In this article I will describe how to protect yourself and your family from corona virus and other infectious diseases.
The current outbreak of the novel coronavirus is causing widespread concern and response by public and health authorities. In this article we will cover the following:
- What is coronavirus?
- How does it spread?
- Official response and recommendations for protection
- Practical, common sense recommendations for individual protection.
What is coronavirus?
The novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a member of Coronoviridae family. There are currently 16 full genome sequences of the virus published. It is an enveloped RNA virus, one of the largest RNA viruses. The enveloped in this case means that the core of the virus (called a capsid) is surrounded by a lipid membrane with integrated viral surface protein. It is important to note that the integrity of the lipid envelope is vital for the ability to infect host cells. When infection occurs, the virus penetrates the host cell and begins to replicate itself (multiply). Eventually, the new viral particles, or progeny virus, is released from infected cell and go on to infect new cells or are released in the environment.
The 2019-nCoV causes respiratory illness similar to the common cold although it has much higher mortality rate. The symptoms can include fever, cough, shortness of breath. Right now, the information about incubation period is limited, CDC believes that the symptoms can appear between 2 and 14 days after exposure, although clinical guidance estimates incubation period of about 5 days (4-7 days in 95% cases).
How does it spread?
There is little information on the specific mechanism of transmission of the 2019-nCoV virus. The published reports suggest animal to human transmission as the origin of the outbreak, and human to human transmission as primary mechanism of infection. Other coronaviruses, and other enveloped viruses in general, often transmitted through fine aerosol generated by coughing and sneezing. In addition to direct exposure to the air-borne virus, infection is possible by touching surfaces contaminated with virus-containing aerosol particles and then touching you face, eyes and nose. The typical “dirty hands” transmission route.
One thing important to emphasize is that the 2019-nCoV is not a “super-bug” resistant to everything. It is similar to the other common viruses and the spread can be limited by following good practices.
Official response and recommendations for protection
At the time of the writing, the Chinese government put travel restrictions covering as many as 50 million people starting on January 23. In Wuhan and some neighboring cities mandatory restrictions include extension of New Year holiday to reduce travel, and a prohibition of almost all residents from leaving their houses. Only one person per household can leave their residence to shop for food and medicine once in 2 days. The number of reported cases has increased to over 14,500 despite the measures to control the spread of infection. It is likely that based on the past issues with accurate reporting of past outbreaks, the number of infected is significantly underreported. There are also unconfirmed reports that that the under-reporting is as high as 100-fold.
World Health Organization (WHO) declared 2019-nCoV outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020. Although they called for countries to not introduce travel and commerce restrictions, number of countries announced significant restrictions on air travel from China.
United States restricted travel from China as of 5:00 PM February 2, 2020. The announcement reads:
Any U.S. citizen returning to the U.S. who has been in Hubei Province in the previous 14 days will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine, to ensure they’re provided proper medical care and health screening. To be clear, this applies only to U.S. citizens who have been in Hubei Province in the past 14 days.
Any U.S. citizen returning to the U.S. who has been in the rest of mainland China within the previous 14 days will undergo proactive entry health screening at a select number of ports of entry and up to 14 days of monitored self-quarantine to ensure they have not contracted the virus and do not pose a public health risk.
Additionally, the President has signed a Presidential Proclamation, using his authority pursuant to Section 212(f) of the Immigration and National Act, temporarily suspending the entry into the United States of foreign nationals who pose a risk of transmitting the 2019 novel coronavirus.
As a result, foreign nationals, other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled to China within the last 14 days will be denied entry into the U.S. for this time. Once again, these actions will become effective at 5 PM EST, Sunday, February 2.
Recommendations for protections are fairly non-specific and follow normal recommendations for airborne illnesses such as seasonal flu. The recommendations include:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
The protocols recommended for hospitals and health care practitioners include the establishment and use of Airborne Infection Isolation Room (AIIR), which are essentially a negative pressure rooms with HEPA filters to minimize the spread of infection. Other recommendations include standard procedures for infection control, cough and sneeze hygiene etc.
Practical, common sense recommendations for individual protection
As CDC recommends, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid contact. But we do live in a real world where we need to go to work, send kids to school, do some shopping etc. Therefore, just an isolation for a long period of time is not feasible.
The following suggestions are based on my personal experience working with infectious disease agents (viruses and bacteria) and common-sense risk mitigation. As a disclaimer, I am not a medical doctor. I cannot give medical advice. However, I have been working in research capacity in viral and bacterial vaccine and diagnostics development for over 25 years.
As a general rule, I do not trust bureaucracy to tell me what I should and should not do. Other people do not necessarily have your interests in mind. They are generally logical and consistent in achieving their objectives. You might just happen to be an unfortunate statistic. As the saying goes, YMMV.
The objective I have in mind is to protect my family and myself. There are several layers of protection starting with the minimization of exposure and reduction of the risk of infection. This means we need to avoid getting ill and take steps to make our home a safe, infection-free place.
First, general protection measures should include:
- Hand hygiene. Wash your hands with soap every time you return home from going to store, work or any other public place. It is a good practice to do this always, not just during this outbreak.
- Face mask. When necessary, wear one! The type of a face mask depends availability and had been covered on survivalblog.com before. Get the best mask you can get, but remember that any mask is better than no mask.
- Gloves: any type of disposable gloves can be used. Most single use types have limited time of protection when wet, usually about 15 min. Change gloves often, and as soon as possible after contact with liquids.
- Clothing: when the outbreak reaches your town or city, be careful not to bring infection on outside clothing. Take it off on the porch of the house, or in the entrance room. Wash with detergent or bleach.
- Limit exposure: avoid large crowds of people. If possible, use private car for transportation, avoid bus/train etc. Shopping can be done in off hours to reduce number of people around you. Use common sense! When/if situation deteriorates, we might have to stay home at all.
- Clean surfaces in and around your house: normal things will do such as bleach, detergent, bleach wipes, vinegar. Coronavirus is an enveloped virus, which means that is sensitive to chemicals that dissolve lipids. Ethanol or isopropanol wipes, hand sanitizer, soap or other detergents will destroy the virus. If the surface is porous, it takes longer to decontaminate. Normal practice is to leave the surface wet and let it air dry. Vinegar is likely detrimental to the virus as well. After exposure to acidic environment most enveloped viruses loose infectivity. Vinegar is better than nothing, but detergent or bleach-based cleaning solutions would be better.
Next, the situation on the ground should dictate the level of precaution. At the moment, avoiding or minimizing exposure to large crowds and air travel is prudent. Of course, if the job requires air travel, we might have little choice, then use personal protective equipment (PPE).
When the situation deteriorates so that the risk of infection becomes significant, more travel restrictions will be warranted. There is no single rule to decide when this happens, it depends on your own analysis of risks and benefits. For example, it has been reported that 2019-nCoV infects mostly adults, with average age of 59 yo, suppressed immune system is a significant risk factor. If you fall into this category, it is prudent to take precautions earlier.
In the case the situation deteriorates even more, significantly restricting outside travel might become necessary. It is better to prepare for such eventuality now, rather than later. This site has covered general preps extensively, I do not see the need to go over it again. One can always start with the Forever Preps (https://survivalblog.com/forever-preps-preparations-you) and go from there.