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Can wearing a face mask protect you from the new coronavirus (COVID-19)?

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation is on-going: therefore, world health organizations say to stay informed and follow their recommendations.

World health officials have been responding to the novel, or new strain of coronavirus originating in Wuhan, China. Reports of the number of infected people is swiftly rising and isolated cases of this new coronavirus — dubbed 2019-nCoV by scientists — have appeared in several countries due to international travel. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is a rapidly evolving situation. They are providing and releasing new an updated information as well as updated guidance as it becomes available.

Public health officials in many countries, including the US, have put measures in place to help prevent further spread of the virus. Infection control Is the top priority.  These measures include health screenings at major airports in the US for people traveling from Wuhan. In China, travel restrictions are in effect.

 Information on the outbreak is changing daily and building concern about the new coronavirus (COVID-19) from China, many people are trying to figure out the best ways to protect themselves and their loved ones from infection.

The questions many people have are: What are my risks of getting sick, how can I protect myself and my family and will wearing a face mask keep us safe? And if so, what kind?

Scientists are working to better understand the virus. COVID-19 is a mystery at this point.

With that, researchers are still trying to work out the ways that this new coronavirus is transmitted. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.  Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes: These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

But How easily a virus spreads from person-to-person can vary.

That is why the CDC recommends patients who have possibly been exposed be isolated.  Quarantine means separating a person or group of people who have been exposed to a contagious disease but have not developed illness (symptoms) from others who have not been exposed, in order to prevent the possible spread of that disease. Isolation either in the hospital or at home (depending on how sick they are) until they are better and no longer pose a risk of infecting others.

Should you worry about catching this virus?

Unless you’ve been in close contact with someone who has the coronavirus — which right now, typically means a traveler from Wuhan, China who has the virus — you’re likely to be safe.

In the United States, spread from person-to-person has occurred only among a few close contacts and has not spread any further to date, although this could change.

Will a surgical face mask protect me from getting sick?

Again, researchers do not yet understand the particulars of how this virus spreads, coronaviruses usually spread through droplets containing large particles that typically can only be suspended in the air for three to six feet before dissipating.

In the meantime, the best advice based on CDC recommendations is to follow basic infectious disease principles to curb the spread of this virus. Wash your hands regularly. Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue (then throw it away), or your inner elbow. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands. Stay home from work or school if you have a fever. Stay away from people who have signs of a respiratory tract infection, such as runny nose, coughing, and sneezing.

In general, with most respiratory illnesses, people are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest). Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

In some cases, wearing a mask might help protect you from the human influenza A and B viruses — the ones responsible for most seasonal outbreaks of flu (influenza), coronaviruses and COVID-19.

However, The CDC doesn't recommend that people in public areas wear masks to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses/ including COVID-19 or flu. You should only wear a mask if a healthcare professional recommends it.

There's very limited scientific evidence of benefit, if any, of wearing a surgical mask in a casual situation. Wearing a mask all the time could allow viruses to be transmitted around it and if it becomes moist it will encourage the growth of viruses and bacteria and will not be effective.

Overall the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) generally suggests that only health care workers who are in close contact with people with influenza or COVID -19 wear masks.

The situation changes if you have been exposed If you know you have influenza, have been exposed to COVID-19 or believe you could be infected with any respiratory virus. Because infected respiratory droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs, health officials recommend staying home in isolation. If you need to leave your home, such as to go to a doctor's appointment, wearing a surgical face mask may help reduce the spread of infection on and protect others from the risk of getting infected.

Bottom-line surgical face masks are useful for those who are unwell to protect other people from them.

A more specialized mask, known as an N95 respirator, can protect against the new coronavirus, also called 2019-nCoV. The respirator is thicker than a surgical mask, but the CDC does not recommend it for public use, at least not at this point.

Given the current spread of this virus and the pace and complexity of international travel, the number of cases and deaths will likely to continue to climb. We should not panic, even though we are dealing with a serious and novel pathogen. Public health teams are assembling. Lessons learned from other serious viruses, such as SARS and MERS, will help. As more information becomes available, public health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the US and the World Health Organization (WHO) will be sharing key information and strategies worldwide.

If you are a healthy traveler wearing a surgical face mask will not protect you 100 percent from getting sick , but it cannot hurt you either.

Doctors and health experts are reminding the public the importance of good health habits. The immune system protects your body from infection. When it is in tiptop shape and functioning properly, the immune system launches an attack on threats — such as flu viruses and coronaviruses (COVID-19). You can keep your immune system strong by  not smoking, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, reducing stress, aiming for seven to nine hours of quality sleep and exercising frequently.