EDITORIAL: Threatened

Virus might bypass Valley, but precautions a good idea

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S. (NIAID-RML via AP)

Rio Grande Valley health officials are doing their best to allay fears about the coronavirus; Hidalgo County is posting updates on its website noting that thus far, no cases of the virus, for which no vaccine has yet been released, have been reported in the area.

The first cases were reported in Asia and the majority of cases are there, but global travel puts the entire world at risk, and some cases have spread to areas as close to us as San Antonio. We hope it stays away, of course, but with many international ports of entry and thousands of Spring Breakers expected to begin arriving here in just a few days, precautions are warranted. After all, last year’s breakout of mumps reached the Valley, as the Zika virus in 2017. Reports of the H1N1 virus caused several Valley schools to close for several days in April 2009.

We hope such extreme measures aren’t needed, nor to we expect concerns to put a significant dent in Spring Break activities, but the possibility should remind us that we should always maintain good habits regarding safety and hygiene. Most importantly, we should inculcate such habits into our children.

After all, the Valley has many places where large numbers of people are kept in close quarters, where one sick person could infect countless others. Such places can range from our schools to immigration detention centers. People who manage such areas should strive to keep them clean and encourage residents to protect themselves and others.

That begins with simply washing our hands, a habit so basic that in some circles it’s even become a bit of a joke. Contamination by diseases, however, is no laughing matter.

Coronavirus fears have prompted massive sales of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Health officials say they are good only as a secondary resort, as 20 seconds spent washing one’s hands with warm, soapy water is still the most effective way to keep germs away.

Officials also continue to encourage people to get their flu shots if they haven’t already. The current vaccine won’t fight the coronavirus, or CoV, but health officials note that the flu or other major illness weakens a body’s immune systems, leaving them more susceptible to other viruses and infections. Another reason is more practical: If health screeners have fewer cases of flu and other infections to test, they can more quickly diagnose CoV cases and help bring the appropriate treatment to the patients.

Current conditions suggest that any CoV presence in the Valley should be limited to a few isolated cases, if it appears here at all. But the risk of other pathogens, ranging from simple colds or flu to dengue during the mosquito-infested summer months, makes any measures that help guard against infection worth the trouble.

Even without the new viral threat, they’re good habits to develop.