Post #3: What to Know About Coronavirus

Hi all, time to discuss the only thing most people want to discuss with me these days: Coronavirus or 2019-nCoV if we want to get technical. Honestly, I love all of these conversations because it’s a really easy way to educate people about how to protect themselves at all times of the year, ease exaggerated fears, and generally feel really great about myself for knowing the answers.

Just kidding about that last one, but only a little bit. In reality, infectious disease disasters like this really pull the world together in this beautiful way. Public health professionals, doctors, nurses, governments, scientists and every-day people come together to basically save their fellow humans (also themselves) and it reminds me of why the human race is actually okay. We can do this, all of us together, coronavirus is not going to end us, I promise.

Now that I’ve gotten through the feelings of this moment I will talk more about the facts (and probably some more feelings).

  • I want to start off by saying that if you’re afraid, it is perfectly normal. In fact, infectious disease disaster has been known to induce fear to a much higher degree than any type of natural or manmade disaster. Perhaps because of the universality of it and the uncertainty of infection or death. It is scary not to know what could happen to you and it is scary to feel as if you have no control over the outcome.
  • However, I would like to encourage you if you’re afraid. WE DO have some level of control so let me empower you:
    • First, if you live in the United States, I want to encourage you that your public health officials, doctors, scientists, etc. are incredible. Together they have trained for years to encounter moments like this either through fake drills or real-life scenarios like the SARS and Ebola outbreaks. Trust that your professionals are going to take care of you. I know that this might be hard for you for a number of different reasons but I promise we’re working to keep you safe it is why we do what we do.
    • Second, you’ve already encountered people with a deadly virus this year called influenza. There have been over 8,000 deaths caused by flu this year in the US alone. This death toll is higher than the confirmed cases of coronavirus globally. We have to put everything in perspective. The flu is just so common to us that we often forget how deadly it can be. Every year we take precautions to prevent the flu by getting our vaccines, investing in hand sanitizer, distancing ourselves from sick people, and covering our coughs among many other things. While the coronavirus is new, the way to protect yourself is not. So, don’t let a new name scare you. You do have a degree of control over this whole process, you can take active measures to protect yourself. (peep CDC recommended prevention measures here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention-treatment.html)
    • Third, as of January 31 there have been 9,776 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV with 213 confirmed deaths. For reference that is about a 2% case-fatality rate which is rather low for a coronavirus. Both SARS and MERS are in the same family of virus and they had a 11% and 35% case fatality rate, respectively. Basically, what I am saying is that this virus is much less virulent than what we’ve experienced as a world before. (This link is really cool to track the spread, thanks Johns Hopkins https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6)
  • Now that I’ve probably made you feel a little bit better it’s time to bring you down a little bit with some cold, hard facts that we do all have to face. This is a rollercoaster, I know, welcome to infectious disease disasters.
    • Unfortunately, 213 people have died which means that there are 213 families missing someone right now and that is a loss we have to face. While I do appreciate watching the world come together to fight disease, people die and people lose their loved ones. We are going to see more death before this is over. So, let’s hold those families in our thoughts while we protect ourselves. And let’s think of the families who could lose loved ones when we don’t want to take the time to protect ourselves then do the protective measures anyways.
    • As we all know, this disease began in China and I would be careless as a public health professional not to mention that stigmatization of a group of people has no place in fighting a disease outbreak. Stigma actually has the opposite effect; people do not seek testing or treatment and they may be less likely to practice protective behaviors, not to mention the mental health effects of stigma. The reality is that new diseases are going to pop up for the rest of our time on Earth and we are global community accordingly lets just be nice to one another and protect one another.
    • Even though the mortality rate is low, around 20% of people experience severe pneumonia and respiratory failure. That is scary and could overwhelm our hospital systems if we have more people who need ventilators than we have ventilators available. But that is a worry for another day. As a reference flu is the most common cause of pneumonia in older adults. Just practice your health promoting behaviors.
    • The U.S had their first case of human-to-human transmission in Illinois, which means that more cases are coming. Hold on tight to the previous bullet points: do what you can to protect yourself. That is all I have on that point.
    • The incubation period is probably between 2-14 days. (Incubation period is the time before symptom onset.) And not to make anyone nervous…but it is suspected that people are contagious BEFORE symptom onset, which means that you could get the virus from someone infected who is acting perfectly normal. I will reiterate…PROTECT YOURSELF.
    • This disease is especially harmful to those who are young and old or who have immune compromised systems. Healthy people have a duty to protect themselves so that they can protect their old, young, and immune compromised friends.

The moral of this story is that it is okay to be afraid of something that is scary. If you do happen to be afraid you have tools at your disposal to help protect yourself and your family members and I encourage you to use them. They’re simple and more importantly, will protect you from the flu too! We all have the power; we are not helpless. So, here is my rallying cry: grab your tissues, cover that cough, and wash your hands.

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3d illustration pathogenic viruses causing infection in host organism, Viral disease outbreak, virus abstract background.