By Jun Ledesma

 Dealing with nCoV

January 31, 2020, 3:48 pm

I HAVE been monitoring the alarming development of the outbreak of the Novel Corona Virus which had spread all over and not sparing even the first world countries. For a number of days Philippines, despite its proximity to China, was not in the list of countries where the deadly and highly contagious virus was detected. Wuhan, which is the epicenter of nCoV had been locked down while China authorities have assembled the best of their scientists and health workers to address the plague. Their actions come in lightning speed including building a huge hospital in Wuhan in just a matter of 10 days! Still, reading from Facebook comments, China gets the browbeating. Sadly the blame game is spiced with vicious political undertones instead of helping the Department of Health and local government units in informing and educating the people on how to contain the spread of the virus and the importance of preventive measures.

This is not the first time that magnitude and threats of viral infection gripped the world and resulted in horrendous fatalities. The first flu virus was first monitored in the US and Spain in 1918 infecting about 500-million people and killing about 50-million and about 675,000 of these were reported in America. The Ebola virus was detected in Congo in 1976. The Avian flu started was said to have started in China but was also reported in North America making it difficult to pinpoint where it really hatched. If we go centuries back the Black Death which was the epidemic of the Bubonic Plague in the mid-1300s practically depopulated the world. Rat fleas spread the pathogens and it ceased only by avoidance, the deadly fire in London and wintry weather which reduced the population of rats and fleas. 

The deadly coronavirus strain was Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome  (SARs) which also originated in China. It was said to have spread to 37 countries and claimed 774 deaths mostly occurring in China and Hong Kong. This was uncovered in February 2002 but by July 2003 the spread and infection stopped.

The spread and infection of coronavirus diseases are generally caused by person-to-person contact and respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing. WHO and DOH have issued simple guidelines to prevent contamination and spread of the disease. Among the important points are:

* Avoid crowds and use surgical  face masks if necessary

* 75% rubbing alcohol may be used as a disinfectant  for hands or metal surfaces

* Virus finds dry throat as the entry point and it is important that one drinks sufficient amount of water just to address the dryness

Furthermore, Health officials remind the public “to practice proper hygiene and constant washing of hands, as well as proper coughing etiquette or coughing into the crook of the elbow, amid the virus scare. They also reassured the public that DOH hospitals, with their respective isolation areas, we're ready to respond to the disease”. 

The spread of coronavirus had been attributed to rodents, snakes, birds that include chicken, swan and other migratory birds and bats which appeared to be the main culprit as far as the coronavirus strains are concerned. Bats, which are nocturnal creatures fly in great distances and bring the virus with them.  Scientists discovered that bats build an immune system against so many kinds of viruses that can mutate in their bodies.

There are a tiny variety of bats we call “kwaknit” in Visayan and the bigger ones we call “kabog”. During my teens, while living in our farm in the hinterlands of Midsayap, Cotabato our neighbors would watch for thousands of kabogs which fly in drove and feast on nectars of flowers in a wild kapok tree in the middle of our farm. They use slingshots that hit and puncture the bat wings and send them plummeting to the ground. While still alive the flying mammal is forced to imbibe vinegar to get rid of their obnoxious smell. They are then prepared for the adobo. But that was seven decades ago when mutations of the virus were unheard of.

Unlike kabogs that live in caves,, the tiny kwatnits stay in cogon or nipa roofs. That's how close they come in contact with humans. They feast on mosquitos and other flying pests. We see pictures on Facebook of Chinese from Wuhan eating kwaknit from a soup bowl. Kwaknits are never eaten in our farming community because they feed on mosquitos. In my recent trip to our farm, I no longer see as many kwaknits hovering in the house because the breeding places of mosquitos and even of dragonflies had been reduced on account of pesticides. Fecal drops of bats or dead bats can infect rats, snakes, and fowls. While these mammals had been identified as carriers the homo sapiens share the blame for making them part of the menu.

The novel coronavirus has traveled across the world. China has the highest infection and mortality so far. It was just very recently that Philippines health authorities confirmed one person, a Chinese national from Wuhan,  positive of the NCoV and confined in San Lazaro Hospital. By recent account moreover, she is no longer showing symptoms of the disease. Here is the list of suspected cases that are being monitored by DOH.

* Metro Manila - 18

* Cental Visayas - 4

* Western Visayas - 3


* Eastern Visayas - 1

* Northern Mindanao - 1

* Davao – 1

As of the latest count, the number of infected cases worldwide is now at 9,700 and 213 recorded dead.  On account of the first confirmed case and the rising numbers of suspected cases Pres. Rodrigo Duterte allowed the temporary travel ban on visitors from Wuhan City and entire Hubei province in China, on the recommendation of Senate Health Committee Chairman, Sen. Christopher Lawrence Go.

People, of course, are panicky. The media is giving us full coverage and gives us the scare. But here is some good news to assuage our fear. DOH has acquired the necessary test kits to diagnose the nCoV within 24 hours of testing. Health sleuths are tracking down on people which the above suspects have contacted.  The WHO has raised the status of nCoV to Emergency and that means more restrictions might be imposed worldwide. This will cause some setbacks but temporary.  For as long as we observe precautions and help health authorities we can deal with this scourge promptly and shortly.

Here in Davao City, Mayor Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio assured her constituents that they have taken proactive measures to address the nCoV issue. She said that she and the city health officials have been meeting with DOH and as a matter of policy, always defer to the national government decisions which are beyond the powers of  Local Government Units.



About the Columnist

Image of Jun Ledesma

Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.