The Wuhan coronavirus is now found on doorknobs, another reason that washing your hands is better than wearing a mask

hbrueck@businessinsider.com (Hilary Brueck)
wuhan coronavirus masks hand washing

AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe

  • The Wuhan coronavirus has sickened more than 20,000 people around the globe, and killed at least 427.
  • Experts stress that basic public health measures like washing your hands and staying away from sick people are still the best ways to stay healthy.
  • Masks are really only useful when you put them on the people who are already sick.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

As of Tuesday, the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) which originated in Wuhan, China in December had infected more than 20,000 people worldwide and killed 427, including two people outside mainland China. 

Face masks are flying off shelves around the globe, as people scramble to stop the spread of the virus. Some precincts in China have even started lottery systems for buying masks, as The Global Times reported. 

But health experts stress that the best way you can stay healthy in this outbreak is cheaper and easier than buying masks.

Wash your hands. 

This is by far the best way to prevent any contagious mucus, or expelled sputum from the coughing of another infected person, from entering your body and making you sick.

Nothing beats hand washing when it comes to containing viruses like the Wuhan coronavirus

"If I could teach one thing to the public that would prevent most of the diseases that I have to deal with, it would be wash your hands, and teach your children how to wash hands," Dr. Sherlita Amler, an adjunct professor of public health at New York Medical College and Commissioner of Health in Westchester County, said on Friday.

"Believe it or not, most people do not have much of an idea how they really should wash their hands, and in fact, I think some people actually try to do it without getting their hands wet."

Regular hand washing can cut your risk of developing a respiratory infection by 16%. Hand washing at any time of day (whether you've recently visited the restroom or not) can help stop the spread of many kinds of bacteria, yeasts, and viruses.

The healthcare world has known this since the 1800s, when doctors and nurses first started realizing that if they washed their hands more frequently, fewer of their patients died

"I think a good general rule of thumb is you should wash your hands any time you feel that they might be dirty," Don Schaffner, a professor of food science at Rutgers, previously told Business Insider.

The temperature of the water you wash with doesn't matter much. It's more important that you use soap, lather up vigorously, and make sure you clean under the fingernails, too. 

"It's the frictional movement of your hands that actually gets the bacteria off," Amler said. 

In a pinch, rinsing with just water or using hand sanitizer can help, but nothing beats a vigorous 20 second hand scrub with suds.

washing hands

r.classen/Shutterstock

Proper handwashing doesn't just help stop the spread of the coronavirus. A wide variety of other microbes and bacteria can hang out on surfaces and hands. Some strains of Staphylococcus, or staph, are "found on almost every hand," as a team of hand washing researchers pointed out in a 2004 study, and seasonal flu and cold germs (which are far more common around the world than this novel coronavirus) can also be passed around on dirty surfaces and hands

"You want to make sure when you have any kind of respiratory illness that's circulating, that you're frequently cleaning the surfaces that people touch," Amler said. "Door knobs, computer keyboards, light switches." 

doorknob clean house

Shutterstock

In China, the Guangzhou Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found the novel coronavirus on the door handle of an infected patient's home, according to Chinese state media, showing the virus can live on surfaces for several hours outside the body.

Apart from handwashing, keeping a distance of 6 feet from sick people, covering your cough, avoiding touching your face with your hands, and wearing a mask when you are sick can help stop the spread of infectious diseases of all kinds, and this novel coronavirus in particular. 

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