Novel coronavirus has been spreading across the world for weeks, followed by 24/7 news coverage.
As I start writing this post, on 14th March 2020, 149,375 cases and 5,602 deaths have been recorded worldwide. By the time I’ll finish writing later today, the toll will have risen further and the whole situation will have changed.
Things are moving too rapidly to comprehend.
We are now dealing with a full-blown pandemic. Whole countries are in lockdown, travel bans in operation. Healthcare systems face breakdown, doctors and nurses burn out. The world economies suffer as stock markets plummet.
Schools and universities are closing. Supply of some essential items is low due to panic buying. Sporting events and concerts are suspended. Thousands of flights cancelled. Millions of people quarantined.
And we panic.
We are scared for our own health and the lives of the people we love. We are overwhelmed and confused. Focus on every sign of illness in ourselves and those around us. We are petrified of meeting other people. And we worry we run out of food (and toilet paper) in case of a lockdown.
Our anxiety spikes as we are bombarded with terrifying headlines and pictures of people in hazmat suits. And sometimes we can’t breathe and our hands shake. Because all the horrifying information on the unmanageable enormity of the problem becomes too much to handle.
So, in exceptional circumstances like this, how can we stop panicking? And how can we protect ourselves and others?
First of all, I am not a coronavirus expert. Nobody really is at this point. We still learn as we go along.
But I am a health scientist, energy healer and anxiety coach. In my day job, I regularly deal with public health and infectious diseases. And in my spare time, I help people to overcome their fears using energy healing techniques.
So, I want to offer my expertise to maybe help you cope better while the increasing panic about coronavirus spreads faster than the virus itself.
As part of the “What to do when you panic about coronavirus” series, I will post 3 articles in the hope to help you cope with the confusion, anxiety and panic we all feel in these uncertain times. And ensure you know how to protect yourself, your loved ones and the those most at risk of developing severe symptoms.
So, in the next week, you will discover:
Let’s start by looking at the 3 main reasons why we all panic about coronavirus.
Our mind is a tool that developed with the sole purpose of keeping us safe.
It draws upon past experience and all available facts and data to assess the risk of anything we encounter. And then uses fear as a means to stop us from getting into harm’s way (if required).
Coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s and we now know seven coronavirus strains that can infect humans. Four of them are actually quite common and you are likely to have been infected with one or more of them when you had the common cold.
So, the virus didn’t just appear.
But viruses mutate quite regularly to outwit immune systems and the novel coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19 is a new mutation of an animal strain that has previously not been found in humans.
As such, it poses an unfamiliar hazard and your mind has little previous data. Furthermore, pandemics are rare (thank Goodness) and we aren’t used to circumstances like this.
With the unfamiliar situation changing as rapidly as it does, and the constant new developments, the mind struggles to comprehend the situation and gauge the threat level.
And eventually decides to opt for full-blown panic. Better safe than sorry, right?
In order to estimate the risk of the new situation, our mind needs information. It will obsess about collecting as much data on the new threat as it possibly can to be able to make an assessment.
And the information the mind craves is readily available from the media at the moment.
We get 24-hour live streams from the worst affected areas, minute-by-minute updates of the number of new cases and deaths. And read endless posts of other terrified people.
Headlines such as: “Is coronavirus mutating into a deadlier strain?”, “Death toll rises rapidly as coronavirus sweeps the globe” or “Family devastated as Tom Hanks battles COVID-19” are more than enough to convince even the most rationale mind that panic is justified.
But while your mind keeps insisting you panic about coronavirus based on the information available, it is imperative to remember 2 things:
Sure, the media want to keep us informed. And they are bound by some reporting standards. But they are primarily interested in keeping us glued to their broadcasts.
So, they can outperform their competitors and increase viewer numbers and profits. And the best way to achieve this is through fearmongering, captivating headlines and apocalyptic stories that overemphasise the negative.
Because that’s what sells.
Imagine the media would broadcast hour-long interviews of people who overcame coronavirus infection after 8 days of mild cough and told us “It wasn’t that bad”.
Chances are we wouldn’t panic about coronavirus as much as we do now. But we also wouldn’t watch it. Because, frankly, it’s boring. And the zombie apocalypse isn’t.
Social media is a wonderful way to stay up to date with what your friends are up to. But social media posts are probably the most unreliable source of information and healthcare advice. Because they tend to reflect the fears and opinions of the people who posted them.
And many hype up the panic about coronavirus without ever checking any actual facts.
The mind is less likely to panic, even in potentially dangerous situations, if it knows how we can protect ourselves.
But the situation changes so rapidly at the moment that it can be difficult to know what to do. Which makes the mind feel out of control. And a feeling of powerlessness, of not being in control of your own fate, causes fear and panic.
So, let’s have a look next what we can all do to reduce the panic about coronavirus.
If you panic about coronavirus, you are not alone.
But it’s crucial that you don’t allow yourself to be swept up by the wave of global panic caused by fearmongering sensationalism.
The biased minute-by-minute apocalypse updates on the media are of no benefit to anyone (except the big media corporations’ profits).
Or read on for a summary…
Just be aware that these facts can change as we gather more information about the virus and how it affects people. Statistics and advice will evolve. So, check back now and then to stay in the loop.
Novel coronavirus, called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a respiratory virus. It causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19) which affects the lungs and may cause fever, cough and shortness of breath.
