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What the BC CDC says you’re getting wrong about the novel coronavirus

Coronavirus travel impact at YVR
Travellers at Vancouver International Airport are seeing the impact of flight cancellations due to the coronavirus.

As the number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus rises outside of China, the BC Centre for Disease Control has taken to social media to fight what it says are misconceptions about how the illness is transmitted.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization declared the virus an international public health emergency.

READ MORE: New coronavirus an international public health emergency, WHO declares

So far, there are more than 8,200 confirmed cases of the virus, mostly in China, including more than 170 deaths, all of which have been recorded inside the Asian country.

A map of novel coronavirus cases in Asia, as of Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020.
A map of novel coronavirus cases in Asia, as of Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. BC CDC

But health officials in B.C., where just one case has been confirmed, are concerned that fear of the virus is spreading faster than the illness itself.

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There are several misconceptions on social media currently around how #coronavirus is transmitted,” the BC CDC wrote on Twitter as part of an 11-tweet thread on Thursday.

“Please allow us to clear it up.”

The first issue the CDC wants to make clear is that contracting the novel coronavirus through casual contact is unlikely.

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Receptors for #coronavirus are deep in a person’s lungs – a person must inhale enough of the virus that it can actually bind to those receptors deep in the lungs,” wrote the CDC.

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READ MORE: B.C. coronavirus case now confirmed after lab tests come back positive, health officer says

The virus is not airborne, the agency says, but rather is transmitted through droplets, such as in a sneeze, that fall quickly out of the air.

Even if a person touches those droplets after they land on a surface, the BC CDC says the risk of transmission is low. The agency says there would have to be enough infected fluid to somehow make it into a person’s lungs.

WHO declares novel coronavirus outbreak international public health emergency
WHO declares novel coronavirus outbreak international public health emergency

“A person must be in close contact (within 2 metres) with somebody to be able to inhale those droplets if a person coughs or sneezes without cover, in front of them,” says the agency. 

If a person has touched something that has droplets on it with #coronavirus in it, as long as they clean their hands before touching their face or your mouth, they are not at risk of getting that virus in their body.”

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The BC CDC is also reminding people it is not possible to contract the virus through skin-to-skin contact.

The agency does recommend the use of masks — but only for people who are already sick.

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau calls for Canadians to come together in response to ‘unreasonable fears’ on internet
Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau calls for Canadians to come together in response to ‘unreasonable fears’ on internet

It said masks work by capturing potentially infected droplets coughed or sneezed out by a person who is ill.

“It may be less effective to wear a mask in the community when a person is not sick themselves,” wrote the CDC.

“Masks may give a person a false sense of security & are likely to increase the number of times a person will touch their own face – to adjust the mask, etc.”

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The agency says the most important thing someone can do to protect themselves from the virus is to wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their face.

It says people who are ill should always cover their mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and to keep away from others.

Canada’s chief public health officer updates House of Commons on the coronavirus
Canada’s chief public health officer updates House of Commons on the coronavirus

If you suspect you may have contracted the virus, you’re advised to phone your health-care provider before coming in so that it can safely prepare.

Symptoms of the new coronavirus include fever, coughing, trouble breathing and pneumonia in both lungs.

You can find out more about the novel coronavirus, including up-to-date reporting on numbers of cases, here.