Tempering the Paranoia Amidst COVID-19

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Every time there’s a medical crisis, misinformation—whether intentional or not—can cause undue anxiety and panic that can lead to misguided decisions and make the situation worse

By Henrylito Tacio

“All around the world, people are taking necessary precautions to protect themselves and their families from coronavirus,” said Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, deputy executive director for Partnerships of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in a statement.  “Sound preparation, based on scientific evidence, is what is needed at this time.”

Unfortunately, she lamented that many people are sharing information about Covid-19 – as coronavirus disease 2019 is known – which “only some of that information is useful or reliable.”

“Misinformation during times of a health crisis can spread paranoia, fear, and stigmatization,” Gornitzka stressed.  “It can also result in people being left unprotected or more vulnerable to the virus.”

She cited the case of an online message which she said is “erroneous” and has been attributed to UNICEF.  The coronavirus reportedly “cannot survive hot climate” and as such it urges to “avoid eating ice cream and any other cold food.”

“This is wholly untrue,” the UNICEF official pointed out.  “Avoiding ice cream and other cold foods cannot help prevent the onset of the disease.”

Gornitzka urged those who created such “erroneous” messages to stop.  “Sharing inaccurate information and attempting to imbue it with authority by misappropriating the names of those in a position of trust is dangerous and wrong,” she said.

In these days of information-rich society, she admitted that is difficult to know exactly where to go for correct knowledge.  “But it is critical that we remain as diligent about the accuracy of the information we share as we are about every other precautions we take to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe,” she concluded.

The Department of Health recently raised “code red sub-level 1” after the first localized transmission of Covid-19 was reported.  The alert level was a “pre-emptive call” to ensure that “all human and material resources must be made available for duty and deployment.”

In response to the alert level, Malacañang declared a state of public health emergency “to facilitate the sufficient and immediate access to funding, particularly for local government units, and ease processes on procurement, mandatory reporting, mandatory quarantine, and travel restrictions, among others.”

Knowing Covid-19 better

Although there are some speculations as the source of Covid-19 virus, the DOH in its website said that animals are most likely the source of the novel coronavirus.  “Coronavirus are a large family of viruses that are common in animals,” it explains.  “At times, humans get infected with these viruses.”

The coronavirus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was associated with civet cats while Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus was identified with dromedary camels.  Covid-19 and SARS-CoV are genetically related to each other but they are different.  SARS is more fatal and deadly but less infectious than Covid-19.

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The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) says the current incubation period – the time between exposure to an infection and the appearance of the first symptoms – of Covid-19 ranges from one day to 12.5 days.  But based on what have been known about other coronavirus diseases, the incubation period may reach up to 14 days.  “With Covid-19,” DOH says, “WHO recommends to monitor contacts of confirmed cases for 14 days.”

The Covid-19 virus is transmitted from one person to another via droplets, contact, and fomites.  “It is transmitted when one individual talks, sneezes, or coughs producing ‘droplets’ of saliva containing the Covid-19 virus,” the DOH says.  “These droplets are then inhaled by another person.”

According to the United Nations health agency, other people can catch the Covid-19 virus by touching infected objects and surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

The WHO says Covid-19 transmission usually occurs among close contacts, including family members and healthcare workers.  As such, it is very important to maintain a distance of more than one meter away from any person who has respiratory symptoms.

Unlike the dengue virus, Covid-19 virus cannot be transmitted by a bite of a mosquito.  “To date, there has been no information nor evidence to suggest that the new coronavirus could be transmitted by mosquitoes,” WHO says.

The risk of catching Covid-19 from the feces of an infected person seems to be low. “While initial investigations suggest the virus may be present in feces in some cases, spread through this route is not a main feature of the outbreak,” the WHO says.

Despite what you have read, there is no confirmed timeline how long a Covid-19 virus survives in surfaces.  “Most likely, it behaves like other coronaviruses,” DOH claims.  “Studies show that coronaviruses can survive on surface for a few hours up to several days depending on varied conditions (examples: type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).” 

Clinical presentation

Symptoms of Covid-19 are similar to flu or the common cold.  The most common symptoms, according to WHO, are fever, tiredness, and dry cough.  Few patients experience aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.  “Patients usually have mild symptoms that start gradually,” the DOH informs.  “Most patients recover without needing any special treatment.  Only around one in six patients manifest with difficulty breathing and become seriously ill.”

