Fear will not protect you from the coronavirus. With confirmed cases and virus-related deaths increasing everyday, it is normal to be worried; however, prioritizing prevention and staying informed are key precautions when facing an illness with no current cure.
First of all, it’s not the beer
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2019-nCoV (short for ‘novel,’ or new, coronavirus), also referred to as “Wuhan pneumonia,” is a form of human coronavirus that affects the respiratory system. The virus first appeared in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, which has been put under quarantine.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses named for the crown-like spikes that dot their surfaces; they are commonly found in animals including cattle, cats and bats. However, some animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect humans.
This is what happened with 2019-nCoV. Aside from 2019-nCoV, there are six other human coronaviruses, including MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), and SARS-CoV ( severe acute respiratory syndrome), which was first reported in Asia in 2003 and became an outbreak, according to the CDC.
The World Health Organization states that symptoms of 2019-nCoV include cough, shortness of breath, fever and a runny nose, with more severe cases leading to pneumonia. Symptoms may manifest two to 14 days after initial exposure; however, the CDC says this period of time is based on the incubation period seen among those infected with MERS.
Aside from China, there are 27 countries so far that have confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV, including Singapore, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. As of Feb. 9, the CDC reports a total of 12 positive cases of 2019-nCoV in the U.S., with 100 cases currently under investigation.
On Jan. 30, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization declared the 2019-nCoV outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” after the first person-to-person transmission of the 2019-nCoV was confirmed in Chicago, Illinois.
Staying informed: 2019-nCoV and the islands
To date, there are no confirmed cases in Hawaiʻi. According to the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, as of Feb. 2, the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport has no scheduled flights from China, but still has a quarantine zone where federal authorities will conduct screenings on passengers who have been to the Hubei area in the past 14 days. Those who have travelled to other places in China are allowed to continue travelling, advised to self quarantine and will be monitored by “relevant public health jurisdiction.”
According to the DOH’s “2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Frequently Asked Questions” PDF, the CDC believes the immediate risk of 2019-nCoV is low; however, risk level is affected by exposure. Medical staff and those working with individuals with 2019-nCoV are at a higher risk of getting it.
For now, the DOH is closely monitoring the situation in various ways, including working with the CDC and other state public health partners and health facilities to ensure preparation and proper support in the event there is a confirmed case in the islands.
Turning paranoia into action
While there are no confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV in the state, the CDC says that more cases are expected to increase. Health officials are learning more about the virus everyday, a fact that may not sit well with the public.
Fear and anxiety are responses one can have when facing something unknown or not fully understood. Feeling frightened of 2019-nCoV, while a natural reaction, speaks to a bigger task: being vigilant in prioritizing prevention and consuming media critically.
Social media can make anxiety worse, as posts about 2019-nCoV may have more speculation than confirmed facts. Worries can be sated by waiting for the DOH and CDC to confirm new information about 2019-nCoV. While keeping an eye on social media can be beneficial, updates from official facilities and government organizations should be considered trusted sources.
If you need to share information about the outbreak, reference these sources before resorting to citing a post on social media. Discussing speculations about the virus will fuel more negative emotions and cause unnecessary worry.
While critical consumption can place one’s mind at ease, actions can be taken to prevent catching 2019-nCoV.
The first step is getting the flu shot. This vaccine will not protect you from the coronavirus, but according to the DOH, it has similar symptoms to the flu. Getting the influenza shot will allow individuals and health officials to better discern if 2019-nCoV has been contracted: “Reducing the number of flu cases (by getting the flu shot) not only helps reduce the burden on healthcare providers and facilities; having fewer patients with flu-like symptoms makes it easier to identify those cases that could potentially be 2019-nCoV.”
Moreover, less cases of flu means more protection for the elderly, young children and the immuno-compromised. Flu shots are offered at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Health Services; walk-ins are accepted.
As detailed on the University of Hawaiʻi Coronavirus Resource Page, the CDC advises people to wash their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds after using the restroom, before eating and expelling bodily fluids, such as blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, as well as using alcohol-based sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol.
Avoid contact with those who are sick if possible, and avoid touching your face. Wiping down desks and other “frequently touched” objects with cleaning wipes or sprays are also helpful in preventing the spread of respiratory viruses. One can also increase their intake of Vitamin C through Vitamin C capsules or fruits. Those who have possible 2019-nCoV symptoms should be in close contact with their health providers and decide whether testing is necessary.
Fighting back with what we can and do know will transform the battle against 2019-nCoV from a passive to a proactive one. Anxiety is natural in situations like this, but should not dictate our reactions. Staying informed and taking steps to promote prevention can only be beneficial.