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Nidhal Guessoum: Situation with coronavirus shows people lack basic medical knowledge

22:07 | 05.03.2020 | Analytic

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5 March 2020. PenzaNews. The outbreak of COVID-19 and panic around its rapid spread have demonstrated a lack of basic medical knowledge among residents of different countries, says a professor at the American University in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, Nidhal Guessoum in his article “Coronavirus outbreak exposes need for scientific literacy” published in foreign media.

Nidhal Guessoum: Situation with coronavirus shows people lack basic medical knowledge

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“Serious and sometimes unprecedented measures are being taken in many places [to fight the coronavirus], including the quarantining of entire cities and the cancelations of numerous flights and events. People are scared and, in such cases, rumors of all kinds spread fast and add to the confusion and the irrational behavior. One of the most dangerous ideas being shared on social media is the falsely claimed efficacy of some seeds and other ‘traditional’ treatments,” the article says.

At the same time, others are dismissing the epidemic as much less dangerous than the flu and recommend to just “keep calm, be rational and let the storm pass,” he says.

“This is where the importance of ‘scientific literacy’ manifests itself. Scientific literacy is the minimum scientific knowledge that all citizens need to have in order to deal with today’s world, where it is important, sometimes vitally so, to know the difference between a virus and a bacterium, what type of radiation is dangerous, what genetic modifications do to organisms, the characteristics of vitamins, vaccines, […] and many more such topics,” Nidhal Guessoum explains.

“For many years I have been campaigning for the dissemination, promotion and study of scientific literacy in our part of the world. There are regular, extensive studies in a number of countries, mostly in the West but also in places like Malaysia, but very little, if any, work has been done on this subject in the Arab world,” the professor adds.

In his opinion, the coronavirus has just exposed the public’s lack of basic knowledge and understanding of viruses, bacteria, vaccines, prevention measures and treatments.

“Virus is a biological ‘agent’ that invades a cell and reproduces inside it making numerous copies of itself at a very high rate. Because a virus doesn’t reproduce by itself, it is usually not considered a living organism. In contrast, a bacterium is a single-cell organism that does not have a nucleus but does reproduce by splitting into two identical daughter cells. Most importantly, bacteria that invade our bodies and organs can be killed using antibiotic drugs, but these cannot be used against viruses, which are dealt with using antiviral medications,” the expert reminds.

“It is also important to know that our “immune system,” which is a complex system of cells and proteins in our body, naturally combats foreign and dangerous infections, whether bacteria or viruses. It keeps track and records information about past “invaders” so that it can quickly and easily destroy them the next time they invade our bodies. And that is how almost half of the people who have so far been infected by the coronavirus have recovered, as there are as yet no drugs that can effectively be used against COVID-19,” Nidhal Guessoum says.

Moreover, according to him, it’s important for people to understand how the coronavirus is different from flu.

“Both attack our respiratory system and produce similar symptoms: coughing, sneezing, headaches, etc., but the flu is rarely so severe as to require hospitalization, whereas the coronavirus is much more potent,” the author notes.

“But here’s what is confusing people: it is widely reported that the flu kills tens of thousands of people each year. In the US, the 2018–2019 flu season affected 35 million people, led to 490,000 hospitalizations, and killed 34,000 people. Looking at the flu hospitalization and death numbers, the coronavirus looks like a much smaller disaster. However, the ratio of flu deaths to infection cases is very small – 0.1 percent, likewise for hospitalizations of 1.5 percent, whereas the coronavirus death rate is about 3 percent and the hospitalization rate is between 10 and 20 percent,” the professor explains.

According to him, the coronavirus death numbers are still much lower than the flu’s only because, so far, it has been relatively contained.

“If, however, the virus starts to spread more widely and quickly across the globe – a bona fide pandemic, our lack of an available and effective treatment may lead to calamitous consequences in fatalities, economic activity and other areas of society,” the expert stresses.

In his opinion, an epidemic can only be stopped by following effective, albeit simple, rules.

“It is hoped that the coronavirus will be [further] contained and most people will either not catch it or have their immune system successfully overcome it. In that case, the spread will slow down and the crisis will subside and die down within a few months. In the meantime, everyone should follow the basic hygiene prescription to prevent further contaminations: Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; not touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoiding contact with people who exhibit characteristic symptoms; cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces,” Nidhal Guessoum explains.

“To go back to the importance of scientific literacy in general, and particularly in such cases, I call upon experts – physicians, biologists and scientists – in our region to participate more in the efforts that must be made to inform and educate the public. […] to dispel misconceptions. It is not only our role as scientists, educators […], it is our responsibility in such times of need,” the author concludes.

On December 31, 2019, authorities in the People’s Republic of China informed the World Health Organization (WHO) about an outbreak of unknown pneumonia in Wuhan, in the central part of the country (Hubei Province).

On January 7, 2020, experts established the infecting agent of the disease – coronavirus 2019-nCoV.

On January 30, WHO declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and on February 11 assigned the official name to the form of pneumonia that this virus causes: COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019).

According to the PRC State Health Commission, as of March 5, 80,565 cases of the disease were registered. During the day, the increase amounted to 143 cases, or 0.2%.

The largest number of cases was registered in Hubei Province: 67 thousand 466 people, or 83.7% of all cases. The increase per day was 134 cases.

Most cases of the disease occur in mild form, about 7.4% – in severe form. Mortality is 3.7%; Outside Hubei Province – 0.86%.

As of March 5, the total number of cases in the world is 95 thousand 375 people. The increase per day is 2,292 cases, or 2.5%. In 79 countries of the world outside the PRC 14,810 cases were registered. The increase is 2,149 cases, or 17%.

Over the past day, for the first time, cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Poland, Slovenia and Hungary.

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