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Leona O'Neill: It's important parents don't panic about coronavirus - stress is bad for your immune system

With Ireland's first cases of Coronavirus now confirmed, there seems to be widespread confusion and even outright panic about how we should protect ourselves and our families. However, as Leona O'Neill writes, panic is one thing which definitely won't help us stay safe

A vast number of people are currently worried about coronavirus because of vague details

THE Coronavirus is all everyone is talking about, young and old. It's all over the news, all over social media and on the tips of tongues in our workplaces, streets, schools and shops.

The authorities are telling us not to panic, but that's easier said than done. At time of writing 87,024 cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus) have been reported and, of that number, 2,979 people have died.

It's difficult not to be spooked about the whole situation, particularly since the thing that scares us more than anything else is the unknown. And there is little known about this virus and how it will affect us.

The scary thing about the virus is that it can cause pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are said to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In very severe cases organ failure can happen. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are said to be of no use. They say the antiviral drugs we regularly use against flu won't work on coronavirus. None of that sounds positive and I think that is what is feeding the fear. Recovery really depends on the strength of your immune system. And many of those who have died were already in poor health.

This is such a new situation that we don't yet know how dangerous it is. We don't have a vaccine, we don't even know how this virus works.

What we do know is that people are panicking. In the supermarket at the weekend, people were undoubtedly panic buying. There were people in the queue in front of me with trolleys full of bottled water and bleach – whatever use they would be – and hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes had completely sold out. Chemists and DIY stores had sold out of face masks and people were stocking up on tinned goods.

I think we should all take a step back and stop panicking. For one thing, when we are stressed, the immune system's ability to fight off infections is reduced. It's a scientific fact that the hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system. So let's turn the hysteria down a notch or two.

Also, as it stands today, there are two people across the island of Ireland who have been diagnosed with the virus. Many, many thousands of people have picked up the virus worldwide and have survived.

For many of us with underlying conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart conditions, or indeed old age, coronavirus is a worry for sure. But what bolsters me – as a person with asthma and as a mother of children with asthma – is that our health service seems to be completely on the ball with regard to procedures on successful containment and the advice that they are putting out to the public about handling the illness.

We do demand more information when legitimate cases come up and the health agencies do have a duty of care to the patients they are treating and also to those that those legitimate cases have encountered along the way. There is a fine line between protecting a patient's privacy and making sure those who they might have unknowingly infected and then, perhaps, all those the second infected person went on to infect are aware of the risk to their health.

There is so much unknown about the virus and its spread that every single person an infected patient came in contact with – whether that is serving them in a shop, handling their plane ticket at the airport, sitting across the aisle from them on a bus or plane, using the same ATM, putting their hands on the same door handles or standing beside them in a queue in a station – needs to know. They could be carrying the virus back to their own home and it could put them and members of their family at risk.

We don't need to know their identity at all, just some more details of their movements. It may make a certain number of people in their path anxious about their wellbeing, but they could get checked out if they felt unwell, and then reassured. At the moment a vast number of people are currently worried because of vague details.

Who knows what's ahead of us with regard to coronavirus? We lived through the H1N1 virus, bird flu and all kinds of other nasties that were thrown at us. Worrying about it all won't make us any more able to fight it off. Just wash your hands properly, stay home if you're sick, sneeze into a tissue and dispose of it properly, stay clear of sick people and stop stressing out.

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