Barely one-fifth of the ongoing century has passed, but the scenario is already projecting a gloomy forecast of the future. The list of viruses humankind has come across in the recent past is getting longer, starting with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to Dengue, Nipah, Zika, Ebola, Chikungunya, etc. and eventually leading all the way to today's coronavirus.
For the last few weeks, people are coming across words like 'home quarantine', 'institutional quarantine', 'self-quarantine,' 'isolation' and so on with a good number of them possibly not understanding any of them adequately.
'Home quarantine' refers to solitary confinement inside a room where access should be denied to anyone for 14 days at a stretch. During this period, food and other essentials to the person in quarantine have to be supplied keeping an optimum distance. Ensuring this on one's own accord would be defined as 'self-quarantine'.
'Institutional quarantine' means the exact thing under close institutional supervision in speculated health facilities like hospitals. Meanwhile, the term 'isolation' or 'medical isolation' points towards similar close institutional supervision of a person certifiably diagnosed with the disease and is under treatment.
In addition, 'contact tracing' is defined as the process of finding out all persons who might have come in contact with the patient diagnosed. The person/s identified to be fitting the aforementioned description considered in contact tracing has/have to be taken in quarantine (home or institutional) immediately even if found asymptomatic.
Reliable, affordable and globally available vaccines might take considerable time to be widely available. Unless people themselves are sufficiently cautious, they are pretty much likely to get caught off guard. It is high time that everyone put cent per cent of their effort on preventing rather than repenting later.
Everyone should realise the true intention behind the nationwide closure and stay home unless absolute urgency pops up. Absolute urgency means urgent medical attention or the dire necessity to replenish the urgent daily essentials. It does not include invitations or any sort of urge to join political, social, cultural or religious gatherings. Going out would best be featuring a mask (better be N95 respirator) in addition to a relentless quest to avoid any public gatherings at any cost.
Given the current situation, everyone can use the good habit of washing hands with water and soap. But washing hands has to be frequent and lengthened (at least 20 seconds) by all means. Meanwhile, using tissue papers or handkerchiefs, or at least the face of the elbow while sneezing or coughing is encouraged. Besides, it is also high time that everybody shunned the bad habit of nail-biting, counting cash or turning book pages and any such habit that includes putting fingers in mouth, nose or eyes.
This airborne virus can spread via coughs, sneezes, mucus, saliva etc. of the affected person and nobody knows who might get affected. The virus can enter via nostrils, oral cavity and eye corners with sneeze droplets and reach its destination in the human respiratory tract to replicate. So, 'social distancing' has to be ensured through keeping the least inter-person distance at 1 metre or 3 feet always.
Furthermore, greetings with handshakes, hugs or embraces and anything else featuring physical touches should be avoided. It is better to heat items coming in the proximity of a patient or the ones coming home from outside (including dresses, belongings, groceries etc.) at 60º C temperature or boil them in water of equal temperature.
Love of eating raw or half-boiled foods (eggs, grilled, barbecued or smoked meat or fish, especially of 'bushmeat') has to be abandoned at any cost. To boost up the natural immunity, everyone should eat seasonal fruits, especially the citrus ones and fresh green leafy vegetables.
In the end, it can be said that it is time to rephrase what Greek sophist Socrates once said "know thyself" into "save thyself". Just like questing for knowledge about self is the best knowledge, similarly, questing for saving self is the best possible defense right now given the current circumstance.
Since there is no effective antiviral drug to cure it as of now, would it not be better to prevent the disease with awareness and precautions than trying to cure it after getting infected as a result of carelessness with a heightened risk of things going out of hand for the individual, for the society as well as for the country?
The writer is the Head of the Department of Microbiology, Sheikh Sayera Khatun Medical College, Gopalganj, Bangladesh.