Coronavirus: How can I protect myself from infection? | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 25.02.2020
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Science

Coronavirus: How can I protect myself from infection?

There is no reason to panic before a pandemic, but we can use the remaining time wisely.

The novel Coranavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes the COVID-19 disease, is a global challenge that requires responsible actionon the part of each individual.

Every single citizen, but also companies, institutions and organizations can take measures to protect themselves from the virus and be prepared for a pandemic.

Preparations for a pandemic focus on three areas

  • Limiting the number of people exposed to the infection
  • Equipping private households with the essentials necessary for surviving the emergency
  • Restricting major social disturbances and events where the infection could spread

How can I protect myself?

Coronaviruses are passed on by droplet infection, the virus multiplies in the throat. From there the pathogens can be expelled from the body faster than from the lungs, for example by sneezing, coughing or blowing. In this way SARS-CoV-2 spreads onto surfaces where it  comes into contact with mucous membranes and infects others by smear infection via the hands.

What concrete measures can individuals undertake to protect themselves and others from a droplet infection?

  • Keep a distance of one to two meters from anyone who is infected.
  • Wash your hands regularly and carefully (at least 20 seconds with soap, including the wrists).
  • Avoid shaking hands and hugging people
  • Develop self-protection reflexes: Press elevator buttons with your knuckle instead of your fingertip.
  • Avoid busy places and events. Set priorities.
  • Avoid touching your own face or the faces of friends and relatives.
  • Do not touch the mucous membranes of your mouth, eyes and nose with your fingers.
  • Put on gloves if necessary. Wash or change them daily.
  • Do not sneeze in your hand. Use your elbow or a tissue instead.
  • Dispose of used tissues quickly.
Italien Coronavirus in Mailand (AFP/A. Solaro)

If possible, avoid busy places and events and wash your hands!

Breathing masks offer little protection to healthy people. When worn, the masks become moist through air intake. After just 20 minutes their protective barrier deteriorates. Masks should be reserved for medical staff.

How can I prepare for a pandemic? 

If it comes to an intense wave of infections, restrictions on movement will most likely be imposed and this could lead to supply bottlenecks. Take precautions so that you can stay at home for several weeks if necessary.

  • Have important prescription medication (if necessary) ready for a month.
  • Keep a supply of non-perishable food.
  • Make arrangements for how to protect your friends and family. The elderly and sick with weak immune systems are particularly at risk and dependent on help.
  • Organize possibilities for caring for sick children.
  • Make arrangements for caring for sick family members without infecting yourself.

How can I help the community?

The more people make efforts to prepare, the more the feeling of togetherness increases. You can improve the situation by helping communities to organize help for themselves. 

After surviving the COVID-19 disease you are immune to the pathogen. Therefore, you can leave your home and volunteer to take over other errands and do some shopping for those who are still sick and infectious.

 

Deutschland Stress Arbeit Studie (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Naupold)

If not already in place, employers should work out possibilities for home office and teleworking

What can employers do?

When a highly infectious virus spreads, businesses need to take precautions to protect their employees. Sick or at-risk employees should stay at home. Whenever possible, employers should offer possibilities for home office or teleworking. 

  • Employees with acute symptoms of respiratory illness (for example, coughing or shortness of breath) or those who become ill during the day should be separated from other employees immediately and sent home.
  • Companies should provide fresh air at workplaces and in social rooms, and replace filters in ventilation systems.
  • They should provide facilities for hygiene with clean water, soap and paper towels. In the office, cleaning wipes and sprays to disenfect keyboards and telephones should be made available and regularly used.
  • All work surfaces and the surrounding area should be routinely cleaned.
  • Employees who are healthy but have a sick family member with COVID-19 at home should notify their supervisor.
  • Supervisors should identify particularly relevant positions in the work processes and arrange for substitutes. This way the absence of one person will then not endanger or affect the functioning of the whole organization.

What about business and leisure travel?

During a pandemic, travel plans should be regularly reviewed. Employers and employees need to study the latest guidelines and recommendations for each destination. Companies should advise their employees to have themselves examined for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before travel and to stay home if they become ill.

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