The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday declared the rapidly spreading Coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, acknowledging what has seemed clear for some time — the virus will likely spread to all countries on the globe. And, as we heard during the recent presidential address, the news at home is not good.
My colleagues across the country and I remain very concerned. While some people might say we are overreacting, there is no doubt that what we are learning about this potentially lethal and highly contagious virus is alarming and warrants our utmost attention. The Coronavirus is the flu on steroids and although 80% of patients will have good outcomes, there are many others who may very well need hospitalization and some ICU care. The elderly, individuals with cardiopulmonary problems or are immunosuppressed, like many of my multiple sclerosis patients, are the most vulnerable – but it is clear that we are all at risk.
We are in contact with many medical professionals working on the ground in the health care crisis in Italy and the news there is also of great concern with thousands affected as the spread of the virus exponentially escalates. And as you may have read, the entire country is now on lockdown and their medical system is overwhelmed with a need for more ventilators and ICU beds.
One of the doctors shared this week, “There are two reasons why Coronavirus has brought Italy to its knees. First, it is a flu that is devastating. When people get really sick, they need weeks of ICU and, second, because of how fast and effectively it spreads. There is a two-week incubation period and many people who may already be affected never show symptoms."
Now all of us in America are watching as more and more cases are reported. Testing has not been readily available so the truth is that we really have no idea about the number of current actual cases. There is some discussion from scientists that immunity to Coronavirus may not happen and re-infection can occur. We have to hope this doesn’t occur, use the resources that are made available to us and potentially look to the effects of ‘herd immunity’, whereby the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population takes hold if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are or become immune. Yes, this is a virus that has 'been around’ for a while, but many in the medical community believe this may be a mutated and much more aggressive form.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIAID-NIH), issued a disturbing warning during a White House briefing Tuesday: “Americans everywhere need to change the way they live their lives. Right now. Officials must pull the trigger on aggressive interventions. Time matters. Two weeks of delay can mean the difference between success and failure. Public health experts learned this in 1918 when the Spanish flu killed 50 million to 100 million people around the globe. If we fail to take action, we will watch our health-care system be overwhelmed."
At this time we can expect a doubling of cases every six days based on several epidemiological studies. Confirmed cases may appear to rise faster (or slower) in the short term as diagnostic capabilities are ramped up (or not), but this is how fast we can expect actual new cases to rise in the absence of substantial mitigation measures.
Last night we learned too that the NBA has suspended all further games in the wake of learning that one team’s player for the Utah Jazz has now tested positive. Large public events around the country are being canceled or postponed, universities are suspending classes and going to online instruction for the immediate future. The much-beloved Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, after testing positive for the virus announced that they are in self-quarantine now. And these are just a few items in the news with the great likelihood of more to follow.
So are we ‘overreacting’? I don’t think so. For now, I believe that exercising caution should be combined with a good measure of common sense practices including ‘social distancing’
(e.g. avoid crowds, large public gatherings), staying at home if you are sick and, of course, contacting your primary care physician for their guidance specific to your individual health.
Unwarranted panic does no one any good and is definitely not good for our brains. But neither does ill-informed complacency help us in any way. Sadly, American citizens have not been shared the truth once again and as someone once said, "If courage is contagious, ignorance is pandemic.”
Beginning the week of March 16, 2020, I will only be seeing patients remotely until further notice and have encouraged the rest of my clinic to consider doing the same. Of course, we will continue to be available for patient questions and any concerns so please do not hesitate to contact us by phone or email, information for which is readily available on our website as well as on our social media sites (Gazda Integrative Neurology) where we will also post any updates as they arise.
Remember, we are in this together and the power of love is truly a healing force. Let us pray and send the energetic force of love, empathy and compassion to all. And keep in mind that history has shown us we can get through the most difficult times when we face adversity as one.
Dr. Suzy Gazda