But what is alarming about Covid-19 is that some people, who become infected, don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell.  “The risk of getting Covid-19 from a person without any signs and symptoms is very low,” the DOH assures.  As Covid-19 virus is only spread through respiratory droplets coughed by an infected person, so there is a tendency that an infected person who doesn’t cough cannot infect others.

“However, many infected persons only experience mild symptoms,” the DOH states.  “This is particularly true at the early stages of the disease.  It is therefore possible to get Covid-19 from an infected person with mild cough but is not feeling ill.”

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According to reports, older people and those with underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes are most likely to develop severe or critical form of Covid-19.

Although Covid-19 is fatal, it happens rarely.  Studies conducted by WHO showed 82 percent of infected patients will have mild presentations, 15 percent will have severe manifestations, and only 3 percent will be critical.  “About 2 percent of peopled infected with Covid-19 have died,” the DOH says.

Preventive precautions

There are several ways a person can avoid the risk of being infected, UNICEF says in its website.  Below are the four precautions people can take to avoid infection: (1) washing hands frequently using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub; (2) covering the mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing; (3) avoiding close contact with anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms; and (4) seeking medical care early if a person has a fever, cough or difficulty breathing.

Other things a person can do to avoid being infected with Covid-19 are as follows: avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth, unless you’ve just recently washed your hands; eating and drinking from safe, clean and reliable sources; and getting enough rest.

Taking a hot bath does not prevent you from catching the Covid-19 virus.  “Your normal body temperature remains around 36.5°C to 37°C, regardless of the temperature of your bath or shower,” the WHO explains.  “Actually, taking a hot bath with extremely hot water can be harmful, as it can burn you.”

What about wearing a medical mask?  It is advisable only if you have respiratory symptoms (coughing or sneezing) to protect others.  “If you don’t have any symptoms, then there is no need to wear a mask,” UNICEF advises.

If masks are worn, they must be used and disposed of properly to ensure their effectiveness and to avoid any increased risk of transmitting the coronavirus.  “The use of a mask alone is not enough to stop infections and must be combined with frequent hand washing, covering sneezes and coughs, and avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms,” UNICEF reminds.

How effective are thermal scanners, where are used in airports, hotels, and malls?  “Thermal scanners are effective in detecting people who have developed a fever (that is, higher than normal body temperature) because of infection with the new coronavirus,” the WHO says.  “But they cannot detect people who are infected but are not yet sick with fever.”

Antibiotics cannot protect you from Covid-19.  “The new coronavirus is a virus and therefore antibiotics (which works only against bacteria) should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment,” the WHO reminds.  “However, if you are hospitalized for Covid-19, you may receive antibiotics because bacterial co-infection is possible.”

People at risk

Are you at risk of contracting the Covid-19 virus?  “The risk depends on where you live and where you have travelled recently,” the WHO says.  “The risk of infection is higher in areas where a number of people have been diagnosed with Covid-19.”

Now, if you’re not in an area where Covid-19 is spreading or if you have not travelled from one of those areas or have not been in close contact with someone who has and is feeling unwell, your chances of getting the virus are currently low.

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“It’s understandable that you may feel stressed and anxious about the situation,” the WHO says.  “It’s a good idea to get the facts to help you accurately determine your risks so that you can take reasonable precautions.”

False advisories

The WHO reminds that the following measures are not effective against Covid-19; in fact, they can be harmful: smoking, taking traditional herbal remedies, wearing multiple masks, and taking self-medication such as antibiotics.

Currently, there is no specific treatment for or vaccine against Covid-19.  “Many of the symptoms can be treated based on the patient’s clinical conditions,” the DOH says.  “Supportive care for infected persons is highly effective.  Most of those infected have recovered with only supportive care.”

Vaccines and specific drug treatments are currently being developed and are tested through clinical trials.  The London-based The Guardian reports: “Commercial pharmaceuticals and biotechnology labs have preventive vaccine prototypes in development, some of which will soon be ready for human testing (although their efficacy and safety will take time to establish.”

In addition, more than 80 clinicals trials were under way for antiviral treatments, according to Nature magazine.   Most of these have already been used successfully in treating other illnesses.

The WHO and DOH are coordinating with those who are developing the vaccines and medicines to determine possible availability of these resources.

Again, “the most effective ways to protect yourself and others against Covid-19 are to frequently clean or wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough with a tissue or the bend of the elbow, and maintain a distance of at least one meter from people who are coughing or sneezing,” the DOH points out.

“The risk of getting Covid-19 from a person without any signs and symptoms is very low”

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