As global economics sagged late in February, the worldwide impact of the Wuhan Corona virus (Covid-19) illness becomes apparent. Having initially been localized to China since the discovery of the infection December 2019, there evolves a worldwide surge of infection with documented cases in all continents except Antarctica by the end of February. At this writing, there are more than 82,000 cases and 2,800 deaths. Some infections are easily spread with the ability of global travel as highly virulent strains. Other infections may take their human toll as they may be extraordinarily deadly. With the jury not yet back on Covid-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) can only attempt at this time to limit the spread with national and international cooperation.
Border closures and quarantine may initially be the preferred steps to prevent the entry of disease. Once the illness becomes apparent in communities, the challenge becomes much greater. Consideration of work and school closures, restrictions of public events, self-imposed isolation of individuals who are ill may be collaboratively helpful. The health care provisions to treat this disease are supportive treatments at best, as there is yet definitive treatment or immunization for this virus. As reflected in the stock market changes, these can as well have significant economic impact for both health care costs and the worldwide economy as well.
If we need to put this epidemic in proportion, we should look at pandemics of the past century. The Flu Pandemic of 1918 became a worldwide outbreak over two years, infecting one third of the world population and killing up to 500 million people with a mortality rate of up to 20%. Perhaps with the development of modern medicine, no other epidemics have eclipsed this toll in the modern world. Yet.
The Asian Flu of 1956 spread from SE Asia thru the US, killing 2 million. The Hong Kong Flu killed one million from SE Asia thru Europe, Australia and the United States in 1968. Other diseases have provided their epidemic influence over years and centuries, but may not have the impact to the “modern” world as we know it. Those diseases that have influenced history include cholera, bubonic plague and smallpox. Not to ignore their presence at this time, as they are persistently lurking. A good example of this scenario is the current control of Ebola. The human to human contact is not easily spread, but up to 80% lethal once transmitted.
Concern for Covid-19 transmission has a few concerns. Standard face masks may protect you from transmission of the virus. Covering coughs and sneezes with masks can minimize the aerosol spread. The virus is highly contagious, although over eighty percent of the cases are mild, the remaining infections can be severe. That said, the virus is spread from infected human contact, so preventive measures are important. Avoidance of those already coughing and sneezing is commonsense. Inactivation of potentially contaminated surfaces may be achieved with cleaning agents containing hydrogen peroxide, ethanol or bleach. A common habit that many of us have involves touching eyes, nose, and mouth without any awareness of the action. This single contact is the most likely way to inoculate yourself with the viral contamination on your hands. Make an extra effort to keep hands away from face. Which leads to the single most important prevention: hand washing. Frequent use of an alcohol based hand cleaner or twenty seconds minimum with soap and warm water are ideal. So if we can’t treat it, let’s beat it!
Bradford Croft, DO
East Flagstaff Family Medicine