Five need-to-know things about coronavirus

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

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, the World Health Organization (WHO) says 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, the WHO adds.

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Image caption Dogs and cats are not spreaders

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, according to the WHO.

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

Even cuddly pets 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 – with the source likely to be wildlife.

The virus could 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.

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Image caption The new virus is part of the coronavirus family, which includes the common cold, Sars and Mers

It is seldom a ‘killer’

Most people will have mild symptoms (cough, high temperature) and will recover, the UK’s top doctor says.

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.

“The risk is tiny compared to seasonal flu because of all the precautions in place in the UK”, says Prof Jonathan Ball, from Nottingham University.

He recommends good personal hygiene to protect against flu and coronavirus.

Scientists still don’t know exactly how the new virus is spread.

“Tiny droplets from coughs and breathing are most likely,” Prof Ball says, 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 advised by UK health officials.

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, only a small proportion of people are dying from it.

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It’s safe to eat Chinese food

There is no need to avoid your local take-away or to stop buying Chinese food or beer from any other outlet, despite fears on social media.

The WHO say 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, according to advice from Public Health England.

People who have returned to the UK from Wuhan and Hubei province in China in recent weeks, or been in close contact with people there, are most at risk of having the virus.

Health officials are now trying to trace as many of them as they can.

They are also asking travellers to the UK from a range of Asian countries to check themselves for symptoms, even mild ones, such as a cough or fever.

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