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These 5 mistakes could worsen the coronavirus outbreak

These office workers didn't get the memo that sick people should work from home.
These office workers didn't get the memo that sick people should work from home.
(Image: © Shutterstock)

Every person can do their part to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2. But, in times of uncertainty, it's easy to make mistakes. 

The biggest problem is if you spread the virus to other people, especially those with compromised immune systems. "If you are infected and come into contact with other people, you put those people at risk," said Dr. Stanley Deresinski, a clinical professor of infectious diseases at Stanford Medicine. "That's basically what it revolves around."

Here are five blunders that could exacerbate the current outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19. 

Related: Live updates on COVID-19

1. Not quarantining if you're sick

If you have COVID-19 or suspect that you do, but have mild symptoms, including mild fever, cough or sore throat, you should self-quarantine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends. Those with more serious symptoms, such as high fever, weakness, lethargy or shortness of breath, should seek medical care, Live Science previously reported

"Someone who is actively sick with COVID-19 can spread the illness to others," the CDC says. "That is why CDC recommends that these patients be isolated either in the hospital or at home (depending on how sick they are) until they are better and no longer pose a risk of infecting others."

It's important to take these quarantines seriously, Eric McNulty, associate director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard University, told Live Science in a Feb. 28 interview. "Many of us work from home from time to time, and it doesn't mean you're locked in the house," McNulty said. "In this case, it really does mean that. You're agreeing to stay home."

If you live with other people or even pets, remember to quarantine yourself from these individuals, too. There are no reports of pets becoming ill with COVID-19, but it's best for sick people to steer clear of animals until more is known about the virus, the CDC says. Sorry, but that includes "petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked and sharing food," with your pet, the CDC says. "If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a face mask."

2. Believing conspiracy theories but not health professionals

Social media and even some news sites are swarming with conspiracy theories and misinformation, and that's despite the efforts that some companies, including YouTube, Facebook and Amazon, have taken to pour water on the flames, according to The Washington Post

If people believe these theories — for instance, that the virus is a hoax or not a serious health threat — "they may be ill and not quarantine themselves," Deresinski told Live Science. 

In addition, be skeptical of theories that sprout close to home. For example, people shouldn't listen to "Uncle Harry's idea of what you ought to do as opposed to what the CDC says you should do," McNulty said. 

3. Seeking alternative treatments

If people are sick, but pursue so-called alternative treatments or natural therapies rather than quarantining themselves or seeking scientifically backed medical care, they could "pose an additional risk," to the public, Deresinski said.

Right now, there is no vaccine for COVID-19, according to the CDC. So, beware of claims of cures, including eating garlic, downing elderberry syrup, guzzling vitamin C and drinking industrial bleach — all ideas that have been debunked, according to FactCheck.org, a project at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania

4. Not practicing good hygiene

This may sound obvious, but practicing good hygiene can be a chore, so we'll repeat it here. CDC recommendations include:

  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
  • Not touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Staying home if you are sick.
  • Covering coughs or sneezes with a tissue, then tossing that tissue in the trash.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using regular household cleaning sprays or wipes.
  • Wearing a face mask if you're showing symptoms of COVID-19, or if you're a health care worker or a caregiver of someone who is sick.
  • Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol. 

These measures have been shown to reduce transmission of respiratory illnesses by 21%, according to a 2008 meta-analysis in the American Journal of Public Health. Other studies show that programs promoting hand washing reduces absenteeism in school-aged children.

5. Stockpiling face masks or respirators

Stores across America have sold out of face masks and it's getting difficult to buy them online without paying a fortune. However, as the U.S. surgeon general tweeted Feb. 29, "Seriously people - STOP BUYING MASKS!" 

Wearing a regular surgical mask does not protect against the coronavirus. That's because these masks only loosely fit over the mouth and nose (they don't protect the eyes) and don't block tiny viral particles, including SARS-CoV-2. In contrast, the N95 respirator can offer protection, but the  public shouldn't stockpile these, either. 

"It's important to realize that these [N95 respirators] are only worn in health care settings," Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told Live Science in a Feb. 28 interview. 

Medical professionals and people who need face masks or respirators, including those sick with COVID-19 and their caregivers, won't be able to get these supplies if others unnecessarily stockpile them, Glatter said. 

In all, the best way to beat the virus is by changing how we behave.

"You're less controlling the virus than you are controlling the actions of people," McNulty said. "You can't order a virus to do something. You can't negotiate or reason with it. It's not intimidated by a tweet storm. A virus is going to do what a virus is going to do."

Originally published on Live Science.

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  • Key Green Frog
    Some of what is dismissed as "conspiracy theory" is simply a different opinion based on different, but valid, background knowledge. Doctors are generally NOT trained in herbology, nor do they keep up with the latest medical research for everything that might be relevant to all their patients. Doctors are required to keep up with pharmaceutical knowledge but they do not have time or particular incentive to keep up with research related to herbs, supplements and diet. So when we read blanket negative statements about non-drug remedies but we know better, because we have done our own research, we may view the propagandists with suspicion.

    For example, below is research on concentrated elderberry juice that shows that elderberry does indeed have antiviral and immune-boosting effects, contrary to the article at LiveScience. Another, more recent study done in Australia had travelers take elderberry capsules or placebo before and during travel and then compared people in both groups who came down with colds. Elderberry reduced the severity of the symptoms and reduced recovery time by two days on average. Does that mean elderberry will stop you from getting coronavirus? Nobody has done that research yet. Should you take it? Why not? It's entirely up to you - not the government, YET, thank God!

