Photo: Akal-Teke from Eurasianet
It is with great sadness that we report the loss of 45 Turkmen guest-workers in Turkey who died on the recent holiday of Nowruz last week. The holiday is perceived as the New Year because it symbolizes the arrival of spring and renewal. Nature is awakening, however this year, quarantines have dampened many of these simple joys. The societal spring has yet to come.
These 45 persons died after consuming what they believed to be alcohol fit for consumption. More remain in the hospital. All but one or two are between 20-30 years of age, and most have families with young children. The consumption of strong alcohol amongst central Asian cultures is quite frequent, particularly in celebration of a holiday such as Nowruz. However, rarely is it a cause of death or harm for such a large group. What sets these deaths apart is that their consumption parallels rumors that exceptionally strong proof alcohols are protective against the Coronavirus. It is possible that their excess was in part for celebration and in part, fear-driven.
The loss of these young men highlights the fact that inappropriate social responses to Coronavirus can be just as fatal as the infection itself. High-proof alcohol consumption is just one of many rumors circulating the Turkmen population. Another gossip is that burning the herb, Üzärlik; and letting the smoke drift throughout one’s house will cleanse one’s home of the virus. While this strategy is effective in getting rid of small gnats and flies that bite you at night, it has zero effect on a microscopic virus. Similarly, statements from the president have emerged urging the Turkmen public to eat more of the meal Unaş, which is something like spaghetti; with the caveat that it must be eaten with an even higher amount of pepper than normal. The dish is the Turkmen equivalent of the American chicken-noodle soup which mothers give their children when they must stay home from school for a day due to minor illness. Once again, this is no remedy for Coronavirus. Lastly, many unproductive strategies have been disseminated by medicine men, known as Tebip. While such persons may have extremely valuable insights with other well-known or chronic illnesses that they have former experience with, their wisdom is simply not relevant to Coronavirus.
Rumors like these come from a psychological need to feel as if one is ‘taking action,’ but succumbing to emotionally palliative measures steals time away from identifying truly effective strategies. Even without a state-of-the-art medical system, there are preventative measures that individuals can take, such as boosting one’s immune system with Vitamin D, Zinc, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C. The latter is particularly important because the human body cannot produce Vitamin C on its own-- only animals can—so it is essential to make sure that this is included in one’s diet for a healthy immune system. It should also be noted that these recommendations are immune boosters are not virus killers. Fortifying one’s health is a preventative measure.
Making sure one lives in a clean environment is another. Although Coronavirus spreads quickly, it is also relatively weak compared to other viruses. The viral molecule consists of an envelope with proteins that stick out and is actually fairly fragile once it is out of the host. Agents that can kill the virus are known to be bleach, chlorine dioxide, hydrogen peroxide, iodine, soaps that foam (i.e. soaps with an anti-bacterial agent). Alcohol may or may not be effective against this particular strain of Coronavirus. Handwashing properly, social distancing, and self-quarantine measures have been effective as well in mitigating the spread of the virus.
Of infected persons, 80% experience mild to no symptoms, but these relatively strong healthy people can still be carriers – even if they have shown no symptoms. The virus is so new, that scientists do not yet know how long they can be carriers. Mitigating the spread of the virus is crucial so that hospitals and medical institutions are not so overwhelmed that they cannot provide quality care. Alongside prevention, management, people should also remember that if infected, the human fever is extremely protective; for this reason, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like Ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, even Tylenol should be avoided because it suppresses the body’s natural defense system. According to many cases, this intense fever may last as little as a few hours, but it is highly protective. Lastly, antibiotics are not considered effective either because they target bacterial, not viral infections.
These are small recommendations that individuals can do which will help all of us as a society to weather the Coronavirus winter that has stolen our spring. If appropriate preventative, management and treatment practices are followed, then we may yet have a beautiful summer.