By Colleen S. Kraft, MD, MSc, who is the associate chief medical officer at Emory University Hospital and an associate professor in the Department of Medicine as well as an assistant professor in the Department of Pathology at Emory University School of Medicine. She is also the associate medical director of Emory’s Serious Communicable Diseases Unit.
(CNN) As an infectious disease physician and medical microbiologist who has successfully treated patients with Ebola virus disease in the US, I am being asked a lot of questions about the new coronavirus, Covid-19.
One person I spoke with was concerned that the reading glasses she had ordered from China might be contaminated with the virus and dangerous to her health. The short answer: highly unlikely.
While coronavirus can exist on surfaces for days, conditions such as temperature and humidity must be favorable. Covid-19 is primarily spread through close contact with someone who is infected.
During a viral pandemic, we are often our own worst enemies.
Point in fact: We touch our face with our hands, including our nose, eyes, and mouth — areas with mucous membranes, an average of 15 to 23 times an hour. Much of the time, we don’t even realize we are doing it. We also touch door handles, subway poles, handrails, saltshakers, other people’s hands and grocery carts. We inhale tiny droplets that come from someone sneezing or coughing nearby.
The good news? The steps you can take to protect yourself against the extremely low chance that you might get exposed to coronavirus in the US will also guard against the widespread outbreak we are actually experiencing here — seasonal influenza.
While at least 60 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the US, no one has died of it here, while this year’s influenza has infected at least 29 million in the US and killed about 16,000 so far.
Covid-19 is spreading easily and sustainably in the Hubei province and other parts of China, and has been confirmed in more than two dozen other countries. While the global death toll has so far topped 2,700, it’s good to remember that more than 80% of the Covid-19 cases have been mild, requiring little to no medical intervention, and it is much less deadly than severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which are also coronaviruses.
Here is the best advice I can give you, to avoid any virus and flu: Be intentionally hygienic in public and during interactions with others. Hand hygiene is a cornerstone of infection prevention. Effective hand hygiene requires appropriate duration and thoroughness, which should be a goal each time our hands are cleaned.