The black death. Watercolor by Monro Orr“The black death,” a watercolor painting by Monro S. Orr. Credit: Creative Commons.

As the novel coronavirus has spread, so too have a flurry of myths and disinformation about it, often perpetuated by mainstream and social media. Many of these myths are medical. For example, although wearing a surgical mask will not protect you from contracting the illness—viruses are too small to be screened out—healthy people around the world have rushed to buy them.

But the myths are also social. A perfect example is the false assertion that the coronavirus emerged because a Chinese woman in Wuhan ate bat soup. (Though bats may have been the source of the virus, the video that purportedly substantiates the claim was filmed in the South Pacific island of Palau, not China, for the popular online travel show of a Chinese video blogger named Wang Mengyun.)

Although public health experts have worked hard to debunk many of these myths, popular history can also be a valuable tool for putting the outbreak in context, dispelling untruths, and allaying fears among a wider public. The history of the Black Death, the Spanish flu, and smallpox all hold valuable lessons.

Coronavirus and zoonoses. The recent coronavirus is just another instance in the long history of zoonoses—diseases that jump from animals to humans. The domestication of the horse led to the virus responsible for the common cold in humans, while the domestication of chickens gave humans chickenpox, shingles, and various strains of the bird flu. Pigs were the source of influenza, and measles, smallpox, and tuberculosis emerged from cattle. When a virus successfully jumps species from an animal to a human (“patient zero”), and that version of the virus in turn succeeds in making the jump to a second human, those two people become the first two human vectors of human-to-human virus transmission.

Three-quarters of infectious diseases are the result of zoonotic spillovers, and the novel coronavirus is no exception. The term “coronavirus” refers to a family of viruses shaped like a crown, and it accounts for about 10 percent of common colds in humans. (Rhinoviruses are the predominant cause of the common cold.) Novel coronaviruses have made the jump into the human population on three occasions in the 21st century, each time causing a deadly pandemic: SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in late 2002, MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) in 2012, and COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) at the start of this winter.

By Ibrahim Al-Marashi/thebullentin

Posted by The non-Conformist