Just because Dr. David Di John has devoted his professional life largely to the treatment of infectious diseases doesn’t mean his personal life is immune from repeated discussions about the infectious coronavirus, COVID-19, an acute respiratory disease.
As the program director of the UNLV Medicine Maternal Child Wellness Program was quick to point out, he and his wife, Felicia, and 9-year-old daughter, Ava Rose, stay abreast of the latest news about the newly identified virus and then talk about it, often at the dinner table.
“It’s important we talk things through — I think it is for all families,” said Di John, who at one point in his career headed AIDS clinics in New York City and at another worked with Amerindians in Venezuela in an effort to develop a malaria vaccine. “It’s mostly common sense — like coughing or sneezing into a tissue, staying home when you’re sick — that shouldn’t be ignored.”
In other words, ignorance is not bliss.
He said families should be aware of the information on the virus on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Di John emphasized that while Americans certainly should pay attention to COVID-19, they shouldn’t panic.
Paying Attention to the Basics
“I let my daughter know that good, standard hygiene can go a long way toward preventing someone from getting the virus,” said the associate professor of pediatrics with the School of Medicine. “My daughter knows I’m an infectious disease doctor, sees that I am not panicking, so she’s not overly worried.”
He frequently reminds both his wife and daughter that handwashing is the best thing you can do to protect yourself from the virus.
Research done to determine the effect of handwashing on the risk of respiratory infection certainly bears that out. Eight studies referenced in a 2006 article in Tropical Medicine & International Health all found that handwashing lowered the risk of respiratory infection, with risk reductions ranging from 6 percent to 44 percent.
“When we talk as a family about the coronavirus, we emphasize the importance of personal hygiene measures,” said Di John, who added that he hopes such awareness will carry on long after the coronavirus scare ends; that people will be aware, for example, of the health problems that can be mitigated by just timely and proper handwashing. “That would be a real positive that could help public health in the future.”
Di John said when he takes his daughter to the grocery store he makes sure they do a quick wipe down of a grocery cart with antibacterial wipes that are on hand before using the cart. They’re handled by customers and employees all day, he noted, so it’s “just a good practice” to try and disinfect them.
Changing the way people are greeted is also something Di John said his family talks about. Instead of kissing and hugging and shaking hands, he says a wave and a smile or an elbow bump will do.
“I think the Japanese are onto something with the way they bow in greeting,” he added.
Common Sense Approach
Traveling during the outbreak is another area where common sense should be utilized, Di John advised. He said it’s a good idea for everyone in the family to be aware of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Coronavirus Disease 2019 Information for Travel website. That way the entire family can be up-to-speed on what makes good sense, and what doesn’t. The website says crowded cruises don’t make good sense right now because there’s an increased risk of person-to-person spread of the coronavirus. And close proximity between passengers on a plane also can be a problem.
“I’m not saying (do) not to go on a plane, but you need to weigh its importance,” said Di John. “My family is still traveling places, but we’re doing it by car.”
Even though he said common sense generally rules when it comes to trying to keep the coronavirus at bay, Di John said his family is aware that masks may seem like a good prevention tool, but they’re generally not effective. He says the kind available at pharmacies and discount stores for the general population work well against large particles like dust but not for tiny particles like the COVID-19 virus.
“They give you a false sense of security,” he said.
Special masks worn by health care professionals to prevent respiratory disease must be worn properly and tested to provide a proper seal, according to Di John. Even health care workers must learn how to properly remove the mask or they may contaminate themselves, he noted.
Also not making good sense, he said, is stockpiling months’ worth of things like water, toilet paper, and food. “You should have a plan in place in case you or a family member gets sick and you can’t leave the house for a few days — like having a reasonable supply of water, food, and medicines.”
If families have discussions about the coronavirus and how they’re going to deal with it, they’ll be much better off,” Di John said. “Knowledge keeps us all safer.”