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WHEN a much dreaded and infectious disease is spreading around us like the current Covid-19, it’s easy to panic. There’s just so much information circulating in various media. The worst thing we can do for ourselves is to believe everything we read without first checking and verifying the facts.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they’re transmitted between animals and people. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that haven’t yet infected humans.”

It goes on to state, “Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

“Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.”

The people who would come in close contact with patients suffering from this influenza (amongst other diseases) would be hospital personnel, caregivers and those who regularly interact with them. This is actually a lot of people, which can be exponential if you see it as someone who’d spent time with someone who was ill, and that someone meeting other people and so on.

What’s worrying is when you’re asymptomatic for days but could be contagious and unknowingly pass on the virus. By the time you know for sure that you’ve been infected, you’d have come into contact with quite a lot of people. You’d have read that one of the investigations to trace the disease would be to ask who you’d been in contact with before this.

For the most part, such influenza can be deadly for those who are ill, undergoing medical treatment like chemotherapy or haemodialysis etc, the elderly, very young children and anyone whose immunity is compromised.


As a caregiver to someone who’s unwell, you can help mitigate the spread of infections by being extra careful of where you go, who you see as well as what you eat and how you prepare meals.

When my late mother was unwell many years ago, we used to keep a log book of everything that happened that day, for example, when she had her meals, what and when her medications were given, names of visitors, when she slept and even toilet times. There were even notes of her temperature, blood pressure and glucose levels.

We tried to be very diligent about such information, just like how it was done in the hospital. This note-taking routine was suggested by her doctors to monitor her well-being after she recovered from a diabetic coma that had her in the ICU (intensive care unit) for nearly a month.

Even back then, more than 10 years ago, we’d asked visitors to wash their hands with soap and to use the hand sanitiser before seeing her. If they as much as coughed or sneezed, we handed them a mask to wear.

Going by today’s standards of practice recommended by the WHO and CDC (Centre for Infectious Diseases), you only need to wear a mask if you’re unwell and out in the public. Healthy people needn’t wear masks unless they’re taking care of someone who has infections or flu. I remember quite a few visitors being offended by this request. They’d insist they were fine and that it was just a simple cough or sneeze. I’d bring out the tissue box for their use.

I’d always cringe when I saw people coughing or sneezing without covering their mouth or nose. When they declined to wear the mask, we’d put one on mum. We couldn’t take any chances. We didn’t want mum back in the hospital for any reason. She was already so fragile.

I’d check the logbook each time I visited mum in the evenings. If her vitals registered any unusual readings like a slightly raised body temperature, glucose level or BP reading, I’d look into what she’d consumed that day as well as who’d visited her. You’d be surprised at what these readings reveal.

Her readings would be abnormal if someone had upset her and the same was true if she’d eaten something she wasn’t supposed to. Mum never complained about what troubled her or whether anyone had upset her. That was even more reason to keep an eye on her daily activities. Other things we were diligent about included general hygiene of her environment like her beddings, linen, spillage and how we disposed certain items.

In light of what’s going on, it’s a good idea not to shake hands and definitely no cheek-to-cheek kisses. Avoid physical contact where possible. The Indian, Thai and Japanese styles of greeting seem like a good idea. Prevention and damage control should be taken seriously when you’re caring for loved ones who are susceptible to anything that could affect their health and well-being.

Putri Juneita Johari volunteers for the Special Children Society of Ampang. She can be reached at [email protected].

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