Coronavirus: Five things you need to know

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ByBBC Health news

Myths around the risks of coronavirus in the UK are doing the rounds. We put the facts straight.

There is no need to avoid your local take-away or to stop buying Chinese food or beer from any other outlet.

It’s also safe to receive packages and letters from China.

The virus is unlikely to survive for long on these kind of surfaces, and that includes objects like cups and door handles.

You have to be in close contact with an infected person – within two metres for 15 minutes or more – to be at risk.

People who have returned to the UK from Wuhan and Hubei province in China in recent weeks are most at risk of having the virus.

Most of them have already been traced and tested negative for the virus.

Health officials are contacting the remaining travellers.

You can’t catch the virus from animals

There is no evidence that your pet dog or cat can be infected with the new coronavirus.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t regularly wash your hands with soap and water after touching them.

Even cuddly Poodles can carry bacteria such as E.coli and salmonella – and these are bugs that can pass between pets and humans.

The new (and as yet unnamed) coronavirus is thought to have originated in a live animal market in Wuhan, China – possibly from bats.

The virus would have gone unnoticed in animals before jumping to humans, which is how many viruses start. eg. avian flu, Ebola, Sars.

But that doesn’t mean animals in general are dangerous or spreaders.

It is seldom a ‘killer’

Most people will have mild symptoms (cough, high temperature) and will recover.

However, the virus is making some people seriously ill (pneumonia, breathing problems) and killing a small number (severe lung issues) in China.

Remember that flu, which circulates every winter, kills people too – an average of 600 people die from complications of flu in the UK every year.

And the risk of getting coronavirus is tiny compared to flu, because of all the precautions currently in place in the UK.

Microscopic droplets from coughs are the most likely way the new virus spreads, so quarantining or isolating those returning from Wuhan is going to lower that risk even further.

Getting a flu vaccine at the moment is still recommended.

But there is no cure

There are no specific medicines or vaccines for the new virus, and antibiotics don’t work either (they fight off bacteria).

Treatment options do exist but most people get better on their own.

Scientists are working hard to develop a vaccine, but this will have to be tested in trials first, so it could be some time before it’s ready.

Older people and those with other health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease, cancer and diabetes, are most vulnerable to the new virus.

Although anyone of any age can get it, and the number of cases is rising every day in China, only a small proportion of people are dying from it.

Face masks aren’t that useful

You might be starting to see people wearing them in the UK, but there is limited evidence that they work.

That’s because they are generally too loose, don’t cover the eyes and can’t be worn for long periods.

Face masks need to be changed frequently (because they get sweaty), if they are to offer any real protection.

To protect yourself, it’s more important to:

  • cover your mouth and nose while sneezing, with a tissue or your elbow
  • put the tissue straight into a closed bin
  • wash your hands afterwards, and then frequently, with soap or sanitiser
  • keep your distance from people who are coughing and sneezing (at least one metre)

Don’t bother:

  • eating garlic
  • gargling mouthwash
  • rinsing your nose with saline
  • using sesame oil under the nose

None of these will help protect against the new virus in any way.