SARS And Our Behavior

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Man has successfully survived countless natural disasters and deadly epidemics, even pandemics, for thousands and thousands of years. Our existence on this planet Earth today is a testament to our intelligence, tenacity, grit, fortitude, resolve, and adaptability as a species.

I have great confidence that the onslaught of killer SARS upon our civilization will once again bring out in us those indomitable natural instincts and man's greatest qualities in facing a formidable challenge that threatens our very survival.

One of our strengths as a genus is our ability to adapt to our environment to protect our life, which, in our case today, is endangered by a virulent, capricious and potentially deadly virus that has infected almost 7548 people and killed more than 573 in 26 countries around the world as of May 13, 2003.

To cope up with the dire situation, while our determined scientists scramble for a cure for, and a vaccine against, SARS, we, the rest of humanity, should resort to our instinctive weapons of behavioral changes together with the scientific information we have, and aim them at the target, to evade, pre-empt and defeat the SARS invaders.

Behavioral modification is not easy to implement. Old habits, no matter how bad they may be, are not easy to break. But if we have enough incentive (like fear of a deadly disease or death itself), most, if not all, humans will rapidly opt to adopt behavioral changes, if only to stay healthy and alive. This is especially true of those with loved ones to live for.

The SARS victims in Hong Kong are a good example that old habits are not easy to break, even in the face of danger. Of the 368 confirmed SARS cases in a hospital in Hong Kong, 55 % are nurses, 30% are attendants, nursing assistants, etc, and 15% are physicians. Obviously, in spite of fear, vigilance, and medical precautions, there were breaches of procedures and unguarded moments when bad habits slipped through to allow contamination among these hospital staffs.

Part of the changes in our daily life, or new habits (for many of us) to form in order to win the SARS War (because we do not know if there are SARS carriers around us) are as follows:

  1. Washing our hands as many times as possible daily, after touching objects other people have touched, like credit cards, money, public hand rails, door knobs, countertops, etc.; upon arrival at the work place or hotel or home; before eating or handling food; after going to the bathroom; after taking the garbage out, after changing the baby's diaper; after doing household chores, etc.; and, taking a shower every day, or more often.
  2. When in public places, being extra-conscious (but not overly) to avoid touching anything with the bare hands: handrails, doorknobs, tabletops, seats, and any objects other people could have touched. The SARS virus survives on inanimate objects for 4 days, not hours as earlier thought, and is contagious by droplet infection (like touching contaminated objects then touching the face).
  3. Avoiding borrowing or sharing pens, pagers, cell phones, etc. with strangers; don't use pens in the stores, pharmacies, banks, etc.
  4. Avoiding touching your face, eyes, nose, mouth, without washing your hands first. Our hands are one of the potentially dirtiest parts of our body, unless washed properly and often.
  5. Wearing a mask (preferably N95) only when near a confirmed or suspected case of SARS, otherwise, washing your hands will do more good than psyching up yourself and others with a mask. Remember SARS is not transmitted airborne.
  6. Using alcohol or antibacterial hand gels or waterless sanitizing hand wipes often, when there are no facilities for hand washing.
  7. Using any of the following disinfectants daily for cleaning public facilities and our home, like the bathroom, kitchen, table, chairs, floors, etc. which have been found to be effective against the SARS virus: bleach, ethanol (drinking alcohol), phenol, formaldehyde, paraformaldehyde.
  8. Staying away from people with colds or flu or any febrile illness, especially during the first few days of their ailment because they are most contagious at that stage; encouraging them to wear a mask.
  9. Covering our face with facial tissue or a handkerchief when coughing or sneezing, and encourage people around us to do the same.
  10. Postponing non-essential travels to the SARS countries, like China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Viet Nam (in spite of the WHO advisory that cleared Canada and Viet Nam). Until science knows for sure that relapses among those who recovered from SARS do not occur (that these individuals will never be potentially infectious again), we must stay away from these people.
  11. Consulting a physician immediately, and avoiding close contact with family members and friends, if you develop a cough, with fever, malaise, with or without shortness of breath; and, using a mask, until your physicians clears you.
  12. A little defensive paranoia is healthy in this current situation. But don't panic. Stay calm. And vigilant. Man is smarter than the viruses. We will defeat the SARS virus too, in due time. But first, we have to use our brain and our wisdom, and we must be appropriately disciplined to adapt to the existing challenges to succeed in wiping out SARS from our planet. Business as usual is out, at least for a while. This, we must accept.
  13. Finally, we must remember that Sensible Adaptive Responses Succeed and that Success Always Requires Sacrifices! That's fighting SARS with SARS. A prescription for victory.
©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.