COVID-19: How to protect yourself and others

Information and tips to keep safe during the coronavirus pandemic

Anne Gillon, an MSF logistics manager, talks with MSF cultural mediators from inside the COVID-19 patients area at a treatment facility in Belgium.
© Albert Masias/MSF
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What is the novel coronavirus? What is COVID-19?

The novel coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, China, on December 31, 2019, and has spread quickly across the globe. This new virus presents particular dangers: there is no known pre-immunity, no vaccine, and no specific treatment. The virus is contagious, and everyone is presumed to be susceptible. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams are working in projects around the world to fight the spread of coronavirus. We are reaching out to communities and sharing information about steps everyone can take to reduce the chances of getting infected with the virus or spreading COVID-19.

Some people are confused about what to call this new disease. In February, the World Health Organization (WHO) named the disease caused by the new coronavirus: COVID-19. And on March 11, the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

Although some countries are starting to ease restrictions on public life, the pandemic is far from under control. As of June 5, there were more than 6.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world and more than 387,000 people have lost their lives. There were more cases in the United States (1,837,803) than in any other country.

Click here to download shareable MSF COVID-19 health promotion materials

How dangerous is COVID-19?

The latest estimates are that 80 percent of the people who get infected with the new coronavirus will experience a mild or moderate form of disease. Roughly 15 percent will develop a severe form of the disease requiring hospitalization. Some 5 percent will become critically ill. Sophisticated health care systems may be able to cure some critically ill patients, but the danger is that even the most advanced systems may be overwhelmed by the large numbers of people who will need to be hospitalized.

COVID-19 is more dangerous for elderly people or people suffering from other infections or ailments. Children so far seem to be less affected by the disease. The mortality rates vary significantly from place to place.

Public health measures such as isolation, quarantine, and social distancing are generally put in place to limit community transmission, reduce the number of new cases and severely ill patients, protect the most vulnerable people, and manage health resources.

How can I prevent myself from being infected?

When to use a cloth mask COVID-19
© Carrie Hawks/MSF

It’s important to protect yourself and protect others too. As with other coronaviruses, droplet infection seems to be the main mode of transmission. The virus enters the human body through the mouth or nose. This can happen by breathing in infected droplets, or by touching with your hands a surface on which droplets have landed, and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth later.

Simple infection control measures such as good handwashing and proper cough and sneeze etiquette are effective and important for prevention.

How to wash your hands

Hand hygiene is paramount, so wash your hands often with soap and water. Use enough soap, and make sure all parts of both your hands are washed. Spend at least 20 seconds washing your hands. If there is no visible dirt on your hands, an alcohol-based gel is also a good option.

Stay home when you are sick, and avoid contact with other people. If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or with the inside of your elbow. Throw used tissues into a wastebasket immediately and wash your hands.