Coronavirus: how the public should respond to the global pandemic – analysis
Coronavirus, one of eight pandemics in the past 100 years, could spread through the drops, but the fear it invokes extends beyond contention. It has caused a feeling of unease and uncertainty in equal measure, besieging our cognitive space. In this case, some fear is not only important, but requires a change in the way we carry our lives. An encounter like this serves to reestablish our moral fabric and our obligation to society. It comes as a not-so-gentle reminder that preserving life takes precedence over our intrinsic desire to spread. While there seems to be a long journey ahead for the sick to recover, and for the families of those who succumbed to the virus, our prayers alone will not suffice.
HCoVs (human coronaviruses) are responsible for the common cold in about 10-35% of cases and generally occur in late fall, winter, and early spring. Sars and Mers that wreaked havoc in the past belong to the same family of viruses. Historically, Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2002-2003 claimed the lives of around 800 people with a 10% mortality with a 90% burden grouped together in Hong Kong and China. In contrast, Mers (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) inflicted a significant burden in Saudi Arabia between 2012-2017 with a mortality rate of close to 34%. The H1N1 flu or swine flu that affected more than a billion people in 2009 had a death rate of 0.02%. Although the death rate for COVID-19 is much lower, the number of documented cases of coronavirus is 15 times more than Sars, at this time. Therefore, COVID-19 is unique in its ability to transmit easily and severe enough to cause significant mortality.
Coronaviruses (CoV) are viruses enveloped with an unusually large single-stranded RNA genome with a unique replication strategy. Well, this may mean very little to many. Simply put, they are viruses with spikes on their surface that help bind the host, and in this case, human lung tissue. Once it attaches to lung tissue, it replicates by making copies of itself and damaging lung tissue, making oxygen exchange difficult. This is also the reason for early respiratory symptoms with COVID-19. This continues until the host’s immune system fights the intruder, as in a war scene. So what can you do? The singular goal of the virus is to get to the lungs, and all one can do is prevent that from happening. This is easier said than done. This is also the reason to stay away from people who can transmit drops when sneezing or coughing. This is known as social distancing. Concerning the masks, conventional masks can be porous facilitating this transfer, while the best N95 masks (incredibly uncomfortable to wear) are reserved for healthcare professionals and people with infection.
Epidemiologists and social scientists argue that wearing masks in the absence of any risk or signs of infection could cause people to touch their faces more frequently than usual, further exacerbating the risk. Also, stacking those masks at home, anticipating a doomsday will only prevent people who really need it from getting one. Remember, we are not safer if the community around us is less secure, no matter how many skins we buy. Keeping hands clean (a 120-second wash) is in line with this idea of killing the virus before it reaches the lungs. So what will really help is to use common sense and follow the safety instructions presented by local health departments, assuming there is one. In the very young and the very old, the immune system is more likely to be compromised, and therefore we see an increased risk. The coronavirus affects each individual equally. However, it unevenly and adversely affects the elderly and people with a compromised immune system. More importantly, healthy people who are more likely to recover can still pass the disease on to someone, older and sicker, who may not be as fortunate. Therefore, it is imperative that the young and healthy are obligated to protect the elderly. Remember, we will all get there, or at least hope to.
The idea of quarantine is the most critical in the fight against this intruder. The longest incubation period for the virus to survive before it attaches to a host (in this case, a person) is 14 days, which is much longer than for common flu, which is three days. During this period, if the exposed are quarantined, as the sick seek care carefully and diligently through the proper channels, and the healthy remain personally and socially responsible, we have what it takes to end it. However, we strive to do all of that. As the evidence becomes more readily available, the numbers will explode and add to the social media hysteria surrounding the disease, which is more tragic than the disease itself. Most data sources based on infection rates point to a 2% mortality rate. The data on the mortality rate comes from all over the world and could be significantly less depending on the country of residence. China, which is at the epicenter of this pandemic, is home to much of these numbers. Even in China, only those who showed signs of severe symptoms were evaluated, further exaggerating the death rate. While morbidity is also related to overall burden, most will recover with traditional recovery figures that are largely unreported. So quarantine will become the new normal in the coming weeks, and this means a significant disruption to the lifestyle we’re used to. It’s best to accept them as necessary to mitigate risk, which includes each of us.
A single virus that originated from a single animal source that transmits an infection to a person has caused a worldwide frenzy beyond geographic borders, religion, socioeconomic differences, education, and political ideologies. You must invoke a personal reminder of the fragility of the human constitution and the importance of collective social responsibility. It is profoundly important not only to fight and mitigate this impending risk, but also to prevent the next one from literally joining us. Today, we are witnessing empty playgrounds, schools, churches, temples, and mosques, as we are surrounded by an alarming state of hypervigilance, which may be necessary to control this pandemic. Our concern to protect ourselves should be equal to our obligation to keep the community healthy. When all this is over, it will fall on all civilized society to exclude practices that put dozens of people at risk.
Ravikumar Chockalingam is a psychiatrist and public health scholar at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, St. Louis, USA. USA
The opinions expressed are personal.