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Here's why health officials say to wash your hands, avoid touching face to prevent coronavirus

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Posted at 6:22 PM, Feb 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-28 20:27:20-05

PHOENIX — As health officials in Arizona and around the country continue to monitor and respond to the coronavirus outbreak, experts say people who are not experiencing symptoms can take several steps to help ensure they are as safe as possible to try and prevent the virus' spread.

In Arizona, there has only been one confirmed case of coronavirus. The patient, a man with ties to Arizona State University, was placed in isolation on January 26 after recently returning from Wuhan, China, where the virus originated. The patient was released last week after several negative tests, according to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

This week, California experienced the first known case of coronavirus infection through suspected community transmission. Experts in Arizona say the same is expected here in as little as a few weeks, though the exact timeline is difficult to know. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it is a matter of when, not if, local communities have transmissions.

"Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country," said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness."

To help prevent people from catching or spreading coronavirus (also known at COVID-19), the CDC recommends people follow similar procedures to how to avoid other viruses, such as the flu. Among the agency's recommendations are the staples of regular hand washing (at least 20 seconds, with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer) and avoiding touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth.

Handwashing helps prevent the spread of bacteria, which can spread after using the bathroom, handling raw foods or touching objects which have already been contaminated. Hand washing helps ensure people do not spread diseases, including coronavirus, to communal surfaces such as handrails, toys or other objects where they can then spread to another person's hands.

RELATED: Arizona's top health official recommends businesses plan for coronavirus

Clean hands also protect people when they touch their face.

"People frequently touch their eyes, nose and mouth without even realizing it," the CDC's website on handwashing explains. "Germs can get into the body through the eyes, nose and mouth and make us sick."

One issue with the coronavirus compared to other diseases is that not every infected person will show significant symptoms, meaning they could spread the virus to others without them knowing.

The CDC's full recommendations for protecting yourself are:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • 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 using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC's recommendations for using a facemask.
    • CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
    • Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).

Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath and can begin anytime between two days and two weeks after exposure. The CDC recommends anyone experiencing signs of respiratory illness who either recently returned from China or had close contact with someone also showing symptoms with recent travel to contact their healthcare provider.