History suggests that this pandemic will be a short-term interruption to long-run improvements in life expectancy, which should resume within a few years.
Written by Leigh Shaw-Taylor
Edited & designed by Tom Almeroth-Williams
This is an abridged and simplified version of Leigh Shaw-Taylor’s Introduction to the Economic History Review’s selection of articles on the history of disease, epidemics and improvements in life expectancy, which is currently open access here.
With several billion people currently in lockdown the history of infectious diseases has a new relevance. The topic may seem morbid, but is a fundamentally optimistic one.
In 2019 global life expectancy was approaching 73 years. In 1800 it was probably about 30. This is arguably the most important single historical change of the last 200 years. In 1800 no country in the world had a life expectancy much above about 40.
- Today most people in rich countries die of degenerative diseases or complications arising from them, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia. In the past the majority of people everywhere died from infectious diseases and only a minority lived long-enough to succumb to degenerative diseases.
- Even in major famines, before the twentieth century, most deaths were from infectious diseases, triggered by the changes in behaviour induced by famine conditions.
- Today in rich and middle income countries most deaths occur amongst the elderly, while deaths in infancy and childhood are increasingly rare. COVID-19, with the possibility of sudden infection leading to serious illness and even death (in a small percentage of cases) for adults who are neither elderly nor frail sounds a faint echo of an earlier world, in which death from infectious disease, at any age, was an ever-present risk.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Prevention: 12 Tips and Strategies
Follow the guidelines to help protect yourself from catching, carrying and passing on SARS-CoV-2:
1. Wash your hands frequently and carefully
Use warm water and soap and rub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Work the lather to your wrists, between your fingers, and under your fingernails. You can also use an antibacterial and antiviral soap. Use hand sanitizer when you cannot wash your hands properly. Rewash your hands several times a day, especially after touching anything including your phone or laptop.
2. Avoid touching your face
SARS-CoV-2 can live on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours. You can get the virus on your hands if you touch a surface like a doorknob, gas pump handle, or your cell phone. Avoid touching any part of your face or head including your mouth, nose, and eyes. Also avoid biting your fingernails. This can give SARS-CoV-2 a chance to go from your hands into your body.
3. Stop shaking hands and hugging people — for now
Similarly, avoid touching other people. Skin to skin contact can pass SARS-CoV-2 from one person to another.
4. Don’t share personal items
Do not share personal items like phones, makeup, or combs. It’s also important not to share eating utensils and straws. Teach children to recognize their reusable cup, straw, and other dishes for their own use only.
5. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze
SARS-CoV-2 is found in high amounts in the nose and mouth. This means it can be carried by air droplets to other people when you cough or sneeze. It can also land on hard surfaces and stay there for up to 3 days.
Use a tissue or sneeze into your elbow to keep your hands as clean as possible. Wash your hands carefully after you sneeze or cough, regardless.
6. Clean and disinfect surfaces
Use alcohol-based disinfectants to clean hard surfaces in your home like countertops, door handles, furniture, and toys. Also clean your phone, laptop, and anything else you use regularly several times a day.
Disinfect areas after you bring groceries or packages into your home. Use white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide solutions for general cleaning in between disinfecting surfaces.
7. Take social distancing seriously
If you are carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it will be found in high amounts in your spit (sputum). This can happen even if you do not have symptoms. Social distancing means staying home and working remotely when possible. If you must go out for necessities, keep a distance of 6 feet from other people. You can transmit the virus by speaking to someone in close contact to you.
8. Do not gather in groups
Being in a group or gathering makes it more likely that you will be in close contact with someone. This includes avoiding all religious places of worship, as you may have to sit or stand too close to another congregant. It also includes congregating at parks or beaches.
9. Avoid eating or drinking in public places
Now is not the time to go out to eat. This means avoiding restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and other eateries. The virus can be transmitted through food, utensils, dishes, and cups. It may also be airborne from other people in the venue.
You can still get delivery or takeaway food. Choose foods that are thoroughly cooked and can be reheated. High heat (at least 132°F/56°C, according to one recent, not-yet-peer-reviewed lab study) helps to kill coronaviruses. This means it may be best to avoid cold foods from restaurants and all food from buffets and open salad bars.
10. Wash fresh groceries
Soak all raw, whole fruits and vegetables in a solution of food-grade hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar. Let dry before putting them away in your fridge and cupboards. You can also use vegetable antibacterial wash to clean produce. Wash your hands before and after handling fresh produce.
11. Wear a (homemade) mask
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendsTrusted Source that almost everyone wear a cloth face mask in public settings where social distancing may be difficult, such as grocery stores.
When used correctly, these masks can help prevent people who are asymptomatic or undiagnosed from transmitting SARS-CoV-2 when they breathe, talk, sneeze, or cough. This, in turn, slows the spread of the virus.
The CDC’s website provides instructionsTrusted Source for making your own mask at home, using basic materials such as a T-shirt and scissors.
Some pointers to keep in mind:
• Wearing a mask alone will not prevent you from getting a SARS-CoV-2 infection. Careful handwashing and social (physical) distancing must also be followed.
• Cloth masks aren’t as effective as other types of masks, such as surgical masks or N95 respirators. However, these other masks should be reserved for healthcare workers.
• Wash your hands before you put on your mask.
• Wash your mask after each use.
• You can transfer the virus from your hands to the mask. If you’re wearing a mask, avoid touching the front of it.
• You can also transfer the virus from the mask to your hands. Wash your hands if you touch the front of the mask.
• A mask shouldn’t be worn by a child under 2 years old, a person who has trouble breathing, or a person who can’t remove the mask on their own.
12. Self-quarantine if sick
Call your doctor if you have any symptoms. Stay home until you recover. Avoid sitting, sleeping, or eating with your loved ones even if you live in the same home. Wear a mask and wash your hands as much as possible. If you need urgent medical care, wear a mask and let them know you may have COVID-19.
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Myth busters