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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Stress, panic worse for health than coronavirus itself

Rika Kayama

A new coronavirus breakout in China is causing pneumonia, and some patients have died as a result. As the virus can apparently spread between humans, China has imposed a transportation lockdown on the city of Wuhan, where many are infected, among other measures taken to prevent further infection.

News on the effects of the coronavirus has appeared on TV and elsewhere. This has prompted some outpatients at our clinic to worry that their fevers were caused by the new virus.

To such patients I ask, "Have you been in Wuhan?" When they say they've never been to the city, I try to reassure them by saying, "Then you should be OK." There are, however, quite a few who still look troubled and tell me, "What am I to do if I have that kind of pneumonia?"

I, too, am concerned about how the coronavirus could spread, and views on the situation are divided among various experts on contagious diseases. But we should pay attention to those who point out that the new virus is not as contagious as influenza, and the symptoms are not as severe. An acquaintance of mine who is a physician told me, "I see it (the coronavirus) as less (serious) than the flu, but a bit more than a common cold."

Though it's often forgotten, common colds are also caused by viruses. As there are so many variations of them, we don't usually think about what kind of virus is causing our illnesses. But symptoms such as sneezing, a runny nose, a sore throat and a fever are the result of our bodies trying to fight off viruses that are multiplying within us.

"So even if it's a new virus, we don't need to be overly afraid of it," I told a patient after offering such information. They replied, "I see! I couldn't sleep well last night, thinking that all patients developed severe pneumonia and could die."

In my opinion, panicking or becoming sleepless as a result of fretting too much about what to do when developing pneumonia is worse for your health than the virus itself.

Whether it's to prevent a cold or pneumonia, washing hands and gargling is important, as well as getting enough sleep and eating well to boost your immune system in case you do get infected. Not being able to sleep or eat anything due to anxiety has the opposite effect.

I pray for the early recovery of people who are suffering from pneumonia and other symptoms in China and elsewhere, and hope that the virus doesn't spread any further. I also appreciate the efforts undertaken by health care workers on the scene. As for people in Japan like me, we should thoroughly protect ourselves from deteriorating health caused by anxiety and panic.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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