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Officials of the World Health Organization say it’s now clear how the new coronavirus that causes Covid-19 spreads, at least in most cases. #Coronavirus #Covid19 #CoronavirusOutbreak #WorldHealthOrganization

It’s transmitted via virus-containing droplets emitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Other possible routes of contagion are still under investigation. Doctors in China have explored, and seemingly discarded, the possibility the virus could be passed in utero after the infection appeared in babies born to mothers with the disease. Pinpointing where, when and how the pneumonia-causing virus transmits is key to formulating the most effective ways to protect people and stop the epidemic.

In its first major report on the Covid-19 outbreak, the WHO said the virus spreads in respiratory droplets — spatters of liquid that are sometimes visible to the naked eye — forcefully expelled from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. These are usually heavy enough to fall immediately to the ground or surrounding surfaces. Infection could occur if the droplets reach the mouth, nose or possibly the eye of someone nearby, perhaps from an unwashed hand that’s touched a so-called fomite — an inanimate object or material, such as clothing or a utensil.

The WHO recommends avoiding close contact with anyone who has a fever and a cough or other respiratory symptoms. That means keeping at least 1 meter (3 feet) from a sick person and avoiding shaking hands, hugging and kissing people with the symptoms. How long the Covid-19 virus survives on surfaces is not known, but preliminary studies suggest coronaviruses may remain infectious from a few hours to a few days. Simple disinfectants kill it.

When people sneeze, cough or even breathe, they also emit particles so small that instead of falling right to the ground, these aerosols can float for a time through the air. When a virus is carried by such particulates, its odds of infecting people are higher because of the potential for them to be inhaled. According to the WHO report, this method of transmission has not been reported for Covid-19, though it “can be envisaged” in health-care facilities conducting procedures such as tracheotomy and airway suction that can generate aerosols. This would suggest that in some circumstances medical workers require extra precautions.

It’s less clear how helpful face masks are for the hordes of regular people rushing out to buy them. “Masks will be of benefit only because they stop you from putting contaminated fingers in your mouth,” said John Nicholls, a professor of pathology at Hong Kong University who was part of the research team that isolated and characterized the coronavirus responsible for the 2002-2003 epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. The confusion has prompted shortages of protective gear from face masks to surgical gloves to hand sanitizer, and even toilet paper around the world.

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