I am NOT a medical expert. I’m not a doctor, an immunologist; I’m not even a licensed ambulance attendant any more. So when I tell you things about a viral outbreak, you should take them with a grain of salt. (So to speak. I’m also not a pharmacist.)
But when I talk about panic, you should listen to me. When I tell you about history, you should listen. And when anyone else who is not an immunologist starts making you panic about this illness, you should take what they say with a grain of salt — the same as you should with me.
The present profit model of 24-hour news channels is infotainment. They exist because we watch, and we watch because they make it appear that they have something to say. One of the ways they do this is sensationalizing what little actual news there is and making up stories where it isn’t news.
(This is not a revolutionary statement; it’s simple fact, and it’s been commonly accepted for years now. If you want to debate me, first read the article I linked here and then post a Comment. Otherwise, just accept it as fact and move ahead.)
As a result, whenever there’s an oncoming storm, the media cranks it up to eleven and blasts for all it’s worth — because that’s where the money is. As a result, anything you hear is already blown far out of proportion. And so it is insane to take any news story and panic based on its contents without first checking it both factually and for bias.
(The sole exception is a storm warning: Tornadoes do their own spin. Take cover, then check with the National Weather Service.)
Besides: A panicked response is rarely the wise one. If you’re at high risk, take precautions; if you’re not, you probably don’t need to stockpile surgical masks. Which in this instance probably won’t be much use, incidentally; gloves are more to the point, and you shouldn’t touch your face. Sure, you can buy extra canned goods; that’s not a problem. If you don’t use them, they’ll keep.
Nature is at war all around us. It’s slow but constant, and we’re unaware. Pine needles drop and kill the grass; maple leaves are toxic; acorns are too tannic to be tasty. Trees engage in nasty chemical warfare, birches wiping out pines and oaks replacing the birches in turn. The giant redwoods in California are said to be a recent invasive species, unknown a thousand years ago.
It’s easy to picture with trees and grass and bugs, less so with viruses and immunity, but it’s the same basic idea. When animals overpopulate, they become sickly, and plagues sweep through — and humans are animals. We invent sanitation and think ourselves wonderful, but you’ll note that the great hunting cats don’t foul their own dens; ants and bees dispose of their dead outside the hill and hive. We’re proud of our medicines, but they tell us cats eat grass as a purgative. Even our antibiotics are derived from natural fungi.
So when a particularly nasty plague comes by — of course you don’t want to catch it, just as you wouldn’t want the flu. That’s fine for individual people; keep your kids home from school if you like, stay home from work, and so on.
But as a species, this is the way we develop immunities. We catch a sickness, our bodies fight it, and we either get stronger or weaker. Either the disease wins or we do — and, if we win, the disease usually retreats and adapts until it’s time to sweep through again. Over time, we as a population will periodically face a plague we cannot defeat with our own antibodies, at which time sterner measures are called for.
This is not one of those plagues. It’s an up-jumped cold — potentially deadly, yes, but not something that’s going to annihilate the species. But that’s not history; it’s something we know right now.
What We Know Right Now
This particular virus is durable on surfaces. It’s not classically airborne; it can survive in water droplets (as from a cough), but generally one needs to actually transfer it physically to one’s face in order to catch it. Since it can infect fabric, carpet, et cetera for a long period, and since it can be spread by people who aren’t obviously ill, there’s no easy way to prevent its spread. As a result, we’re facing a candidate for a pandemic, where the entire world’s population is vulnerable.
However, it’s not particularly deadly in and of itself. Those with weakened lungs may well find it difficult to recover, and it will cause lesions and then scarring inside the lungs of the infected, but it’s not much more likely to kill than a bad flu. It is, however, highly inconvenient, and if you catch it you should take basic precautions: Isolate yourself until it has run its course, and seek medical attention if it’s severe. If you live with other people, try not to be stupid.
I’m not inventing this. I got it from this handout from the CDC. Read it and learn.
See? Now you know more than you did, and you’re not panicking so much as you were. That’s what news is supposed to be for. Forget CNN and the States of Emergency, at least until someone asks you to do something; just go about your life and don’t panic.
Worst case scenario, you’ll catch this and have a chance of dying. Or you could get hit by a bus, or drive on the Capital Beltway, or walk through the wrong neighborhood. There’s a story on record of a woman being struck by a meteorite lying in her bed at home, so even that isn’t completely safe.
The morals of this story: Don’t let fear prevent you from living your life. If you get sick (which you probably will), be courteous and stay home. And above all: Don’t panic.