Whenever health experts announce an impending disease outbreak, governments face unprecedented challenges to protect the citizens from lurking danger. Emergency budgets, resource re-allocation, and stringent measures to reduce the spread of infection are announced. However, instigating public health measures is not easy. You have seen, for example, people walking freely with no face masks, in overcrowded public gatherings, and complete disregard of all other public health measures.
Sometimes, governments are forced to employ the services of the police force to reinforce control measures, often attracting public outcry. But, does it have to be like this? No, it doesn’t. Join me as we explore our responsibilities to reduce the menace of covid-19, now and in the future.
Walking down memory lane: Infectious diseases in the human history
Infectious diseases have existed in human history. The first documented outbreak is the plague of Justinian (541-542), described as the worst outbreak at the time and killed at least 10% of the world population. The plague was closely followed by the bubonic plague, or “Black Death” (1347-1351). By this time, plague causative organism had been identified, a bacterium called Yersinia Pestis, and spread by infected fleas that were hosted by rodents. The plague got its name “Black Death” from the blackened skin of its victims from tissue necrosis (rotting). The infection is estimated to have wiped out over 25 million people, or about two-thirds of the European population. Other recorded disease outbreaks are the plague of Milan (1650 AD), the great plague of London (1650-1666 AD), and the plague of Marseilles (1720-1722 AD).
In the 20th Century, three major worldwide epidemics are on record. The Spanish influenza of 1918, the Asia Flu of 1957, and the Hong Kong influenza of 1968. The Spanish flu, described as the world’s most deadly outbreak, lasted for 15 months and claimed over 100 million people. The figures may be under-estimated given the primitive records keeping.
The medieval approach to infectious disease containment
Hippocrates (460-377 BC) was the first to recognize that diseases did not occur due to spiritual or supernatural causes but from the relationship of a person to the climate, soil, water, mode of life, and nutrition. He coined the terms endemic and epidemics to different diseases that were common in a population from those that were sporadic but affected a large population, respectively. A lot of effort was used to understand the causes of diseases. In the middle of the 15th Century Andreas Vesalius ( 1514-1564 ) based on the dissection of human bodies, concluded that infectious diseases were contagious and passed from one person to another. However, measures to control the spread were limited to; quarantine and disposal of bodies and their belonging, presumably contaminated.
For instance, during the plague outbreaks, though the population of rats and fleas was noted to have increased, no connection to the disease was made. Again, from biblical times, leprosy was known as a contagious disease. To prevent it from spreading, lepers were forcefully ejected from society and were required to carry a bell to warn others of their presence. There is documented evidence indicating that priests would hold “mass prayers of separation” and lepers would be left standing near graves presumed to be “dead”. Today, despite scientific and technological advancements, infectious diseases continue to invade the human population and communities worldwide, breaking economies and livelihoods.
A case in point is the Covid-19 pandemic that has continued unrelenting in the past 25 months.
The modern-day threats of infectious diseases and control measures
In December 0f 2019, a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 virus) was reported at Wuhan, in China. By March 2020, most countries in the world had reported cases of Covid-19, and measures to control the infection instigated with; lockdowns, border closures, cessation of international air travels, ban on all public gatherings including places of worship, and a work from home policy became the “new normal”. However, the infection has not budged and has metamorphosed into multiple variants challenging scientists who are continually looking for ways to bring it to an end. So far, global statistics as of January 13th indicate that there were 315,345,967 confirmed cases and 5,510,174 deaths worldwide. It is not a small number, and we should be worried.
The transmission of covid-19 infection is from secretions of infected people shed through the mouth and nose as liquid droplets during coughs, sneeze, talk, or breathe. The secretions are passed from one person to another infecting them. When secretions fall on surfaces, uninfected people touch them contaminating their face, nose, and mouth.
Adherence to simple measures adequately implemented can halt the spread of the virus and flatten the soaring curve. Science is clear about pathways to control the infection, therefore, we must identify the missing link and take full responsibility.
Individual Public Health Measures to institute and mitigate the scourge of Covid-19
- Build a robust immune system
The immune system is a major player in infectious diseases control. It is the defense mechanism that looks out for invasions and curtails. Without a properly functioning immune system, our bodies would be weak and we could fall sick often. There are several things that you can adapt to maintain a healthy immune system; being active, eating a nutritious and balanced diet, managing stress, and adequate sleep are just a few components of a healthy lifestyle.
