As the new coronarvirus extends its reach, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family, experts say.

“As with any respiratory virus, the main recommendations hold true with the novel coronavirus,” said Dr. Rachael Lee, a health care epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). “Wash your hands, cover your cough with your arm, and stay home if you feel sick.”

Also, know when it is and isn’t safe to travel. So far the virus, known as COVID-19, has sickened more than 90,000 people and killed more than 3,000, mostly in China.

Check guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health care authorities regarding travel to areas with the coronavirus, said Lee, who is also an assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases.

“This has become dangerous because this is a first-of-its-kind type of coronavirus, and all humans do not have immunity built up to fight it,” Lee said in a university news release.

Wearing surgical masks out in public is not recommended, she said, as brief exposure to the virus in public is unlikely to make a person sick. “Most cases have occurred when there has been prolonged contact, such as with health care professionals or family members serving as a caregiver. Use of masks is recommended for health care professionals, caregivers and those with disease symptoms,” Lee explained.

Indeed, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams tweeted on Saturday, “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS!”

Wash your hands as much as you can, said Caroline Cartledge, a nurse practitioner in UAB’s student health services.

“We always recommend hand-washing before you eat anything, before you make food for other people and after you use the restroom. I wash my hands anytime I touch a doorknob; if there is hand-sanitizer around, I always use it,” she said.

“People touch their faces more often than they realize. Every time you touch a door handle and then scratch your nose, you are susceptible to contracting viruses,” Cartledge warned.

Here are other tips from UAB experts:

  • Disinfect and clean your home. Use isopropyl alcohol or disinfecting wipes to clean countertops and common areas, especially the surfaces where you eat and spend the most time.
  • Limit the amount of time spent in crowded public places.
  • Avoid people who are sick, including those who are coughing or presenting symptoms.
  • Be sure you have plenty of the medicines you routinely take so that you can avoid trips out of the house to get them.
  • Eat a healthy diet to boost your immunity. Try to include leafy greens like kale, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens and mustard greens. Also, get plenty of rest, and avoid stress.
  • In the case of a pandemic or major outbreak in the United States, stock up on nonperishable foods in case your community is quarantined.

Early reports suggest that signs of the coronavirus typically include flu-like symptoms such as fever, runny nose, headache, cough and a general feeling of being unwell. If you develop flu-like symptoms, seek medical care as soon as possible, the health experts advised.

Call ahead to your health care providers, so they can take appropriate precautions to treat you and safeguard themselves and others in the clinic or hospital when you arrive, Lee said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the coronavirus.