Doctors advise good hygiene as Wuhan virus outbreak develops

An advisory from clinic chain Raffles Medical recommends frequent hand washing. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - As the new coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan continues to develop, potentially spreading further outside of China, health practitioners and experts here advised people to protect themselves by maintaining simple, practical hygiene practices such as washing one's hands often.

An advisory from clinic chain Raffles Medical, which recommended frequent hand washing, said human coronaviruses most commonly spread from an infected person to others through:

• The air by coughing and sneezing;

• Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands; and

• Touching one's mouth, nose, or eyes after touching an object or surface with the virus on it, before washing one's hands.

Although vaccination against the seasonal influenza does not confer protection, Raffles Medical said people should still get vaccinated, especially if they are planning to travel.

"This will prevent you from contracting influenza symptoms and signs that may mislead screening authorities at temperature checkpoints, and result in unnecessary anxiety and delays to your travel,"said the advisory.

Travellers should avoid contact with live animals and consumption of raw or undercooked meats and avoid close contact with people who are unwell or showing symptoms of illness, said Dr Edwin Chng, medical director of Parkway Shenton.

However, infectious disease experts say there was no need to be unduly worried as Singapore is better prepared to handle an outbreak today.

Professor Paul Tambyah, from the department of medicine at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, said the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan could be like the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, which quickly spread all over the world.

Fortunately, the outbreak was less severe than feared, he said. But in any case, Singapore is even better prepared than in 2009 in terms of testing, equipment and resources.

"I think that we should be concerned but there are plenty of measures in place to detect cases, isolate and treat them appropriately in Singapore as well as in the other countries in the region," he said.

"Ensure good hand hygiene, stay away from live animal markets, seek medical attention from your GP if you are not feeling well and are still not better after three, four days."

Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, the programme leader (infectious diseases) at NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said Singapore is far better prepared today than it was during the Sars outbreak 17 years ago, and the impact of the new virus if it was imported to Singapore was likely to be negligible.

"China's healthcare system and disease outbreak control capabilities have also improved dramatically since 2003 and I believe they will contain the outbreak," he said.

While the World Health Organisation has not advised against travel to Wuhan, two infectious disease experts here said caution was advisable. "Personally, I would postpone any non-essential travel to Wuhan until the situation is clearer," said Prof Hsu.

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Dr Leong Hoe Nam , an infections disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, also advised caution when travelling to China or Wuhan. He said individuals who suspect they might have the virus must come forward to be tested so that they can be isolated if necessary.

"The more the virus roams free, the more it adapts to humans and the easier the transmission," he said.

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