Although the coronavirus may be the new outbreak this year, a B.C. pharmacist says the best advice remains to just wash you hands.
“The most effective way of preventing transmission is hand washing with soap and water,” said Gianni Del Negro, a pharmacist at London Drugs’ Dunbar store in Vancouver.
Del Negro said the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed at least 170 people and infected more than 7,800 in China as of Thursday afternoon, has sent people running to pharmacies to buy masks – even though they don’t work.
“The typical surgical mask… they really are not going to protect people from getting a viral infection,” Del Negro told Black Press Media.
But, Del Negro said, not only are the masks unnecessary, buying them up can have harmful effects for those who do need them.
The only masks that are effective in stopping the spread of coronavirus are called N95 masks, a type of heavy-duty mask used in hospitals and higher-risk situations.
“People who are immunocompromised, those who are going through chemotherapy and right now they can’t get access to them,” Del Negro said.
“We shouldn’t be panicking and wiping out all the stock that’s out there. We have nothing in-store.”
But aside from the less-than-helpful masks, Del Negro said there’s lots of things people can do.
While washing with soap and water is idea, he said hand sanitizer is the next best thing.
Aside from that, Del Negro said it can help to sanitize household surfaces and door knobs with Lysol or similar cleaners, and to avoid touching your face after touching the not-so-clean surfaces on transit or in other public areas.
Del Negro said much of the panic surrounding the new virus is due to memories of SARS, which killed 44 people in Canada during the 2003 outbreak.
“It was a very scary time,” he said. “But at the present time, the risk is very low.”
There are currently three confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Canada. They include a husband and wife in Toronto and a man in the Vancouver area, all three of whom started showing symptoms after returning from Wuhan, the outbreak’s epicentre. American authorities said they saw their first case of human-to-human transmission this week and the World Health Organization declared it a global emergency Thursday.
However, the Canadian cases, Del Negro said, are very isolated and haven’t led to any further infection.
The newness of this coronavirus, he said, is part of the reason it has people scared more than a disease like the flu, which kills 3,500 Canadians each year.
Although Del Negro didn’t want to play down the potential harms, he did note it’s only this strain of the coronavirus, passed from animal to humans, that’s new. Coronavirus encompasses a large group of viruses, which can cause everything from the common cold, to SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
Anyone who does think they’re infected should stay isolated, make sure to cough into the crook of their elbow instead of their hand, and visit a healthcare professional.