Putting the new Coronavirus and 36,560 other deaths in perspective

isolate from first case of COVID-19
Transmission electron microscopic image of an isolate from the first U.S. case of COVID-19, formerly known as 2019-nCoV. The spherical viral particles, colorized blue, contain cross-sections through the viral genome, seen as black dots. (Image by Hannah A Bullock; Azaibi Tamin)

Is there anything you can do to protect yourself against a newly discovered virus making headlines around the world? Yes. There’s also something we need to admit about the biggest culprit related to this virus technically known as COVID-19, and to 36,560 deaths from another cause.

COVID-19 is a new virus—new in the sense it hasn’t been identified until now. Various other coronaviruses have already visited us, and we’ve probably shaken them off as a cold or run of the mill respiratory bug.

medicine bottles
Photo/Indie Art South

This one’s different. We think. We think it has a somewhat higher mortality rate than the flu. We think it can be more dangerous for those with underlying health conditions like diabetes (especially if you don’t control the diabetes) or heart disease, for instance.

The key words are We think. The culprit in this matter is in those words. When we see a new virus, we fear the unknown. We all know familiar fears, and we know what to expect from known dangers. With COVID-19, we really don’t know.

What we do know is that you can try to protect yourself the same way you do when seasonal flu is traveling around, looking for a comfy host. That’s what viruses do. They’re like an intruder watching and waiting for a convenient host to breach.

In 2018 after family and friends caught various viruses and colds—for awhile, it seemed like everyone I knew was sick—I wrote an article about “gig-giene.” I try to avoid illnesses like this simply because a lot of people depend on me and I don’t want to let them down. I also still have my modest writing business. So I do some things like always pushing a door open with my elbow, washing my hands the right way with friction, soap, and two rounds of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song. I wrote my granddaughter a little song to sing twice so she knows how long to scrub and wash her hands.

I don’t touch handles on coffee pots in public places without using a paper towel, but that’s rare because I just don’t like community drink or food where anyone can come in and do whatever.

I also keep lemon balm and raw unfiltered honey handy. I swear by both as home remedies for any kind of respiratory virus. For tummy upset, peppermint tea (the real kind made with mint and nothing else) helps us.

Most of us, if we don’t have a serious health condition, will  likely survive COVID-19 just as we’ve survived the Swine Flu, H1N1, and other illnesses. I was at the grocery today, and other places where errands took me. I heard a lot of chat about the Coronavirus. I heard one young man tell a lady who was looking for some health item in the store he was glad someone was taking the Coronavirus seriously.

Of course we should take it seriously, but we can’t walk around in high anxiety about it. What’s helping drive the fear is that it’s a virus we don’t know much about, and fear of  the unknown is often the worst fear of all.

The CDC has an excellent section on this and other coronaviruses on the government website.

I hope no one catches this latest virus, and one more thing to be vigilant about if you want to worry about mortality is traffic. Many drivers in my city are completely incompetent. A car crash comprises a fear we know. Here’s a sobering summary from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

“There were 33,654 fatal motor vehicle crashes in the United States in 2018 in which 36,560 deaths occurred. This resulted in 11.2 deaths per 100,000 people and 1.13 deaths per 100 million miles traveled.”

That’s an epidemic and we rarely give it a thought.

(Kay B. Day/March 5, 2020)

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