Pandemics!!! Our Ancestors Panicked, Should We?

From the Antonine Plague of 165 to 180 AD to the Black Death of 1346 to 1353 which is believed to have reduced the world population by 20%, the human race has battled the enormous effect of tiny, invisible yet pandemic-causing viruses or bacteria on human health, economy, mobility and relationships. In the face of the uncertainty and increased levels of stress and anxiety associated with pandemics, fear and panic are natural responses as people try to figure out ways of adjusting to life, staying safe, and protecting loved ones. As part of our coping mechanism to things we do not understand that threaten our safety and health, and as a result of poor availability or unreliability of available information, we have over the course of existence, tended to gullibly accept and make not-so-smart decisions on unfounded beliefs or any new piece of “reassuring” information about the pandemic, and this often complicates the situation. For instance, during the Black Death of the 14th century, people attributed the disease to causes such as planetary movements, God’s punishment, miasma, and quite interestingly, wearing pointed shoes. The Spanish flu of 1918 – 1920, which had people dying in their thousands, saw individuals (though acting on expert’s advice) consuming high doses of aspirin for treatment. It was later reported that some deaths could have been as a result of aspirin poisoning rather than the flu itself. Another prevailing belief was that dogs spread the disease, and that led to the unfortunate massacre of thousands of dogs and other pets.

Is this peculiar to our ancestors? No.

Panic and irrational decisions remain consistent as responses to disease outbreaks. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak of West Africa, a hoax surfaced online suggesting that consuming and bathing with salt and hot water would prevent and cure the disease. Soon enough, at least 20 people were hospitalized, and 2 dead after excessive salt consumption in Plateau state which is over 1000 kilometers from Lagos where confirmed cases of Ebola were isolated. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO), has affected over 3 million people and directly claimed over 200,000 lives. With speculations that chloroquine, a known antimalaria can prevent and treat coronavirus, it is sad, however not surprising, to hear of two people being hospitalized for chloroquine poisoning in Lagos. Despite stern warnings by health authorities, people have been stocking up on chloroquine in the country and in many parts of the world. A rather unfortunate case was also reported of an old couple in the United States, who added a spoonful of their fish tank cleaner to their drinks because it is labelled to contain chloroquine. Sadly, only the wife survived to tell the tale. In addition to chloroquine consumption, there are other unfounded, similarly harmful COVID-19 panic-induced beliefs and behaviours, such as the claim that black people are immune to COVID-19 because of the melanin in their skin, spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body, having a hot bath, eating onions, rinsing your nose with saline and drinking alcohol. Although some beliefs, like eating garlic and drinking lots of water are good habits in themselves, others are just unimaginable, such as placing onions at the corners of your house. While panic may be a natural response to outbreaks, we must apply the lessons from history to avoid repeating them. Here are three things we suggest you do at this time:
  1. Stay Calm: Take a few deep breaths and stay calm. Panics can be contagious. Don’t follow the crowd. Don’t subscribe to panic, you make better decisions when you are calm.
  2. Get information from the relevant authorities only: Seek information, but only from the right sources. The Nigerian Center for Disease Control (NCDC) website offers up-to-date information on the source of the outbreak, what to do if you have symptoms, and precautions to take. The WHO has a page dedicated to busting myths and a live dashboard for those interested in the statistics.
  3. Follow expert advice: This is the time to take experts’ advice seriously for your own sake, for the safety of your loved ones and people around you. The following will help:
  • Stay home: Staying home is the safest thing to do at this time, as you limit contact with others and reduce the potential for disease transmission
  • Practice social distancing: If you absolutely need to go out, keep at least 2 meters away from people whether or not they show symptoms. Avoid hugs, handshakes and other forms of physical contact
  • Wash your hands regularly. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you cannot access water for handwashing
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Isolate yourself if you have a fever, cough, sore throat and difficulty in breathing, or have been in contact with someone positive for the virus, and contact NCDC on their toll-free line 080097000010 immediately.
Lastly, history teaches us that this pandemic will be over. Humanity has so far survived every microbe that has jumped the species barrier, and we will survive this one. So, don’t panic. Avoid being caught in the web of uncertified information and irrational actions. The consequences of irrational choices could be more fatal than the infection itself. Written by Abayomi Adeosun Reviewed by Folake Oni

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