Health and Fitness

A Coronavirus Pandemic Isn't the End of the World

COVID-19 isn't a pandemic yet, but some countries are taking precautionary steps in case it becomes one.
ILLUSTRATOR ROLAND MAE TANGLAO
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As COVID-19 cases continue to increase in more and more countries, the word “pandemic” is cropping up in news reports and in public health discussions. To be clear, we aren’t in a pandemic situation yet, but if the trends continue and more countries fail to contain the spread, we may be there in the near future.

What exactly is a pandemic? A pandemic is an epidemic of worldwide proportions. If enough nations end up with sustained transmission in the global community, then it will be declared. As for us in the Philippines, we have so far done our part in containment.

Will it be the end of the world? NOPE. Will there be more cases? Yes. When a pandemic happens, stringent containment measures may be relaxed, and priorities will shift to efficient case management and mitigation of transmission. Travel bans may remain, especially for the countries with the most cases, but these will be less essential to the response as the virus can come from practically anywhere.

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If a pandemic is declared, what should you do?

(UPDATE: Earlier today, March 12, WHO has officially declared COVID-19 as a pandemic.)

Don’t panic. 

The World Health Organization declares a pandemic to mobilize resources and to focus on minimizing the impact of an infectious agent. For COVID-19, this means hospitals will need to be empowered and strengthened  to cope with a possible surge in the number of people who will become sick. Some hospitals may be designated as COVID-19 specialist hospitals where healthcare workers are specifically trained to efficiently and competently care for these patients. The world will not change much overnight, but shifting our priorities means we will be better prepared to handle the next wave of cases.

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Protect the most vulnerable members of your family. 

Early data is showing that about 80% of people who get sick with COVID-19 will develop only mild symptoms, while 20% can develop more severe disease. The ones at highest risk for a bad outcome are the elderly and those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease. A greater percentage of men compared with women with COVID-19 have died in China, and this may have been partly because more males smoke in China. Protecting your loved ones means avoiding unnecessary travel and practicing social distancing. Elderly people should avoid crowds and crowded places. Make sure everyone’s vaccinations for influenza and bacterial pneumonia are up to date since these can prove fatal if they occur at the same time as a COVID-19 infection. Now is also the best time to stop smoking.

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Listen to the authorities and follow instructions.

In times of a health emergency, it is essential the public recognize the health department’s authority and cooperate. As the health system becomes stressed, we need to do what we can to help make their jobs easier. This includes refraining from spreading fake news, not panic buying, and avoiding activities that can increase our risk of getting sick. Wash your hands and practice good hygiene and cough etiquette. If you are sick, wear a surgical mask to decrease the risk of spreading the virus. Stay home if you have a cough or a cold to prevent transmitting the virus to other people.

We have lived through pandemics before, just like H1N1. These do have an ending, and there are many, many people who are working hard to make an impact. Scientists and physicians have already started developing vaccines and testing drugs. It is just a matter of time before these become available. 

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If COVID-19 does become a pandemic, we should do our part in helping prevent its spread with good hand hygiene and basic infection control practices. Chances are most people will just end up with a bad cold and will recover. We should take good care of our sickly and elderly family members since they are at higher risk for severe disease. Most of all, don't ever panic. And don't make people panic by sharing fake or misleading news. The truth is frightening enough without making stuff up. Let's hope our fears aren't realized, but let's prepare for the worst. No infectious disease can prevail if we all work together.

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About The Author
Edsel Maurice Salvaña, M.D., DTM&H, FPCP, FIDSA
Edsel Maurice T. Salvana, MD, DTM&H, FPCP, FIDSA is an award-winning infectious diseases specialist and molecular biologist at the University of the Philippines and the Philippine General Hospital. He has written and spoken extensively about HIV in the Philippines, the Dengvaxia controversy, and the COVID-19 outbreak. As a Senior TED Fellow, he is constantly seeking ways to communicate complicated scientific concepts to a lay audience, and strongly believes that this is the best way to combat pseudoscience and fake news.
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