A small guide to get rid of the unjustified fear of contagion.
The coronavirus is in the air, both literally and figuratively. It is a pathogen that is transmitted by air that is occupying all the news news, in addition to being unavoidable to talk with family and friends about it.
People tend to exaggerate the threats, and this virus has not been an exception, especially considering the quite criticized way in which the media has covered the news.
Is this virus so bad? Is it worth the fear that is being generated? How to overcome the irrational fear of contagion? Next we will try to answer these questions, in addition to reflecting on how the coronavirus is affecting the population.
Overcoming the irrational fear of contagion: what to do?
Since the coronavirus, more appropriately called COVID-19, appeared in the city of Wuhan in December last year, it has made the front page of every newspaper and opened every newscast. Everyone is aware of the new news about the virus, which is feared that it will acquire pandemic proportions and that, of course, generates a lot of fear in the population.
Not only China, the country with the zero zone of contagion and that has had the most deaths, has registered a significant number of cases. Other Asian countries, such as South Korea or Iran, have stated that the number of cases detected in their territory is very high, which has forced the closure of borders with nearby countries and the suspension of various events, such as concerts and political meetings.
But obviously the virus has left the Asian continent and has reached America, Oceania and, also, Europe. In fact, in Italy it has become a real problem that has caused the famous Venice Carnival festival to be canceled, while in Spain, more for security reasons than anything else, it has been decided to cancel the Mobile World Congress, with the socio-economic impact that this implies.
But despite the risk of acquiring the virus, there is only one thing much more contagious than COVID-19: fear. A fear that, based on morbidity and misinformation, has contributed to the fact that, although without reaching collective psychosis, a social alarm has been generated that has triggered certain behaviors that, rather than avoiding acquiring the coronavirus, implies a profound damage in the social fabric.
The danger of misinformation
Misinformation, hoaxes, and hype are very dangerous. The media, although not all, have treated the news tremendously, selling the news that we are almost on the brink of the apocalypse. This, accompanied by the laziness of many citizens to properly document how the virus really affects health, has made what was nothing more than another stationary virus seen as a death sentence.
It should be said that these types of beliefs are not surprising when we consider that, in the XXI century, there are people who really believe that vaccines cause autism. Others have various conspiracy beliefs, such as that the virus has been manufactured in a laboratory to reduce the world’s population. It should be said that these types of ideas are not very original, since there were not a few who believed this when the Ebola, bird flu, swine flu, mad cow disease happened …
It is true that the virus has medical and financial consequences. The possibility that we run out of enough supplies to deal with many infections is a real thing. Many cases would imply an oversaturation of medical resources, and it is what is really scary. But the disease itself is not as serious as it is being portrayed in the media, since its symptoms, mainly fever, cough and respiratory problems, do not differ much from a common flu.
In addition, several experts consider that the coronavirus recovery process is very similar to that of the flu. If you are a person with a good immune system, young, without respiratory problems or previous illnesses, in case of contracting the virus, it is most likely that you will end up recovering.
What must we do to avoid fear?
The best way to overcome the irrational fear of contagion of this virus is, as we were already suggesting previously, to properly document yourself. The media does not necessarily have to be exaggerating the news, but since many want us to stay glued to the screen to keep up to date with what is happening, it is normal that they sell as something as serious as they paint it.
That is why it is best to watch television responsibly, and counteract the information with web pages and other specialized resources in medicine, which are truly aware of the situation of the virus, its danger and the real risk of being in the face of a pandemic. . The WHO, the Official College of Physicians and other institutions offer scientific information on the coronavirus.
Another highly recommended thing is to remain calm and be aware of the extent to which we are exposed to the disease. Unless we have recently traveled to Asia, or we know of a positive case of the virus, we are not people with a high probability of having acquired it. We must also be aware of our health and be aware of whether we are a risk group or not. If so, it is advisable to take extreme preventive measures, and seek information and advice from our doctor.
We must not change our routine. If we go to work normally by public transport, let’s keep doing it. Only in case the city or regional authorities say that it is contraindicated to use this transport, or that we should not even leave the house or go according to what places, we should not stop doing the things we do every day. Let’s not let a disease that has not yet affected us prevent us from leading a normal life.
