Many people are getting panic with the news of coronavirus infections.
It is not clear how deadly or widespread this illness is going to be, but instead of suggesting you not to worry, I am going to suggest riding that wave. You should channel that fear into useful action and get the lessons that go beyond this outbreak.
The novel respiratory virus has caused hundreds of deaths in Wuhan, China, and has spread to other parts of the world. However, there are things we can do to protect people from infection by this virus. Some need a societal response, but others are straightforward.
Washing your hands is the most important. Wash them often for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Don’t forget to wash them thoroughly if you’re about to eat. Wash them after you sneeze, cough, or blow your nose. Make it routine that all people in the household wash their hands when they get home.
It may be hard to do this yourself and harder to get others to do it. But you can make it a game or offer incentives. And stress to all members of the household that these safety measures can help protect you all from infections.
While washing your hands for at least 20 seconds seems like a long time and no big randomized controlled trials to prove this is the optimal duration, research does exist to say that shorter times are not as good at removing germs, and much longer times can be counterproductive and can damage the skin.
If, for some reason, you can’t wash your hands, then use a sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. A pinch of sanitizer will do but may not be as good as washing your hands.
In general, don’t touch your face, especially with unwashed hands. When meeting people who are sick, don’t shake hands. If you’re sick, stay away from other people.
Clean the surfaces and objects that you touch a lot very well. Use cleaning sprays or wipes that will kill germs.
Face masks are not recommended for everyone. They may help prevent you from spreading the virus if you are sick, but they don’t do as much to help keep healthy people from getting infected with viruses.
Likeliest Scenarios For Uncontained Outbreak
The 2019-novel Coronavirus is thought to be more infectious than Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002 and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2002, which both originated from this same type of virus. But the 2019-nCoV is less likely to cause death.
Containment is the best-case scenario for this latest outbreak. It is possible to eradicate 2019-nCov in humans just like we accomplished with SARS. However, eradication becomes more difficult as international travel becomes more accessible. If China cannot pull off containment and other countries cannot keep those who are infected to a minimum, it’s still not necessarily cause for panic.
It would be the 5th coronavirus that’s endemic in humans. SARS and MERS didn’t become endemic.
Sharon Begley recently published an article in STAT News laying out the two most likely scenarios for the uncontained outbreak. The first one is that the n-CoV becomes endemic, which will make us worry for a few years as we track the rate of infections and ensure that it isn’t more severe than we think. However, eventually, we will not worry about it any more than we worry about what virus is causing our latest cold. Over a third of people infected with the other coronaviruses do not even notice they are ill.
It does not mean that some people do not become sicker after contracting these coronaviruses, with pneumonia, for example. However, the rates of adverse outcomes are not usually high enough to make the news.
The other outcome, more worrisome, would be that 2019-nCoV becomes a seasonal virus, like influenza. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, the flu has caused up to 310,000 hospitalizations this year alone and 10,000 to 25,000 deaths.
Where to worry
Only time will tell if the new coronavirus ends up being more or less dangerous than the flu. Usually, the diseases that stick around tend to become less lethal. If 2019-nCov is not able to mutate that evade immune system detection just like influenza, people’s immunity to it could gradually improve.
But the 2019-nCoV could turn into something like a disease that public health officials have a hard time making you worry about right now. Physicians and public health officials try to get you to immunize ourselves against the flu every year, and far too many of you don’t. They beg you to practice proper hygiene and precautions, but still, tens of thousands of people die, and too few worry enough.
You should be worried about getting infected with viruses, but have you gotten a flu shot yet?
Channel your fears into productive behaviors to reduce your risk from being infected with 2019-nCoV. It will also help you from being infected with the flu and even help protect you from getting a cold.