- Improve sanitation
There are cardinal factors that aid infectious diseases to spread rapidly. Living in an unhygienic environment infected with insects and small animals like rodents is very risky. History is explicit that most infectious diseases occurred in the most populous and unhygienic conditions. Access to clean water, proper disposal of human waste, clearing bushes around homesteads, cough etiquette, and appropriate personal hygiene are examples of measures that minimize risks of infectious diseases. You must be conscious of your environment and reduce threats from unkempt surroundings.
- Acquire health education
We cannot understate the critical role of public health education. Whenever an outbreak occurs, there is a lot of misinformation and myths that disfigure the actual health information. Your responsibility is to seek knowledge and dispel misinformation with facts. It is important to visit reputable health websites where you are likely to get authentic data of the outbreak. Worldwide webs like CDC, WHO, UN, government, Ministries of health, and local authority websites are most reliable. Get the current statistics, evaluate situations and understand the diseases processes, risks, and how to stop the spread. Educate your family members and dispel any misinformation. Be a role model.
- Restrict your travel
Past and present disease outbreaks have similar characteristics. Infections tended to travel through trade routes and were more intensive in urban areas. This is due to the movement of people either in search of jobs in cities, or trade. Human interaction is a major culprit that is constant in all infectious diseases and therefore a major prevention strategy. During an outbreak of infectious diseases, travels should be limited to bare essentials. This is because every infection has an incubation period before symptoms manifest. With increased travel, risks of disease spreading to new areas is very common apparently from “healthy-looking individuals”. As well, if you must travel, plan your journey such that you have put measures to minimize interactions.
- Adherence to basic control measures instituted by your government
Every time an outbreak occurs, measures to contain the spread are released to the public. With Covid-19, there are basic guidelines that everyone should adopt. You are told to wear face masks, wash hands often, or sanitize when handwashing facilities are unavailable, not to touch your face, eyes, and mouth, keep a safe distance, avoid crowded places, and avoid unnecessary travels. From a scientific perspective, viral diseases can spread rapidly causing massive infections and death in their wake. However, ample evidence supports that virus loses their potency with increasing distance emphasis the role of social distancing.
- Seek medical care immediately you recognize symptoms
Early health-seeking is associated with great benefits. First, the disease is diagnosed and treated before complications set in reducing the overall cost of treatment and disability. Take, for example, tuberculosis and HIV, both infectious diseases. Early treatment reduces the risks of transmitting the infection and has fewer sick days.
- Isolate and quarantine
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the terms isolation and quarantine are mentioned very frequently. Isolation is the practice of separating the infected person from those not infected so that cross-infection is limited. When in isolation, health care workers provide care as per the clinical guidelines for the specific disease taking precautions not to get infected.
On the other hand, quarantine describes the practice of confining a person suspected of being in contact with an infected individual in their own home or other premises for a specified duration. When in quarantine, the person can continue with their normal work so long as they do not interact with others. To monitor diseases symptoms, the person is required to take their temperatures and look out for other disease-related symptoms and report to authorities for prompt action. It is important that when in quarantine, you observe all the rules.
- Get vaccinated
Vaccination, we cannot overemphasize the importance of. Diseases like polio, measles, smallpox, and tuberculosis are deadly and have caused untold suffering in human history but their impact is reduced significantly through vaccination. Vaccines work by activating the immune system against a specific disease. During a pandemic, when health experts have developed an effective vaccine against the infection, the public must be prompt in acquiring the vaccine, actively participating in the control of the infection. Vaccination is cost-effective and accessible.
- Be an advocate
It is needless if you acquire knowledge and fail to share it. When family members and friends cannot gain knowledge about the infection and only rely on hearsays, be an advocate. Take the initiative to educate them on facts about the disease, help them understand how they can protect themselves and others. When a vaccine is made available, lead by example, take the jab.
No pandemic can come to a conclusive end without our joint efforts. It is your turn now. I appreciate your feedback. To leave a comment, scroll to the end of the page. Enter the comment and post.