Infectious diseases have been a scourge of mankind since time immemorial. I am a keen reader of history, and anyone who does so, knows that infections have not only caused billions of deaths and untold suffering—but have also brought down kings, armies, empires, and entire civilizations. Previous pandemics have literally changed the course of human history. The one we now face in 2020s America thankfully falls at a time of unprecedented medical and technological advancements. Up until only 100 years ago, average life expectancy hovered shockingly around the 20s to 40s in most countries—not least because there were no antibiotics or public sanitation. Even the simplest of infections could kill you. Nevertheless, despite us living in comparatively comfortable times in the west, the consequences of this coronavirus pandemic are still very real and dangerous. For our—and our loved ones—health, wellness, and economic futures. As we battle this invisible enemy at the frontlines, I find myself at the forefront of this war as a hospital physician. The infectivity of this particular virus and speed at which transmission is occurring is astonishing.
Here I’d like to pause for a moment and bring up one potential positive future outcome of this terrible crisis. The latest evidence is suggesting that all of the drastic public health measures that are being pushed, do appear to be working to contain the spread. And that’s where I see some cause for hope. Remember that even in 2020, infectious diseases are still a scourge of society. Millions die worldwide every year. Even if we take an illness like seasonal influenza, the CDC estimates that 650,000 people lose their lives annually. In the United States, that number stands at 60,000 Americans who die each year from the flu. Most respiratory viral infections spread the same way. Compared to two months ago, how much more societal awareness is there now about the importance of:
- Regular hand washing
- Not touching your face
- Disinfecting surfaces
- Taking particular care around the vulnerable; elderly and those with chronic conditions
Just think what would happen if we continue these measures in some form (not so much the six-foot social distancing, which can’t realistically last forever). But the above four simple tactics. How many millions of lives will be saved in the upcoming years? This is my hope: That we must never forget some of the basic infection spread lessons of this 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
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