DEADLY DISEASE

Masks alone cannot prevent coronavirus — WHO

Infection Prevention Control consultant Christine Francis says they must be combined with hand hygiene and other measures

In Summary

• By February 4, there were 20,471 confirmed cases in China, with 425 deaths.

• WHO recommends the use of masks for the infected and those caring for confirmed patients. 

Medical officers carry a box at Jinyintan Hospital, where the patients with pneumonia caused by the new strain of coronavirus are being treated in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. Image: REUTERS
Medical officers carry a box at Jinyintan Hospital, where the patients with pneumonia caused by the new strain of coronavirus are being treated in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. Image: REUTERS

The use of masks alone cannot protect one against the deadly coronavirus that has killed hundreds, the World Health Organization has said.

WHO's consultant for Infection Prevention Control Christine Francis said when masks are used, they must be combined with hand hygiene and other measures.

WHO only recommends the use of masks in specific cases.

 
 
 
 
 

"If you have cough, fever and difficulty in breathing, you should wear mask and seek medical care," she said.

Francis said one does not need to wear the mask if they do not have the symptoms because there is no evidence that they protect people who are not sick.

However, if one is healthy and is taking care of a person who may be infected, one should wear a mask when in the same room with the infected person.

Once the mask has been used, it should be discarded properly to avoid causing infections.

Francis said before putting on a mask, hands must be cleaned with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

"Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Avoid touching the mask while using it. If you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water," she said.

 
 
 
 

The used mask should be replaced with a new one as soon as it is damp.

 

WHO's advice comes even as it emerged that Kenya is expected to benefit from a new Sh68 billion (US$675 million) fund set up to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

WHO on Thursday said the fund would cover a preparedness and response plan between February and April 2020.

"My biggest worry is that there are countries today who do not have the systems in place to detect people who have contracted the virus, even if it were to emerge," WHO Director General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

Until last week, only South Africa and Senegal had the capacity to detect the virus on the continent. 

But yesterday, Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria and Sierra Leone reported they can conduct tests as well. 

Kenya's head of disease surveillance Daniel Langat said Kenya has the capacity to test but lacks the required reagents.

Dr Langat said the WHO is sending the reagents to Kenya this week. 

The new fund will help the WHO rollout plans to limit human-to-human transmission of the virus, particularly in countries most vulnerable if they were to face an outbreak.

"Urgent support is needed to bolster weak health systems to detect, diagnose and care for people with the virus, to prevent further human-to-human transmission and protect health workers," Ghebreyesus added. 

It will also help countries identify, isolate and care for patients early. Kenya would also use some of the funds to construct more isolation units.

While there are no confirmed cases of novel coronavirus reported in Africa, the WHO African office said it was strengthening its support to countries in the detection and management of suspect cases. Kenya has had five suspected cases, all of which turned negative. 

Since January 22, 2020, the WHO has received dozens of alerts regarding possible novel coronavirus infections from 20 African countries. Once countries investigate these alerts to determine if they meet the definition of a 2019-nCoV suspect case, samples are taken and sent to laboratories.

"A new virus is always a challenge and most laboratories in Africa lack the key material they need to perform tests on a novel pathogen," said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa.

The WHO has identified 13 priority countries in the region, including Kenya, which, due to their direct links or a high volume of travel to China, need to be particularly vigilant for the novel coronavirus. 

As of February 4, there were 20,471 confirmed cases in China, with 425 deaths. Outside of China, there were 159 confirmed cases in 23 countries with one death.