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Reducing the spread

How to reduce the spread of infectious diseases


A close-up view of an Ethiopian man washing his hands

Abdisa Kasim demonstrates how to wash hands at a hospital waterpoint in Ethiopia. Photo: Will Boase Photography

A Congolese man washes his hands at a community wash station

From: Covid-19: Footsteps Special Edition

A practical resource on Covid-19 including how to address misinformation and the long-term impacts of the pandemic

Covid-19 is a new disease caused by a coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that affects the lungs.

The virus is spread from person to person through the air in tiny droplets, by coughing, sneezing and speaking. People can also become infected by touching objects or surfaces that have the virus on them and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. It is very easily passed from one person to another.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms are:

  • a new, persistent cough
  • fever
  • loss of taste or smell
  • tiredness
Illustration showing some of the main symptoms of Covid-19

The common symptoms of COVID-19 are a fever, a persistent cough, loss of taste or smell and tiredness 

As new variants of the disease emerge, other symptoms may also become more common such as a sore throat, blocked nose or diarrhoea.

If you, or someone you know, starts to experience difficulty breathing, chest pain or loss of speech or movement, seek medical care immediately. If possible, call your healthcare provider, hotline or health facility first, so you can be directed to the right clinic.

Who can catch Covid-19?

Anyone can catch Covid-19 – young or old – including those who are fit and healthy. For most people, the symptoms are mild. Some people have no symptoms at all and may not know they have the virus. This means that anyone can pass the virus on to others.

Covid-19 affects some people more than others. The disease can be more serious for:

  • people who have existing health conditions, for example diabetes, respiratory diseases or cancer
  • older people
  • those with a weak immune system.

How can I reduce the spread of Covid-19?

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based sanitiser gel.
  • Catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue or your bent elbow.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wear a face covering when it is difficult to avoid being in close contact with others.
  • Keep rooms well ventilated.
  • Clean surfaces regularly.
  • When looking after people who are unwell with Covid-19, wash your hands regularly and try to reduce direct contact as much as possible.

What should I do if I get Covid-19?

Most people recover well from Covid-19 without any medical treatment. If you have been vaccinated you may still get the disease, but the symptoms are likely to be milder.

If you have symptoms:

  • stay at home and avoid contact with other people as far as possible
  • drink plenty of water
  • rest
  • if you have a fever, use a damp towel to cool yourself down and, if possible, take paracetamol
  • ask others to bring you food and water so that you do not have to go out.

Further reading

Case study: Tippy taps

In Haiti, Tearfund is promoting the importance of handwashing by helping families to construct tippy taps next to their homes. Marc Antoine, who leads Tearfund’s work in Haiti, says, ‘Tippy taps are very helpful for rural communities since water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure is very poor in these areas. They serve as a physical reminder to constantly wash hands, which can be overlooked, especially in homes and communities with no running water.’

Tippy taps are cheap, easy to construct and can be made with locally sourced materials. All that is needed to create one is several sticks, string, soap and a container for the water. The device is then simply operated with a foot lever, which significantly reduces the chance for diseases to be spread as the user only touches a bar of soap, supported by a string.

An illustration of a Tippy Tap device which serves as a hand-washing station

Tippy taps are cheap, easy to construct hand washing stations

Further reading

The tippy tap, an article in Water, sanitation and hygiene – Footsteps 30

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