    From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22972323 :
    "...We evaluated the antiviral effect of concentrated juice of elderberry (CJ-E) on the human influenza A virus (IFV). CJ-E had a relatively strong effect on IFV-infected mice, although its anti-IFV activity was weak in a cell culture system. The in vivo anti-IFV activities of the fractions were determined after separating CJ-E by ultrafiltration and anion-exchange chromatography. Oral administration of the high-molecular-weight fractions of CJ-E to IFV-infected mice suppressed viral replication in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluids (BALFs), and increased the level of the IFV-specific neutralizing antibody in the serum, as well as the level of secretory IgA in BALFs and feces. Fr. II from high-molecular-weight fraction HM, which contained acidic polysaccharides, showed relatively strong defense against IFV infection. We conclude that CJ-E had a beneficial effect by the stimulating immune response and preventing viral infection. "

    While not a human study, humans have been taking elderberry for centuries to help with colds and flu. While they might have all been deluded, they also might NOT have been. Furthermore, elderberry has also been used in jams, preserves and drinks for centuries. Elderberry is food (unlike donuts or french fries... but I digress). There is no harm in taking elderberry. If it keeps you from getting really sick, you won't need to see the doctor. Quarantine yourself and no harm done. Don't go to work with a contagious disease whether it's coronavirus or something else. If you do get really sick, then go seek medical attention.

    So how is elderberry a dangerous folk remedy, and dangerous to whom?
    Reply
  • mdr1022
    Not only does the NIH have supporting literature on the benefits of elderberry, but a host of others do as well, including the University of Maryland and the Israeli Defence Forces. There is literally no downside to taking elderberry syrup; it could possibly save a life, or at the very least, prevent severe illness. It was hugely irresponsible for the writer of this article to include elderberry when I am certain that she did zero research on its benefits. It has shown profound effectiveness against both influenza A and B, the common cold, and infectious bronchitis, which is caused by a chicken coronavirus.
    Reply
  • KJones
    Absolutely agree with everything said in previous comments, there're thousands of studies done on antivaral,antioxidant, immune-enchancing properties of Vitamin C alone. And having said that there's no vaccine, they still keep on stressing how it's wrong to use vitamins and herbs to increase the body's ability to fight the virus. Just stop regurgitating the same nonsense and start thinking rationally. And if you don't see the real science-backed research behind natural components, it doesn't mean there's none, it just means you chose to ignore it.
    Reply
  • Shirley49
    Anybody who is interested in taking large doses of Vitamin C by mouth should read the following article published in 1981, which is available online. "The Method of Determining Proper Doses of Vitamin C for the Treatment of Disease by Titrating to Bowel Tolerance" by Robert F. Cathcart III M.D.

    I have now been taking large doses of Vitamin C by mouth for several months as part of a strict weight-reducing diet. I feel my general health has improved, both because of substantial weight loss and because of the use of various Vitamin and Mineral supplements. I have no idea if gradually increasing the dosage of Vitamin C will help protect me from Coronavirus, but as I am elderly and have many health problems I feel I have nothing to lose. Bought In bulk, in powder form, both Ascorbic Acid and Sodium Ascorbate are still relatively cheap. The tablets are a rip off, at least in the UK.

    Another article of interest I have found is "Clinical Guide to the Use of Vitamin C" published 1988. This is a summary of the work of Frederick R. Klenner, M.D. by Lendon H. Smith M.D. It includes Dr Klenner's account of successfully treating many cases of viral pneumonia with large doses of Vitamin C.
    Reply
  • SCriscione
    To equate taking elderberry with drinking bleach is preposterous. The efficacy of elderberry, either as syrup or a tea made from dried berries,in dealing with flu, has been proven in randomized studies, as for example reported here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15080016
    I and several friends have been drinking elderberry tea every day for the last decade and, in sharp contrast to our past experience, have never during that period caught a cold or come down with flu; and one of those friends had been diagnosed with COPD. It may not work on all viruses, or it may, or it may work only on some, but it appears to have no side effects and it could be of great benefit in the current situation.

    Let me add: elderberry is a superb expectorant.
    Reply
  • Leithauser
    Here is a study on elderberry and the flu, showing that it is effective, and how and why. While coronavirus is not the flu, at least some of the effects of elderberry may still be effective, at least partially, against coronavirus.

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190423133644.htm
    Reply
  • MikeG
    Shirley49 said:
    Anybody who is interested in taking large doses of Vitamin C by mouth should read the following article published in 1981, which is available online. "The Method of Determining Proper Doses of Vitamin C for the Treatment of Disease by Titrating to Bowel Tolerance" by Robert F. Cathcart III M.D.

    I have now been taking large doses of Vitamin C by mouth for several months as part of a strict weight-reducing diet. I feel my general health has improved, both because of substantial weight loss and because of the use of various Vitamin and Mineral supplements. I have no idea if gradually increasing the dosage of Vitamin C will help protect me from Coronavirus, but as I am elderly and have many health problems I feel I have nothing to lose. Bought In bulk, in powder form, both Ascorbic Acid and Sodium Ascorbate are still relatively cheap. The tablets are a rip off, at least in the UK.

    Another article of interest I have found is "Clinical Guide to the Use of Vitamin C" published 1988. This is a summary of the work of Frederick R. Klenner, M.D. by Lendon H. Smith M.D. It includes Dr Klenner's account of successfully treating many cases of viral pneumonia with large doses of Vitamin C.
    Interesting Shirley49 :) Also, there's all Linus Pauling's research on Vitamin C - Thought some may dismiss Pauling's research & work, many do still use Vit C & Lysine to help with Vascular health. Whether he got it all 100% spot on or not is one thing, but I think his Vit C research has a something in it, for sure.
    Reply