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Psychology of Viral Pandemic: What We Need to Know and Do

Cover picture for the articleAccording to the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2003 the world faced an outbreak of a coronavirus referred to as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Approximately 8400 cases emerged in two dozen countries resulting in 813 recorded deaths. Zhong Nanshan, Director of the Guangzhou Respiratory Research Centre, said regarding the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) outbreak, “The psychological fear [of a disease] is more fearful than the disease itself. The psychological contagion effect is always more far reaching than the physical contagion. Dr. Nanshan may have an important point that is relevant today as we face a potential COVID-19 pandemic. Consider that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes from October 2019 through February 22, 2020 there have been 35 million cases of seasonal influenza, with 300,000 hospitalizations, and approximately 30,000 deaths. According to WHO, through the end of February, 2020, there have been over 85,000 cases of COVID-19 with 2900 resultant deaths. While these estimates are likely to be low, they still pale in comparison to the illness and death caused by the "routine" seasonal influenza. And yet the fear associated with COVID-19 has the potential to acutely cripple life as we know it through its effects on work, healthcare, school, travel, and supply chains.