Saving the lives of those most at risk from the pandemic | Opinion
In November, the world heard of the first cases of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) emerging from the Hubei province of China. On January 20, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a public health emergency.
The virus is a part of the respiratory coronavirus family that causes the common cold, and more recently caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic. The common symptoms of Covid-19 include fever, tiredness, and dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, aches and pains, and in some cases diarrhoea, nausea, and a runny nose. Early studies indicate that almost 85% of those infected suffer from mild disease, while 15% require hospitalisation, and 5% need intensive care. About 1-3% may succumb to the infection.
Typically, it is the older adults (over 60 years) with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes (especially if poorly-controlled), hypertension, and heart disease who are most vulnerable to the virus. There is a three-to-four times higher risk of poor outcomes in this category of people. The infection’s principal target being the lungs, people with chronic lung disease are also susceptible.
So what can people with diabetes do to remain safe? First, maintain meal timings. Second, maintain a healthy and nutritious diet and stay hydrated. Diets must include adequate vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants. Sunlight or supplements will enable adequate Vitamin D level, since food is a poor source. They must include a variety of fresh and unprocessed foods such as vegetables and fruits. Ensuring adequate protein is also important. Sugar and refined carbohydrates are best avoided and healthy fats must be used, instead of transfats or saturated ones. Third, have an exercise plan for the day — it could be on the treadmill, or one can take up static cycling, yoga, or an application-based programme. Fourth, don’t ignore de-stressing. Engage in indoor activities that you enjoy. Fifth, don’t give up medication and ensure that supplies don’t run out. Sixth, connect with your doctors to ensure that you receive guidance in case of any emergency. And lastly, take your pneumonia and flu shots, if you haven’t already done that.
We must remember that those who belong to the high-risk category need special care. Families and caregivers must ensure that their blood sugar and blood pressure levels are checked and monitored regularly, and “sick day guidelines” are followed in case of any illness. They must practise social isolation in this period. If we take care of the more susceptible population, we can minimise the damage inflicted by the virus.
The escalation of the pandemic has also led to a spurt of misinformation. For instance, many may have read about how eating garlic can help prevent infection. While garlic is a healthy food that may have some anti-microbial properties, there is no evidence to show that it can protect one from the virus. Another recent social media post claims that drinking bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice reduces the acidity in the body and the risk of getting infected with Covid-19. This idea could have risen from the theory shared online that “alkalising” diets help prevent cancer. This does not hold for Covid-19.
Prevention and safety are of paramount importance. It is also important not to panic and to diligently curb misinformation and rumours. As we enter the most critical phase of the epidemic in India, I urge everyone to follow official guidelines and fight the coronavirus together. The ministry of health, the Indian Council of Medical Research, experts, and most significantly our health care providers are leading this fight from the front. The onus now lies on us to support them.