What can I do to prevent coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at home?

Ask the Doctor

The recent news about the coronavirus is very scary and I want to do all I can to keep my family safe. What are the best ways to prevent coronavirus at home? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Doctor's Response

What we currently know about COVID-19 or coronavirus disease is that it’s very contagious and we all have to do our part in preventing transmission. You can catch coronavirus in the same ways that you could catch the common cold or flu, so the same tips apply here. 

When someone who is sick with a cold, flu, or coronavirus coughs or sneezes within 6 feet of you, airborne droplets have the potential to make you sick when you breathe them in. Additionally, if those droplets land on a surface and you touch that contaminated surface, then touch your face or mouth, or eat with those infected hands, you can become sick. 

The best way to prevent coronavirus starts with some simple, commonsense advice for avoiding inhaling infectious respiratory secretions or touching surfaces that may be contaminated. 

The following tips will help protect you from the coronavirus:

  • Stay home whenever possible.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick or have recently been sick.
  • If you must be around other people, cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow or sleeve to avoid contaminating your hands and then contaminating objects you touch. You can also use tissues that you can throw away.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer whenever you aren’t able to wash hands.
  • Surgical masks will not fully protect you from most respiratory viruses, especially if they are worn a long time and become moist from breath. Masks are not as effective in preventing illness as the hand hygiene measures above.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in your home:
    • doorknobs,
    • faucet handles,
    • countertops,
    • toilets,
    • remotes,
    • keyboards,
    • phones, etc.
  • Avoid sharing personal items and wash them with hot, soapy water after use:
    • dishes,
    • cups
    • utensils,
    • towels,
    • bedding, etc.

Signs and symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) to look out for

Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a new RNA coronavirus found in late 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan. It causes moderate to severe respiratory problems in humans. It is contagious and spreads from person to person. Signs and symptoms vary in intensity. Infected people initially may have flu-like symptoms that can rapidly progress in severity.

The primary signs and symptoms of moderate to severe infections are as follows:

The cause of signs and symptoms of the Wuhan, China, respiratory outbreak is the 2019-nCoV virus or Wuhan coronavirus. It may cause severe viral pneumonia. Unfortunately, many people who become infected require hospitalization for supportive care. 

There is no specific drug or vaccine against this virus. Some patients require hospital-based respiratory supportive care. This hospital-based care can rapidly run out if the outbreak is not slowed or stopped. In the Wuhan outbreak, China and many other countries are using quarantine measures to help slow or stop the spread of 2019-nCoV.

What to do if you think you have coronavirus (COVID-19)

There currently aren’t any vaccines available to prevent coronavirus (COVID-19), but you can take special precautions to avoid the illness. 

If you believe you or someone in your family may have coronavirus (COVID-19) and are experiencing symptoms such as cough, fever, and difficulty breathing, contact your healthcare provider first and explain your symptoms to see whether any testing for coronavirus will be necessary. 

If your symptoms are mild, you more than likely will be told to self-isolate and treat your illness at home. While you are treating your symptoms at home, you should not visit any public areas. Isolate yourself from others inside your home by using a separate room and bathroom to avoid exposure. 

Do not leave the house or stop self-isolation until all of the following occurs:

Without taking a coronavirus test

  • you have been free of fever for at least 72 hours (3 days) without taking any fever-reducing medications 
  • other symptoms such as cough or shortness of breath have disappeared
  • at least 7 days since your symptoms 

After taking a coronavirus test

  • you no longer have a fever without taking any fever-reducing medications 
  • other symptoms such as cough or shortness of breath have disappeared
  • you have tested negative twice 24 hours apart

Keep your doctor updated on your symptoms. If they become worse and you are experiencing severe symptoms, contact your doctor.

Emergency symptoms that require immediate medical attention include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

These emergency signs are not all-inclusive. If any of your symptoms are concerning, reach out to your doctor. Also work with your doctor regarding an appropriate end date to your self-isolation.

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Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD; professor of emergency medicine at University of Texas Medical Branch, retired emergency room clinician, and doctor of Microbiology.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "What To Do if You Are Sick."