How to avoid catching and spreading coronavirus (COVID-19)

Written by: Top Doctors®
Published: | Updated: 20/03/2020
Edited by: Bronwen Griffiths

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause a range of illnesses, from the common cold to more severe respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and most recently COVID-19 (2019-nCoV) which originated in Wuhan, Hubei province in China and is currently affecting populations around the world. Whilst we still do not have a cure or vaccine for COVID-19, there are steps to help prevent catching and spreading it.

A man wears a face mask during the 2019-20 coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak to try to prevent catching it.

What are the main symptoms of coronavirus?

The most common symptoms of coronavirus include:

  • A fever or high temperature
  • A cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulties breathing

However, the symptoms of coronavirus are very similar to those of a cold or the flu, so having such symptoms does not necessarily mean you have coronavirus. Some cases of COVID-19 do become a lot more severe, and fatal for some patients. If you do feel unwell, the best thing to do is to call 111 for immediate advice and to avoid contact with other people.


How does coronavirus spread?

As COVID-19 is such a new coronavirus, scientists are still investigating the factors that cause human-to-human transmission, however, it likely spreads through respiratory secretions, such as cough droplets or sneezing. Coronaviruses cannot survive for long outside of a body, so medical professionals believe it is unlikely that COVID-19 can be spread through items such as packages or food.


Can you prevent coronavirus?

Currently, as of February 2020, there is no cure or vaccine for COVID-19, however, the best way to prevent it is to avoid spreading or catching it.

The best ways to avoid catching coronavirus include the following measures:

  • Wash your hands with soap regularly (if soap and water are not available, use hand sanitiser instead).
  • Avoid close contact with people who are not well.
  • When sneezing or coughing, use a tissue or sleeve to cover your nose and mouth and avoid using your hand for this purpose.
  • Dispose of used tissues in a bin immediately.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth when your hands are not clean.

Additionally, there are general guidelines in place in the UK for any people travelling from these locations to avoid public places:

  • The Hubei province in China within the last 14 days
  • Areas in northern Italy
  • Iran
  • Other parts of mainland China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos or Myanmar in the last 14 days and have either a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath.

Lastly, if you have been in close contact at all with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19, avoid public places.


To get the latest advice for COVID-19, visit the NHS page here, or the WHO advice page here.

If you are currently in self-isolation or practising social distancing and need to speak to a medical specialist, you can speak to a doctor using our remote e-Consultation service. Find out more here.


By Topdoctors
Pulmonology & respiratory medicine

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