We’re here to guide you through the coronavirus lockdown. Sign up to the Life newsletter for daily tips, advice, how-tos and escapism.
Researchers questioned 460 people from 124 families in Beijing on their household hygiene and behaviours during the pandemic. It’s thought most of the person-to-person transmission of Covid-19 in China occurred in families.
Each family had at least one confirmed case of Covid-19 between February and March. The average family size was four, but ranged from two to nine people, and was usually made up of three generations.
Researchers wanted to know what factors might increase or decrease the risk of catching the virus within the incubation period – 14 days from the start of the infected person’s symptoms.
Secondary transmission – where the virus spread from the first infected person to other family members – occurred in 41 out of the 124 families.
A total of 77 adults and children were infected in this way. A third of the children caught the virus, compared with more than two thirds of the adults.
What reduced infection risk?
Opening windows and keeping at least one metre apart was associated with a lower risk of passing on the virus, even in more crowded households.
Frequent use of bleach or disinfectants for household cleaning and wearing a face mask at home before symptoms emerged – including by the first person to have them – were also associated with a reduced risk of transmission.
A face mask worn before symptoms started was 79% effective, and disinfection 77% effective, at stopping the virus from being passed on.
A separate study from China found “significant transmission” of the virus takes place in households before people develop recognisable symptoms. Researcher Yang Yang, from the University of Florida, said the finding could “substantially increase the difficulty of curbing the ongoing pandemic”.
As it stands, Public Health England (PHE) recommends face masks should be used by people with symptoms of coronavirus. However, with a third of people predicted to being asymptomatic, the researchers believe wearing a face mask in the home, full stop, may reduce the spread.
The UK government has recommended the use of face covers (not masks) when people visit public places where social distancing is hard to do. Wearing face covers is mandatory on public transport and in hospitals.
What increased infection risk?
Diarrhoea in the first person to become infected and close daily contact with family members increased the risk of passing on the virus. Diarrhoea was associated with a quadrupling in risk, emphasising the importance of hand-washing after using the toilet.
In another study, experts urged people to shut the toilet seat before flushing in order to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading, after researchers used a computer simulation to show how a flushing toilet can create a “cloud of virus-containing aerosol droplets”. They suggested the droplets are likely to be large and widespread, and last long enough that they could be breathed in by others.
Close daily contact, such as eating meals around a table or watching TV together, was associated with an 18-fold increased risk of catching the virus.
What did the researchers conclude?
The study confirms that precautionary non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as mask use, disinfection and social distancing in households, “can prevent Covid-19 transmission during the pandemic, independent of household size or crowding”.
“Household transmission is a major driver of epidemic growth,” the researchers added.
The findings may be relevant for families living with someone in quarantine or in enforced social isolation – or for the families of health workers who may face an ongoing risk of infection, they said.