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With nine confirmed UK cases of coronavirus, including the first in London, the UK public has been warned to brace for the further spreading of infection.
I have been following the outbreak closely, as both myself and my two children have a genetic immune deficiency that makes us more susceptible to viruses. My first son spent most of his early years in and out of our local health practice and A&E, battling 40 degree fevers on an almost weekly basis. A child only had to sneeze at the other side of the playgroup for my son to become unwell. You name the virus, we've had it.
As a result, even though it was several years until my son was officially diagnosed, I became militant about hygiene. I was the parent at the birthday party hovering with a bottle of anti-bacterial hand gel, ready to clean my child's hands before he tucked into the party tea. I carried anti-bacterial wipes and disinfected high chairs, shopping trolley seats, toddler swings and even library books. My nightmare was a "chicken pox party" and parents who sent children to school or our house, knowing they were unwell. I didn't allow my children to share their friends' drinks or dive into communal bowls of popcorn or crisps. When my kids were very young, I often put them straight into the bath after nursery.
Now, aged six and eleven, my boys know the drill: hands must be washed throughout the day, especially before mealtimes and after visiting the bathroom, and as soon as they are home from school. They both carry anti-bacterial hand gel in their rucksacks. There are also times, during the outbreak of flu or if a particular illness is circulating, when I have chosen to keep my children away from crowded places. This half term, for example, we've changed our plans: we won't be traveling into London by train to visit museums and art galleries. Given the circumstances, it feels too risky.
Fortunately, children with this type of immune deficiency grow out of it. I have the condition myself, and as long as I make sure that I get enough rest and eat well, I don't tend to become ill. My children are a great deal stronger than they used to be; these days, although they are rarely free of a cold, they don't tend to get seriously ill the way they once did.
I am not a medical professional, however, after a decade of parenting immune-deficient children, I have noticed that frequent hand washing and the use of anti-bacterial hand gel really does make a difference. I am not surprised, therefore, that this is the preventative advice being given by the NHS about the coronavirus.
Ideally, I would like to see anti-bacterial hand gel dispensers, similar to those found in hospitals, being rolled out to other places, such as schools, offices, gyms and on public transport. This simple and inexpensive measure could make a significant difference at such an early stage of the coronavirus in the UK.
I was interested to read a recent article in The New York Times by Elisabeth Rosenthal, a journalist in China during the SARS outbreak. She found that not only were precautionary measures such as hand washing at her children's school effective against SARS, they also stopped the spread of other illnesses such as stomach bugs and colds, and attendance was almost perfect.
This is hugely reassuring. As we brace for further cases of the coronavirus, please be vigilant about hygiene: wash your hands and use anti-bacterial hand gel. It will help to keep us all well.