After reading our column last week (“Rein in your fears of the coronavirus,” PDI, Feb. 4, 2020), a colleague commented that the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) threat should be regarded with much concern, and that my commentary somewhat “belittled the threat.” I don’t think there was anything in the commentary that trivialized this crisis and gave the impression it does not need any serious concern.
Definitely, it’s cause for concern worldwide and should rightfully be considered a global emergency, as declared by the World Health Organization (WHO). We should take all necessary precautions. But the panic gripping the public is a more serious concern than the actual threat of being infected with nCoV. We’ve seen last week videos of frantic shoppers in Hong Kong queuing in supermarkets to buy food, toiletries and other items deemed essential. They were worried these might run out of stock. Same with the surgical and N95 masks. You can no longer find any in all the drugstores in Metro Manila.
We just wanted to put things in proper perspective, so the public may realize it’s not like doomsday has already befallen, and the risk of getting the virus is so great.
Although the stats are rapidly changing, the risk of being bitten by a rabid dog in the streets of Metro Manila and possibly dying from it is still much higher than the risk of the general public outside of Wuhan in China of getting nCoV.
Being a dynamic and rapidly evolving health crisis with the full picture on nCoV’s extent and duration of threat not known yet, local and international health officials should reassess the risk of the general public regularly, based on new information and data that have been gathered. And the public should be advised of this risk regularly. As a general rule, in any epidemic, the risk to individuals depends on the degree of exposure. That means that health care workers, especially those attending to nCoV patients, will be at high risk, as seen in the recent death of the Chinese physician in Wuhan who first leaked information to the public on the first set of patients who died from the contagion. He and the other health workers who continue to sacrifice their lives attending to nCoV patients are truly heroes.
Also at high risk are those with close contact to people infected with nCoV, especially if they’re taking care of them. It must be remembered that the symptoms of the virus may be mild in some but serious in others. One can also infect others during the incubation period, which is anywhere from two to 14 days.
Lack of knowledge
Other than the case of these high-risk individuals, the immediate risk of getting infected with nCoV for the general public in our country and other areas outside of Wuhan and the Hubei province in China is still relatively low at this time. It’s warranted, though, to take standard precautions, i.e., practicing hand hygiene and use of an appropriate face mask when indicated.
Lack of adequate knowledge usually causes the panic. The government should continue to educate and regularly update the public on nCoV. It may just be a communication problem. This epidemic, too, will pass, just as the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2002 and MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus) in 2012 were contained and controlled within six to eight months. If it’s any consolation, the nCoV is less virulent, with only two to three out of 100 infected individuals dying, compared to the one out of 10 and three out of 10 death rate of SARS and MERS-CoV, respectively. The nCoV is a lot less deadly, but more contagious. Although a vaccine for nCoV is not available yet, it would still be advisable to get the regular influenza vaccine so as to minimize the risk of getting the ordinary flu. We’re in the flu season and a lot of people, especially the elderly, can have bothersome flu-like symptoms that may require hospitalization. Anyone with flu-like symptoms will be suspect and might be subjected to unnecessary laboratory investigation and quarantine for fear of the nCoV.
So, this nCoV crisis calls for precautionary measures and extra care, but definitely not for undue anxiety that could make us lose sleep that can weaken our immune system, and make us more susceptible to any virus or bacteria. INQ