Wear a face mask, wash hands to protect against Wuhan virus: experts

01/22/2020 12:57 PM
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Taipei, Jan. 22 (CNA) Doctors are advising people to wear face masks and frequently wash their hands to protect against the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), in the wake of the first confirmed case of the virus in the country on Tuesday.

Huang Ching-tai (黃景泰), chief of the Infectious Diseases Division, Department of Internal Medicine at New Taipei-based Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, told reporters that individuals should avoid visiting Wuhan City in central China, where the outbreak is believed to have started late last year.

In Taiwan, one should reduce visits to crowded places and should wear a surgical face mask during such visits.

Another key to protect against the new type of coronavirus is to frequently wash one's hands with soap, he said.

At present, there is limited knowledge on how the 2019-nCoV is transmitted but given the fact that over a dozen medical workers in China are confirmed to have contracted the virus, it is highly likely the coronavirus is spread by contact transmission, meaning that the infected medical workers may have touched surfaces contaminated by respiratory droplets from infected individuals, Huang said.

Individuals are advised to wash their hands thoroughly with soap. They should not touch their face, especially eyes, nose, or mouth, before washing their hands, Huang added.

The doctor also said surgical masks, if properly worn, are effective at preventing the spread of infections. Once a face mask is damaged or soiled, one should immediately replace it with a new one, he continued.

Huang also said there is no need to wear N95 masks as they can make it more difficult for wearers to breathe and most people are unable to wear the N95 for a long period of time.

Meanwhile, Hwang Kao-pin (黃高彬), director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Taichung-based China Medical University, said anyone who has to visit China in recent days should avoid contact with animals.

Wearing surgical masks during long journeys, such as on an airplane or train, also offers better protection, he added.

People waiting for the MRT in Taipei.
People waiting for the MRT in Taipei.

Taiwan's government has already raised its travel alert, calling on Taiwanese to avoid visiting Wuhan.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) deputy head Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) said wearing a surgical mask can reduce a healthy person's risk of getting sick by up to 80 percent and there is no need for regular people to wear N95 masks, which are more suitable for medical workers.

Meanwhile, the demand for surgical and N95 masks has risen over the past few weeks in the wake of the outbreak of 2019-nCoV, according to retailers.

According to health and beauty retail group A.S. Watson Group, sales of face masks increased 30 percent during the first three weeks of January, compared with the same period last year.

A woman stocks up on face masks before the Lunar New Year holiday.
A woman stocks up on face masks before the Lunar New Year holiday.

Online shopping site ihergo said it sold 150,000 face masks from Jan. 1 to Jan. 20, which is 2.9 times more than the number for all of December 2019.

Taiwan's government reassured the public that it has plenty of face masks. It currently has 44 million surgical masks and 1.9 million N95 masks, more than enough to meet demand so far, according to the CDC.

Taiwan on Tuesday reported its first confirmed case of the new type of coronavirus, carried by a Taiwanese woman who was recently in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

The woman, who works in Wuhan, reported to quarantine officials at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport that she had a fever on returning Monday, according to the nation's epidemic response command center.

China has confirmed 440 cases, reporting nine deaths.

Cases of the virus have also been reported in Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the U.S.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday raised the possibility that the new virus may have "sustained human-to-human transmission," revising its previous estimation that such transmission was limited.

The WHO defines sustained human-to-human transmission as transmitting easily from one person to the next and then further onward -- while limited person to person transmission means a virus dies out after infecting a person or a few people in clusters of individuals in close contact with each other.

(By Chen Wei-ting, Pan Yi-ching, Tsai Peng-min, Wu Po-wei and Joseph Yeh)

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