Home Susan Yerkes When a virus goes viral

When a virus goes viral


There’s a new virus in town, one that’s going viral both on the ground and in the media. It’s two pandemics in one – a rapidly spreading illness, and a panic pandemonium making things worse.

Experts say this virus isn’t going away soon. Maybe the panic will subside sooner.

When COVID-19, the novel coronavirus disease, started making daily headlines a couple of months ago, I stayed calm. I didn’t “survival shop,” didn’t order masks or scam “cures” on Amazon, and didn’t lock my door and isolate.

At first, it was somewhat remote, like Ebola, severe acute respiratory or Middle East respiratory syndromes – bad viruses incubating in another part of the world, unlikely to reach my Texas comfort zone. Back in those halcyon days, the biggest local worry prompted by the virus was how some Fiesta medals might not arrive because of work stoppages in China.     

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started shipping planeloads of refugees from tainted cruise ships to quarantine at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, I figured our splendid military medical folks could handle it just fine. No fear here.

Then, I found out how easily I could be rattled. My first trip into a state of “viral anxiety” arrived unannounced in February, when I was part of a small group interviewing applicants for a job with my homeowners association. A candidate was noticeably ill.

The applicant shook, perspired and had feverish spots on the forehead and cheeks. When the candidate blocked a cough with a hand, I almost jumped out of my chair. The minute the candidate left the room, all of us lunged for cleaning supplies and proceeded to wipe down every surface in the room.

No one got sick. But, just for a few minutes, we had caught viral anxiety.   

I’m no germophobe. However, I couldn’t forget what my doctor friends had been telling me: The absence of positive tests for COVID-19 may say more about the absence of testing than about the spread of the virus. Some opined the window of time for real containment had closed. Also, in spite of the excellent job local leaders have done in slowing an outbreak, community spread has begun.   

The good news is many folks who get the virus will have mild symptoms or none they recognize. The bad: They can unwittingly transmit it with a hug or a handshake, or even on a table they’ve touched. Back to good news: Plain old soap and water kills it.   

I don’t find it comforting to think some 25,000 to 50,000 or more Americans die of the flu in most years despite relatively effective vaccinations for many strains. So far, COVID-19 appears deadlier. No vaccine exists and humans haven’t developed collective immunities.

We may have to tolerate quarantines and cancellations, and go without ocean cruises. We may have to live with more uncertainty about everything, from the state of the stock market to the state of our personal and collective health.

Perhaps the most powerful thing we can do individually is to stay positive. Remain home if you’re sick. Don’t put others at risk. Get a flu shot. If you’re over 65, get the pneumonia vaccination. Remember to breathe. If you have trouble breathing and a fever, call your doctor.

I recently saw my physician for a regular checkup. The sign on her exam-room wall said it all: “Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands.”


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