Note: Upon her indictment on federal money laundering charges and her arrest February 8, 2022, Inc. dismissed Heather Morgan as a contributing columnist. As is our practice, we do not unpublish editorial content, and rather have added this note for full transparency.
It was around midnight in Cairo, and I couldn't stop coughing. I had just flown back to Egypt from Dubai. I was having tea at my fashion designer friend's house with the rest of our entourage. It was about a year after the Egyptian revolution, and I was living in the Middle East, working as an international economist.
I looked down, and realized the tissue I had been using was covered in blood.
Inside there was a meaty piece of flesh that looked like a piece of a lung.
"Omar, I think I need to go to the hospital," I said to my Egyptian friend.
"Right now?" asked Omar, who was hoping to go on a date with someone from the internet.
I held up the bloody tissue, and said, "Yeah, right now." And so began our trip to the Cairo Emergency Room (ER).
At least it's not tuberculosis?
The second I saw the bloody tissue, I was sure I had "consumption," also known as tuberculosis. I was so relieved when I learned I didn't have tuberculosis, but I was still really sick.
The X-ray of my lungs showed significant damage from whatever virus I had. I still keep my lung X-ray hanging in my living room to remind myself of my younger adventures and that "every day above ground is a good day."
I was hallucinating with a high fever for at least a week before we learned that I was one of the early MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) cases. MERS is caused by a coronavirus that originated in the Arabian Peninsula in 2012.
While research into the Wuhan Coronavirus is still early, the mortality rate of MERS patients seems to be about 7 times higher than the Wuhan Coronavirus. (And the death rate for MERS was about 3 times greater than SARS.) While Wuhan Coronavirus appears to be far less deadly than MERS or SARS, it is much more contagious.
Prevention tips to protect yourself from the Coronavirus:
1. Stay hydrated.
Drink lots of water, and avoid or limit drinks that will dehydrate you such as coffee, soft drinks and alcohol. Eating foods with high amounts of water, like fruits and vegetables, also helps.
2. Boost your immune system, naturally
There are plenty of foods that can help your immune system. Make sure to consult your doctor, but I personally consume large amounts of raw ginger and garlic whenever I am at risk for disease. Peppers and citrus fruits are also excellent disease fighters. Your colleagues might hate you for eating that big garlic clove, but if it keeps you from getting sick or helps you get better faster, it's worth it!
3. Get plenty of sleep
This was one of my biggest mistakes in my early twenties, and very likely compromised my immune system even further, making me especially susceptible to MERS. Whether you're a workaholic or a party animal (or both), be sure to get enough sleep or your immune system will be weakened.
4. Wash your hands
I personally carry hand sanitizer everywhere, but that doesn't catch everything, so be sure to frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water. Health professionals recommend singing "the happy birthday song" to yourself to make sure you've washed your hands thoroughly for a sufficient amount of time. I have made it a habit to immediately wash my hands whenever I return home and before every meal, and it's dramatically cut down how often I'm sick.
5. Work from home
This is actually probably one of the best ways to prevent disease. A coworker could forward you a phishing email that compromises your accounts, but they can't give you Wuhan Coronavirus over Slack or email. I've run a company with a distributed team for more than five years, and my newest software company, Endpass, continues to have a remote team across North America and Europe. Needless to say, we won't be sharing any germs unless we do a team retreat. If one positive thing came from the Coronavirus, it would be encouraging more companies to consider remote teams and work from home policies.
6 Carry tissues
Besides wearing a surgical-grade or n95 masks if you think you're sick or potentially exposed to infected people, the next best thing you can do is use tissues when you sneeze. I always carry a disposable pack in my fanny pack (since I stopped wearing purses) and travel bag.
7. Disinfect your environment
Public places are filthy, especially airports and airplanes. My cousin who works in nursing turned me on to carrying disposable disinfectant wipes in my travel bag. Now I wipe down the plane seat and other especially germy places before coming in contact with them. There's also some great hand sanitizer out there. My favorite is the lavender vanilla scented stuff at Whole Foods, but it's probably in other stores and on Amazon.
8. Think twice about sharing
I'm a big fan of "family style" meals, but when any kind of disease is likely to be spreading you should limit your exposure to possible contamination as much as possible. So don't share drinks, and definitely don't share vapes, if you smoke. (Obviously, smoking also weakens your immune system and can damage your lungs, making them easier to be infected.)
9. Don't travel while sick!
Traveling when you're sick is a terrible idea. Not only are you more likely to get even sicker if you're already feeling unwell, you're also spreading disease. I refuse to do it anymore after getting MERS. I personally fly Alaska because of their great customer service, and how easy it is for me to change my flights for free.
10. If you're sick, seek medical attention immediately!
Finally, don't wait to seek medical attention. I probably should have gone to the hospital in Dubai when I first had symptoms, but I foolishly decided to wait until I returned to go to Cairo. If my symptoms had progressed slightly faster, I could have died. If you think you have contracted the Wuhan Coronavirus, seek medical treatment early. Make sure a loved one, close friend, or colleague also knows you're feeling unwell so they can check on you in case you become even sicker.
I hope this was helpful and that it keeps you and your loved ones healthy, and protected from the Wuhan Coronavirus and other diseases.