According to today’s data, 92% of patients who suffered from it so far experienced mild symptoms (like during a normal cold or mild flu) and 93% of those infected fully recovered within 6 to 14 days.
However, some people are at risk of developing pneumonia because their immune system is weak, they are frail or suffer from other illnesses. And these people are at higher risk of dying from coronavirus (or any other virus for that matter).
Reports of the current death rate vary widely and can be as high as 7%. And I know this seems frightening.
The World Health Organisation estimated a crude mortality rate of 3 to 4%. But you have to consider that this only takes into account the ratio between reported cases and reported deaths.
You see, most people will have mild or even no symptoms and many of these cases won’t be tested. For example, people may think they just have a cold (and, in a way, they do). And we also don’t have the capacity and means to test everybody.
So, realistically, the number of cases will be much higher and the actual infection mortality rate lower than currently reported. The Chinese Centre for Disease Control reports a case fatality of 2.3% in all reported Chinese patients. Current estimates based on disease modelling hover around 1%.
Which, don't get me wrong, is still a lot. But much less scary nonetheless.
Another cause for panic (and concern) is the current speed at which the virus spreads.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), COVID-19 actually spreads slower than the common flu (as it has a longer incubation period between infection and symptom outbreak).
The problem is though that it is a new virus that’s unknown to everybody’s immune system.
You see, when confronted with an unknown virus, our immune system builds antibodies against the virus. These are designed to specifically neutralise that one virus. The body’s main weapon of virus mass destruction if you so want.
And they are very effective.
But building them takes time. Which gives the virus a chance to wreak havoc and cause symptoms. Until the antibodies are ready and kick its arse.
Once the virus is defeated, these antibodies are saved. So, the immune system remembers germs it encountered before and has a ready-made weapon against them if they dare come again. As such, the same virus strain can’t overrun it twice.
Most people had the flu at some point in their lives.
And while there are many different flu strains in circulation, most people have some kind of immunity. This means their body has ready-made antibodies. Either because they encountered the same strain before or they are vaccinated. So, when the flu hits, many people are already immune and won’t get sick.
Which isn’t the case with SARS-CoV-2. Because it’s new to everybody’s immune systems.
But over time, immunity will build in the population and the spread will slow down. Chances are that novel coronavirus will become part of our normal winter virus mix (together with the flu, common rhinoviruses and the other four common coronaviruses) and most of us will get it at some point.
For most people, COVID-19 is not a serious health threat. And the current level of panic about coronavirus is out of proportion to the actual risk to individuals.
But we cannot downplay the risks either.
Because it is a new virus and so many people will get it, even a moderate mortality rate will claim many victims.
We all have to take this seriously. Because vulnerable people are dying and will continue to die.
Not only because the virus causes them to be severely ill, but also because healthcare services are overstretched and cannot cope with the large number of new cases every day.
It is therefore vital to slow the spreading of the disease if we want to avoid scenes like we see from Italy at the moment in our own countries. Which is exactly what the current delay tactics implemented by most affected countries are intended to do.
Everything we do at the moment (closing schools, cancelling mass gatherings, social distancing), is meant to slow the infection rate and spread the number of infected people over a longer period of time.
So, when someone needs urgent care, healthcare services have the capacity to provide it. And everybody has the best chance to get through this.
At this point, infection control is the most important measure anyone can (and must) take. Public Health interventions only work if the public cooperates. The WHO labels this outbreak a controllable pandemic.
And we are all responsible to help control it. Everyone’s contribution is important.
Like most respiratory viruses, novel coronavirus is believed to spread through little bits of spit and mucus that are catapulted through the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
So, imagine the following scenario:
A person infected with novel coronavirus coughs and covers their mouth with their hand. The virus ends up on their palm. When they then open a door in the office where they work, the virus is transferred onto the door handle. The next person walking through this door picks the virus up. And the next time they touch their mouth, nose or eyes, the virus enters their body.
That’s how viruses spread. Unless we wash our hands. All of us.
Novel coronavirus, like most viruses, cannot survive more than a few hours outside of a host body. However, to stop transferring the virus, disinfection is recommended (and probably a great idea for most public areas anyway).
Coronavirus doesn't appear to be airborne.
So, you can only catch it if you get in direct contact with an infected person (or their spittle to be more precise). So, social distancing is the new word of 2020 (and, to be honest, comes naturally to most introverts).
Older people and people who suffer from other conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, lung disease or cancer are at higher risk of developing more serious or severe symptoms. And that’s a major problem.
But from the media reports and warnings, you could start to believe that if you catch the virus and you are older or suffer from other conditions, you are basically doomed.
Which is not the case.
Amongst 72,314 confirmed Chinese cases, mortality rate in infected people older than 80 years was 14.8%. And yes, this is high. But, again, this is unlikely to reflect the actual mortality rate as many cases will never be reported. And it also means that, if you are older, you have a good chance to recover.
However, the best way to protect the most vulnerable members of our society is to make sure they won’t catch it in the first place. And that, if they do catch it, healthcare services have the capacity to provide them with the best possible care.
Which gets us back to the vital importance of infection control.
Effective infection control will limit and slow down the spread of the virus. But even with the best infection control, there is a chance that you will get in contact with SARS-CoV-2 and may catch COVID-19. If it happens, please don’t panic.
There are measures you can take now to ensure your body is up to the fight. And we will talk about them in Part 3.
But first, let's have a look how we can beat the fear and anxiety that clutch our throat at the moment. So, we can breathe freely again.
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