4 things to do if you’re worried about coronavirus in India
How should you wash your hands to prevent spreading or contracting coronavirus? The same way you always would: frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water. Ahead, doctors discuss how to protect yourself from COVID-19. For starters, you shouldn't panic — but you should definitely protect yourself.
Given the latest updates about the novel coronavirus, you might be feeling more worried than ever about coronavirus in India. Dr Anubhav Gupta, a general physician based in Delhi, does not blame you. “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen, and how many people in India will have severe illness.”
This coronavirus — called SARS-CoV-2, when talking about the virus, and COVID-19, when discussing the disease it causes — was first identified in late December, 2019 in Wuhan, China, when an unusual cluster of pneumonia cases sparked the outbreak investigation. At press time, there have been more than 81,100 reported cases of the infection in 38 countries, and almost 2,800 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The majority of cases and deaths have occurred in China.
In India, we’ve had 28 confirmed cases, including 16 Italians, Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan told media reporters on Wednesday. If you’ve heard rumours that the coming heat of summer will reduce the risk, unfortunately, Pune-based virologist, Dr Abhay Singh said otherwise. “I am highly skeptical of the ‘viruses don't do well in heat’ notion,” he says, adding that MERS-CoV — a coronavirus that caused an epidemic, or increase in disease in one area — emerged in the Middle East between April and September 2012. Dr Gupta made a similar point. “If we think about the various highly pathogenic influenza strains that have emerged out of China and Southeast Asia, it’s hard to argue that the change in weather will have a dramatic effect on transmission patterns and virus viability,” he says.
Instead, Dr Abhay Singh says that most scientists are coming to the reluctant conclusion that, globally, we need to start preparing for the possibility of a pandemic, or large-scale transmission of the virus that will occur in many areas of the world. "While much of that preparation is up to our government and various political and medical leaders, there are a number of things that you can do to be proactive and prepared for coronavirus in India," he says. For starters, you shouldn't panic — but you should definitely protect yourself.
1. Get coronavirus updates only from reputable sources.
It’s really important to use trustworthy sources to get your information, says Dr Singh. “There are already a lot of unscientific and unproven myths swirling, along with people trying to sell things that won’t actually protect you from this coronavirus, like vitamin supplements, hazard gear, and fake treatments,” he says. Dr Singh adds, “The health ministry and WHO are currently providing daily updates on the outbreak to report new cases, new countries/cities affected, and new safety precautions to take when recommended. In the event that we see a big increase in cases of coronavirus in India, these sources will have information about which areas are affected and what to do if you are at risk of being exposed.” If social media is your preference over a news website, they also have Twitter presences — the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, state governments, and WHO, respectively. "You can also seek out publications and journalists with a good track record of covering infectious disease news accurately," adds Dr Singh.
Also, be careful of what you share, and try to steer clear of conspiracy theories. We’ve already seen some far-out — and inaccurate — stories about the coronavirus take hold and spread like wildfire, says Dr Singh. "Sometimes incorrect information about this coronavirus can do real harm. These stories can harm efforts to understand the virus, and stoke fear and knee-jerk reactions in place of logic and rational thinking," he says.
2. Make emergency plans.
Contact your local leaders, health care providers, and see what your community’s coronavirus plan is — and whether they have one at all, says Dr Gupta. Also consider discussing this with your employer. "Do you have a job where you could telecommute if coronavirus in your city becomes a real threat? If you can’t, how does your employer plan to keep you safe? If they don’t have this worked out yet, encourage them to get directions written down and provided to employees to prepare for the apparent inevitability of coronavirus," suggests Dr Gupta.
It’s always a good idea to have an emergency kit on hand for your family for any type of potential disaster, says Dr Singh. "Ideally, your emergency kit would prepare you to manage for days to weeks if regular life and services are interrupted. The goal is to be able to make it through in the event that supplies run low or you need to shelter in place — during a quarantine, for example," he explains. In the case of a coronavirus outbreak in your area, supply chains may be disrupted, so it’s best to stock up on supplies now, before any major shortages occur, suggests Dr Singh. "Consider collecting essentials that will keep for an extended period of time and are easy to prepare, like rice. Don’t forget extra water for cooking and drinking. In addition to food and water, do you have essential medications? You may also want to keep some cash ready to go in case ATMs are unavailable and you can’t access your bank," he says.
You might be wondering if any type of face mask needs to be part of your emergency kit. The WHO doesn’t suggest that healthy people wear face masks to try to prevent getting the new coronavirus. "The current recommendation is to use a mask only if you are caring for someone, who either has, or is suspected to have the novel coronavirus, or if you have the virus yourself. Even N95 masks, which can block much smaller particles than regular face masks, aren’t recommended for healthy people who aren’t in these situations," says Dr Singh.
3. Follow hygiene best practices.
Actions that help protect you against seasonal influenza can also help protect against the novel coronavirus, and from spreading it or other illnesses, according to Dr Gupta. Per the union health ministry, and Dr Gupta, you should:
• Wash your hands regularly. Lather with soap and water. "Rub your hands together to create a good lather, and scrub under your nails, between your fingers, and the backs of your hands. You should wash for at least 20 seconds," Dr Gupta explains. He adds that hand sanitizer is okay, only if soap isn't available, and emphasised that the sanitizer should be at least 60 per cent alcohol.
• Try not to touch your face and eyes.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue every time you cough or sneeze. Then wash your hands. "If you are in a public bathroom, make sure you do not touch any surface, and use a clean paper towel to open the door and close the tap handle," says Dr Gupta. Additionally, he recommends that you use a paper towel instead of a hand dryer in public places. "Drying hands with a paper towel is preferred, rather than hand dryers, as paper towels effectively clean the germs from the wet hand compared to the hand dryer," he says.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick, if possible.
• Stay home from work or school if you’re sick.
How often should you wash your hands? Dare we say, all the time? Dr Gupta shared a list of scenarios in which you should wash your hands. Some of these should seem intuitive, but it's a good reminder of just how often you should be washing those hands of yours:
• Each time you blow your nose
• Each time you sneeze in your elbow or hand
• Before touching your hand to your face
• Before and after cooking food
• Before and after eating food
• Each time you come within six feet of a sick person
• Before and after administering care to someone who's sick
• After touching or feeding an animal
• After cleaning or coming in contact with animal waste (cat litter, etc.)
• After touching waste or rubbish
• After changing a baby's nappy
• After going to the toilet
4. Try to keep it in perspective.
"I’ll be hoping for the best but we still don’t know exactly what will happen with the coronavirus in the coming weeks and months. Advance preparation is one way to channel anxiety about the unknown into action that may keep you and your family well, if the virus spreads," says Dr Singh.
If you feel like you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, or need further information, the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has resources available and a 24*7 helpline at 011-23978046. You can also email at email@example.com.
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