Nova Scotia

Coronavirus precautions the same as the flu, says Halifax expert

An infectious disease specialist with the Nova Scotia Health Authority says they're ready to deal with the coronavirus if it ends up on our doorstep, but the risk remains low.

Things like regularly washing your hands and coughing in your sleeve will help minimize risk

Dr. Todd Hatchette says Nova Scotians are more likely to get the flu than coronavirus, and the same basic hygiene practices will protect you from both. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

An infectious disease specialist with the Nova Scotia Health Authority says they're ready to deal with the coronavirus if it ends up on our doorstep, but the risk remains low.

So far, just one person in the province has been tested for the virus, and the result was negative.

"People in Nova Scotia are more at risk for normal human viruses than they are for this particular virus," said Dr. Todd Hatchette, the service chief of microbiology.

He noted that since December, there have been 70 cases of the flu in Nova Scotia, but only three cases of coronavirus in Canada.

Hatchette said there's a lot of misinformation being spead about the coronavirus and some people wrongly believe there have been a lot more cases in Canada.

Medical staff arrive with a patient at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 25, 2020. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)

Hatchette said the same basic hygiene practices will protect you from both viruses, such as regularly washing your hands and coughing in your sleeve.

He said if there are more suspected cases of coronavirus, the samples will be tested in his lab and then sent to the national lab in Winnipeg.

Hatchette said they're constantly keeping staff in the loop about best practices as concern grows around the world.

On the ground, health-care workers are asking patients about travel up front, so they can quickly identify people who have been in the regions of China that have been affected by the outbreak.

"If someone says that they've been to an area in China that is at risk, they're asked to put on a mask so that they prevent transmission to anybody in the room and are then seen quite quickly," he said.

People wear masks on a train on the first day of the Lunar New Year in Hong Kong on Jan. 25, 2020. (Dale de la Rey/AFP via Getty Images)

In that situation, employees would also wear masks, gowns and gloves, which is standard when dealing with patients with the flu.

Hatchette said if anyone who has travelled to those zones is back home and symptomatic, they should call public health, which will have clear instructions for next steps.

Hatchette noted the virus has only been identified for about three weeks, and so their understanding of it is evolving quickly. He emphasizes it is spread through droplets — it's not airborne.

"The fear of the unknown is what what makes people anxious, but at this point, it seems like it's being transmitted like any usual human respiratory virus," he said.

Health Minister Randy Delorey says there's a lot of national conversations among health experts to keep each province up to date on the coronavirus. (CBC)

Health Minister Randy Delorey is also emphasizing the risk level in Nova Scotia is low. He said health officials are sharing information on a national level.

Like Hatchette, Delorey said people need to remember basic hygiene practices that help during flu season.

"Frequent washing your hands, sanitizing door knobs, things like that," he said. "Coughing in your sleeve, staying home when you're sick. That applies to this particular virus."

Hatchette is confident Nova Scotia's health-care system is prepared if any cases are diagnosed in the province.

"We can deal with it quickly and make sure that the person who is sick is taken care of appropriately and the workers that are helping them are protected," he said.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca

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