simple things – habits if you will – that, if implemented or changed, could go a long ways to help curb the spread of coronavirus (not to mention flu and colds).
1. Stop shaking hands.
2. Stop touching your face and eyes.
3. Wash your hands often.
Stop Shaking Hands
Of all these things, shaking hands is so ingrained into our greeting with people that it may well be the most difficult habit to change. Socially, if someone extends their hand to you it is expected to accept their hand in a firm shake or you may offend them. No one need remind us of the infamous exchange/ non exchange between Pres. Trump and Nancy Pelosi in which House Speaker Pelosi ripped up Pres. Trump’s State of the Union Speech because he failed to shake her hand. I have a friend who recently passed away who was unable to shake hands for fear of getting sick so she would fist-bump, but even that may be frowned upon if the coronavirus becomes widespread here in the States.
Stop Touching your Face and Eyes
For the next day, pay attention to how often you find yourself touching your eyes, mouth and nose. These are the pathways respiratory viruses use to access our lungs. It will take a very conscientious effort to not touch your face, but it is one of the, if not the most important prevention tips.
Wash Your Hands Often
Wash your hands. Ninety-five percent of people say they wash their hands, but one study done at airports showed that only 78% of people actually washed their hands. One of the most important pieces of education I give my patients who wear contacts is before they insert or remove their contact lenses, they should wash their hands. When a patient is diagnosed with a sty or pink eye I educate them to wash their hands frequently and even if they think they may have touched their eyes or lids they should wash their hands.
KSL Newsradio interviewed a couple of health care workers from the Salt Lake County Health Department about the proper way to wash hands. I invite you to watch and evaluate how they wash their hands, compare it to how you wash your hands and then make appropriate changes to improve your hand washing regimen. https://www.facebook.com/100000129683804/posts/3236447579702866/
Will masks protect you?
Masks should be worn by those who are infected or by those who are actively sneezing or coughing so they do not pass the illness to others and also should be worn by persons caring for ill individuals. Masks may be helpful in a crowd, but are unnecessary if you are just walking down the street. In case of a community-wide outbreak, it is best to simply stay home and avoid large crowds. Masks by themselves do not provide sufficient protection though. They may give a false sense of protection especially if worn incorrectly. Their effectiveness really comes down to effective hand washing by using soap and water before and after wearing the mask.
Back to the Basics
So it simply comes down to the basics of what we were taught as children growing up and changing a few habits – wash your hands so you don’t get sick and so you don’t get others sick, stop touching your eyes and face and stop shaking hands. There are some indications that the coronavirus is starting to abate in China so this will possibly pass over quickly, but perhaps only if we are smart in our community-wide individual hygiene habits.