Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses , which cause illnesses ranging from a common cold to more severe conditions such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The one identified in China is a new coronavirus, named 2019-nCoV . It emerged in December 2019, in the city of Wuhan in the east of the country. 

What is the mode of contamination?

The disease is transmitted through postillions (sneezing, coughing, etc.). The Ministry of Solidarity and Health considers to date that close contact is necessary for the transmission of the virus. Is considered as such a direct or indirect contact, face to face, less than one meter from the sick person at the time of a cough, sneeze or a discussion in the absence of protection. To date, contagiousness during the incubation period has not been proven (it would be around 5.2 days on average, but could vary greatly depending on the patient). If you are facing any symptoms related to Coronavirus then you might want to contact your doctor to use a COVID 19 IgM IgG Rapid Test Kit, or Real-Time RT-PCR Test.

Who should wear masks: the initial recommendations? 

For fear of contamination, the French rushed into pharmacies, creating a shortage of protective masks. But are they really effective? 

The World Health Organization recalls that wearing a mask is only recommended for people with symptoms or those caring.

The wearing of this type of mask by the non sick population in order to avoid catching the disease is not part of the recommended barrier measures and its effectiveness has not been demonstrated “, specify the services of the ministry since the beginning of the ‘epidemic. 

In fact, wearing a mask is  useful not to spread the disease through the postilions (coughing, sneezing), but not to avoid catching it . Furthermore, in the event of prolonged contact with a contaminated person, these paper masks do not offer sufficiently effective protection , in particular because they allow unfiltered air to pass through.

There is no specific evidence to suggest that the use of masks by the mass population is of particular benefit ,” Dr Mike Ryan, WHO epidemic chief, told reporters on Monday March 30. ” In fact, there is some evidence to the contrary, ” he added, noting the risks of an ill-fitting mask or touching the face when removing or putting it on.

There are then “respiratory protection” masks (type FFP2) , equipped with a device for filtering dust and pathogens. They are indicated for ” people in contact with sick people, to avoid contaminating nurses or doctors who care for them, ” noted Agnès Buzyn, former Minister of Solidarity and Health. Gloves and protective glasses are also provided for the latter. 

Faced with the shortage, masks reserved for nursing staff 

Remember, wearing a mask is still necessary in some cases. To protect those who really need it, the President of the Republic confirmed during his speech on Monday March 16, 2020 that: ” Masks are now reserved primarily for hospitals, city and country doctors . Masks will be available in pharmacies from Tuesday 17 March in the evening in the 25 most affected departments, firstly, then in the other departments from Wednesday onwards “. 

What is the difference between surgical masks and FFP2? 

Intended for hospital staff in contact with patients, FFP2 masks filter about 94% of particles of about 0.6 micrometer (0.0006 millimeter) present in the inspired air. They therefore prevent contact with postlets or droplets potentially contaminated by a virus. 

Surgical masks are intended to protect others and not to protect themselves from others . They prevent the projection of droplets or postillons of the wearer of the mask, but do not allow him to protect himself from the particles present in the air. 

Cite this article as:
Editorial Staff, "Coronavirus: what is it?," in Medicalopedia, May 18, 2020, [Permalink: https://www.medicalopedia.org/8892/coronavirus-what-is-it/].