Top 10 tips to stay safe during an epidemic

Don’t panic. From flu to COVID-19, these key steps can limit your risk of most infections
Whether bird flu, the coronavirus COVID-19, MERS or Zika, the
threat of a serious epidemic can strike fear in people across the globe.
It’s wise to respect these infections. After all, each can seriously
sicken people. Still, there’s no reason to panic. You can protect
yourself by practicing good hygiene.

Here’s what infectious-disease experts and officials at the World Health Organization advise:
 
1. Wash your hands!

Often. Assume that sneezes or germy
hands have left infectious residues on every surface that you have not
personally cleaned or seen cleaned (especially outside your home). Scrub
away for 20 seconds. (Sing the Happy Birthday song twice — and not
quickly — while you wash.) Don’t forget to wash between fingers and
under nails. If soap and water is unavailable, you can disinfect hands
with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Another option: If you have to
turn a door knob, put a clean tissue or paper towel between the knob and
your hand.

2. Disinfect surfaces.

These include
desk tops, phone keypads, computer keyboards, TV remotes, door handles
and kitchen counters. Rub them down with a rag or paper towel that has
been dampened with alcohol-based disinfectant. (Don’t get electronics
wet. A dampened rag is sufficient and won’t harm your devices.)
 
3. Don’t eat food or handle dishes or utensils touched by a sick family member.

If you must touch a spoon someone else has handled (but not had in their mouth), do so. Then wash your hands.

4. Don’t share a towel with anyone in your household who is sick.

Get
your own and make sure it is washed regularly with hot water. Dry
towels in the sun or a hot dryer cycle. When anyone in your home has an
infectious disease, don’t risk spreading it with a contaminated towel.
Everyone in the family should have their own and get it washed
frequently.PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus
 
5. Don’t shake hands, kiss or hug people.

This is the time for fist- or elbow bumps. Or smile from an arm’s distance.
 
6. Don’t touch your face.

It’s hard not to. Most people
do it without thinking several times each hour. But germs you pick up
from touching a contaminated surface may begin reproducing as soon as
they contact moist areas of our eyes, nose and mouth.
 
7. Avoid crowds.

If you must go out where plenty of
people are present, whenever possible keep a cough’s distance away from
them — about a meter (or yard). Someone near to you may be infected and
show no symptoms.

8. Wear gloves while out in public.

Any cotton, wool
or lycra glove will do. Don’t touch the outside of the gloves when you
remove them. And once home, wash the gloves in hot water (but don’t dry
wool ones with heat or they’ll shrink). Disposable latex or other types
of plastic gloves can be reused several times if you spray the outside
with an alcohol-based disinfectant right before taking them off.
 
9. Don’t share papers.

Now is the time to use digital
documents. If your teachers don’t ask you to write papers on a computer,
suggest it. But make sure that everyone is expecting to move documents
this way and looks for them. When it comes to the daily mail, dispose of
envelopes and any papers you don’t need as soon as you can. And then
wash your hands.
 
10. Practice good hygiene.

Wash your hands. Cough and
sneeze into your elbow. Keep in mind that you may become infected and
show no symptoms. This means you might be able to infect people at high
risk of serious disease, such as an elderly grandparent or a classmate
with asthma.

Finally, what about masks? Viruses can pass
through the materials in most masks. There are some very expensive types
(known as N-95 and N-99) that have been made to largely control
exposure to disease. But during epidemics, they should be reserved to
help those on the frontlines of disease — doctors and nurses. Cheaper
surgical masks tend to help healthy people. Their biggest benefit is in
curbing the release of infected droplets of saliva and snot from people
who are already ill.

What if you feel ill during a disease outbreak?

Don’t
go to school or work. You or some family member should call and ask
advice from a doctor or other health professional. What you have may be a
cold. But during epidemics, doctors recommend being extra cautious and
reporting any possible sign that it might be far worse.

Know
what symptoms to look for. With the COVID-19 coronavirus, for instance,
key symptoms have been fever, chest congestion, cough and shortness of
breath — not a runny nose. Knowing what symptoms characterize an
outbreak may help you know whether you likely have a cold or something
potentially much worse.

If you have a fever, don’t travel. This
symptom usually is a sign that your body is battling a major infection.
If you discover such symptoms while flying, tell a crew member
immediately. Once you have landed, consult a health professional. And
let them know what areas you had visited before your flight. — Janet
Raloff

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