Knowledge Cures – Misinformation Kills
Hype: to promote or publicize a product or an idea intensively, often exaggerating its importance or benefits.
What about the hype?
In 1988, Public Enemy released a single entitled “Don’t Believe the Hype” where the song’s lyrics related to political issues that were current in the United States at the time.
Today, COVID-19 misinformation surrounds us, and the hype about it causes significant confusion, which is jet fuel for the pandemic in our community.
Since its emergence in December 2019, this new virus, better known as COVID-19, has been a threat to our health, with enough impact to be declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) and a public health emergency in Houston. The first reports were in Wuhan, China, a city of 11 million people, where it led to significant illness and death in a matter of days. As it is quite easy to travel long distances in a short period of time, this virus rapidly spread, causing illness in virtually every country in the world in a matter of weeks. As this disease process is new, knowledge-based facts on the health of the individual patient, and its general effects on society are in its infancy, and coupled with these effects has generated an astounding amount of misinformation given out in a variety of platforms almost on a daily basis. The result of this in many of our communities, has simply been to tune out, with many people saying to themselves, “I don’t know who or what to believe, so I am just going to ignore it all and just do my own thing and hope for the best.”
With this response, the virus wins, the pandemic continues, and our communities continue to lose medically, economically and socially. This column, which will be a continuing series, will serve as an antidote to this misinformation and be an important barrier to the spread of this virus.
As doctors who have served this community for decades, we have no other agenda other than to continue caring for the health of the patients we serve. We also plan to provide up-to-date, accurate information about this pandemic, including, not only the things we know, but also the things we don’t know.
Who can get COVID-19 and how?
Direct person-to-person transmission is the primary means of transmission. To date, this means that COVID-19 does not discriminate on the basis of ethnic and racial background, gender, sexual preference or socioeconomic position. Whether this agent can be transmitted through the airborne route (through particles smaller than droplets that remain in the air over time and distance) under natural conditions has been a controversial issue. COVID-19 has been detected in many different tissues in the body specimens, including phlegm, stool, blood, ocular secretions and semen, but the role of these sites in transmission remains uncertain. In particular, several reports have described detection of the virus from stool specimens, even after COVID-19 could no longer be detected from the lungs, and live virus has been cultured from stool. That is one of the primary reasons why hand washing remains so important.
Mask or no mask? That is the question!
National recommendations regarding community-use of face masks, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, vary across countries. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its recommendations in early April to advise individuals to wear a cloth face cover when in public settings where social distancing is difficult to achieve, particularly in areas with substantial community transmission.
What about testing?
By far, the one proactive intervention that can stop the spread of this devastating illness is testing for the presence of the virus, or antibodies, against the virus. The fact that you are negative on one test does not mean that you are immune. The test only tells you what happens at that point in time. Therefore, retesting is also an important part of controlling the spread of this illness.
In conclusion, adequate information is the most important factor in containing this pandemic. The hype around this illness, the variety of political interests, and access to medical coverage, make it extremely difficult for a lay person to understand what the real situation is regarding this unprecedented illness.
Always remember this…Knowledge Cures – Misinformation Kills.
NOTE: “Don’t Believe the Hype” will be a continuing series, which will serve as an antidote to COVID-19 misinformation, and will be an important barrier to the spread of this virus. The doctors plan to provide up-to-date, accurate information about this pandemic, including, not only the things we know, but also the things we don’t know.
Dr. Joseph Varon and Dr. Joseph Gathe, Jr. are both infectious disease doctors, and have been on the frontlines addressing the COVID-19 epidemic. Their stellar work has been highlighted by many major news outlets, elected officials and even celebrities. Dr. Gathe, who was born in St. Louis, Missouri, has a storied history in the Greater Houston area; not just because of the impact his family has had in the area of medicine generationally in the Greater Houston area, but because of his own personal reputation as being one of the only specialists in the Greater Houston area to tackle and treat the HIV/AIDS virus from the very early days of it becoming a major epidemic in the U.S., particularly amongst Black people. Dr. Varon, who is originally from Mexico City, Mexico, has dual citizenship between Mexico and the United States, and has extensively practiced medicine in both countries over three decades and is also one of the leading infectious disease doctors in the Greater Houston area. Dr. Varon serves as Chief Medical Officer and Dr. Gathe serves as the co-director of the COVID-19 Dedicated Care Unit at United Memorial Medical Center (UMMC).