Lastly, something that is obvious, let’s not be afraid of Asian people. Let’s not treat them as if they are plagued or potential carriers of the virus. A white person has the same risk of acquiring the virus as a Chinese citizen, let’s not feed stigmas.
Some interesting data
So far, there are about 82,000 cases of coronavirus registered around the world, the vast majority of them in China (about 75,000), with 2,744 deaths in the Asian country. This sounds terrifying. However, why don’t we ask ourselves how many people have recovered?
At the moment, the recovery rate is significantly higher than that of deaths, with almost 12,000 people who have had the virus who are fully cured. Most of the people who have died had medical problems from before or have not been able to access health treatments in due course. This type of situation is common in countries whose rural regions do not have good sanitation, something that does not happen in Europe and other developed countries.
The fact that there is no vaccine for COVID-19 does not mean that it is fatal of necessity, since, as we were commenting before, if you were healthy before acquiring the virus, it is most likely that you will end up overcoming the disease.
But despite these data, the media continues to give too much importance to the bad. This is normal and, in fact, in psychology it has a name: it is the negativity bias. We tend to pay more attention to the bad before the good and, in this case, we are more concerned about deaths, which in fact are not so many, than the recovery rate, which is really high. Nor is it said that healthy people have little real chance of dying from the coronavirus.
Much coronavirus, but not the worst
It is true that there have been several deaths from the coronavirus, but the common flu, the one that comes every year, seems to be more deadly. In the United States, this latest flu season has led to the death of 8,000, a number four times greater than the number of deaths from coronavirus in China, a country with much more population.
The flu is most deadly when you were in worse health before acquiring it and if you do not have the appropriate medical resources to deal with it, as is the case with practically any disease, whether it is contagious or not. Considering this, how come we care so much about the coronavirus rather than the flu, or any other more common illness?
Statistically speaking, the flu should be treated as something more serious, given that there are more cases, while the coronavirus, at the moment, has a mortality rate of only 2%. But the media does not cover the news about the flu because, unlike the coronavirus, it is not something new and, of course, it does not arouse as much interest.
Collective psychosis, stigma and exaggerated precautions
There is no doubt that the virus is affecting the way of behavior and thinking of the population, reaching the point where there are people who have radically changed their day to day. While it is appropriate to take preventive measures, these should not be so exaggerated that it seems that the remedy, or in this case, the prevention, is worse than the disease.
As the disease originated in China, being originally attributed to the consumption of bat meat and, later, to that of pangolin (although the origin of the real virus is still being sought), it has begun to discriminate against Asian citizens, both tourists as immigrants.
In Spain, for example, there are people who have stopped going to Chinese bazaars and restaurants for fear of getting infected. This can be interpreted as a subtle form of racism (microracism) and contribute to the stigma that if you are Chinese you can have the disease. However, coldly thinking about it, how is a Chinese who has been living in Spain for ten years and without going to China going to have coronavirus just like that?
It is logical to think that, having relatives residing in China and who can visit them, they run a certain risk of acquiring the virus. However, this risk is also possible with any European, African, Australian or American person who has visited Asia or has been in contact with people suspected of having the virus.
Although in Spain things have not reached a social alarm equivalent to a collective psychosis, it is true that there are people who are avoiding taking transport for fear of catching it. There is also buying medical supplies that are believed to prevent having the disease, as is the case with masks. In fact, in some places in Spain, such as the island of Menorca, they have run out of pharmacies, which in some way contributes to fueling the fear that supplies will run out at some point in the epidemic.
However, taking advantage of the issue of masks, it should be noted that they do little to prevent the disease. The real usefulness of this medical material is to avoid that, in surgical interventions, surgeons, when they talk to each other, spit saliva on the open canal of the patient. Since the air passes through the tissue of the mask and the coronavirus travels by air, they are not an effective preventive method, although they do prevent us from spilling contaminated saliva to other people when sneezing. What is recommended is to wash your hands and face frequently, and preferably use disinfectant soaps.
It should also be noted that it is quite curious how people spend money on practically useless masks against a virus with a high probability of recovery, while to deal with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) condoms, which are effective, do not have so much popularity. HIV, gonorrhea or syphilis are more common problems than coronavirus, preventable, and yet people do not seem to take proper precautions against these serious diseases.
World Health Organization. (2020). Questions and Answers on Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/es/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/qa-coronaviruses