Getting all the information may save your life. However, to panic may kill you. So, the first rule is to stay calm. No virus set out to kill you or your loved ones. They are not malicious. They are merely dysfunctional relics of our evolutionary past, just as everything that could get us killed. In time, medical scientists will overcome all death threats. But for now, watch when you cross the street and get information on all other health hazards.
You do not need to let fear get to you to inform and protect yourself.
One should also not fall victim to the opposite, an overly optimistic stance. “I’m safe ’cause this will (mostly) kill the weak, old, and sick.” Just like with AIDS, tuberculosis, and the regular flue: the weak may die faster but these viruses do kill the young, strong, and healthy (depending on the number of microbes inhaled). So, don’t leave it to fate or statistics; protect yourself!
The body has many ways to fight infections. Immunity is one but to get it takes about nine days. Some viruses are so aggressive that you’d have a good chance of dying while trying to get your immune system up-to-date. Therefore, immunization from the outside (vaccination) can be smart. There was a time (not so long ago, before antibiotics) when every pneumonia was a gamble. Some made it and some didn’t.
Another way we are protected against infection is when a good part of the people around us are immune. So, there is a greater reason to vaccinate when you’re surrounded by irrational people who shun vaccination.
Therefore, a newer virus is more dangerous. When no one is immune yet, a virus or bacteria may spread faster than wildfire. Then it is important for prevention and your protection to learn how the microbe may transfer.
Trust frequently washing hands and keeping your distance from people more than wearing a face mask. Disinfect (wash with soap) your hands before rubbing your nose or eyes or touching your mouth or food you eat. Become aware of where you hands go. Children transmit microbes easier and quicker between them than anyone else. And then they infect their caregivers by sneezing in their faces when they bend over. Be prepared. And when the epidemic starts in your area, keep your kids home, period.
Another danger of a new virus or bacteria is that it hasn’t learned to behave itself — so to speak. If a new microbe is too destructive, it will kill all hosts in no time, damaging its ability to spread. So, over time, new microbes become less aggressive, keeping more people sick longer.
Antibiotics work on bacteria. Bacteria invade the body and try to feel at home and multiply. Viruses are smaller and less self-sufficient. They try to highjack processes in the host’s cells they don’t have to reproduce. That means that antibiotics don’t work against them. (They would, but they would kill off the patient even faster. Lately, there are chemicals that stop some viruses but prevention is to be preferred.) So, with viral infections, the first line of defense is prevention and vaccination. Once infected, survival attempts address the medical problems that the virus infection is causing. If it’s pneumonia, help the longs. If it’s bleeding, supply blood, etc.
It takes time to create a vaccine and even more time to make it in huge quantities. Further delay is caused by physicians wanting to first test them on animals to see if they don’t cause more problems than they intend to cure. Such risks are easier taken when a virus kills almost all those infected (AIDS). But if the virus ‘only’ kills a few percents, risk-taking is out.
Greatly mistrust any ‘medical news’ from lands that lack democracy and a free press. Any ‘success’ or denial of a problem could be just propaganda. And countries that praise non-democracies could just try to avoid tensions. Also, be wary of ‘alternative’ sources peddling unconfirmed ‘revelations.’
The statistics that we get from China, where the new coronavirus outbreak occurred, are giving false hope and maybe false despair. On the one hand, if 10,000 are infected and 300 people died, it does not mean that it kills 300 out of 10,000 people (3%). When these 300 were infected, there were maybe 1000 people infected, in which case it would kill 3 out of 10 (30%) of those infected. On the other hand, maybe the number of infected is much higher than the people who report sick and who are tested. Maybe there are really already 50,000 people infected. That would make those who succumb come out about 6%. Only more research (time) will tell.
Of its very deadly sister, Ebola, in Guinea in 2014, the numbers were: 28,652 infected, 11,325 dead, which is a fatality rate of almost 40%. Yet, Ebola seems more deadly by making patients bleed to death.
NB: If you’re outside of China, don’t be a racist fearing every Asian person you meet and also don’t be stupid to not protect yourself more when you are at places that specifically attract more visitors from China.
Newest data suggest that patients during incubation time, ‘asymptomatic patients,’ are spreading this virus. (An incubation time is a period that those infected don’t feel sick yet.) Also people who were sick but feel better now could still be spreading the virus. If asymptomatic patients transmit this virus, isolating and avoiding those infected is much harder.
Countries with an advanced healthcare system and democracy have the least to fear as any outbreak will be quickly cornered off and the treatment plan for the infected will be state of the art. Yet, people in poorer areas or where the regime cares little about the population are at much greater risk. This includes people living under the junta in Gaza and under the PA. Again we see, it’s not ‘them against us’ but that we’re all in the same boat.
If you’d know that crossing a certain street would give you a 3% chance to get killed, you wouldn’t. So, if in your community a new virus is spread that kills 3%, you’d avoid public transportation and other crowded gatherings (work, church, stadium, demonstration, doctor’s waiting room, hospital!), even for weeks. Even more dangerous may be to meet with individuals not avoiding crowds! It’s better to be poor and lonely than die, IMHO. This way, you not only protect yourself and your loved ones but also society at large. When people stop meeting, even a pandemic cannot spread. We might even prefer to skip or postpone having the Japan Olympics.
If you fear to be infected, stay home, keep everyone at a distance, call your GP or health fund, and specify your suspicion to get you tested. Results should be in quickly. There is no need for panic or despair as that will not improve your health but rather may stop you from being realistic and safe.
The author has a BA in Medicine from the University of Amsterdam.