Corona (Covid 19) Related Anxiety Disorder

Corona virus infection, better known as Covid 19 infection, which started in China about three months ago, has rapidly spread to about 150 countries. So far, about 1,50,000 people have been infected with Covid 19, out of whom about 5,500 people have died.

Various forms of media (including TV, newspaper) and social media (facebook, whatsapp, etc) are full of news and information about Covid 19 infection. Various government agencies too have started awareness campaigns about Covid 19 infections and methods to limit its spread. Countries across the world have initiated partial to total shutdown. WHO has declared Covid 19 infection as a pandemic.

A problem of this magnitude, affecting the entire world is rare and many people have not faced a similar situation in their lifetime. This has resulted in anxiety and fear of varying magnitude. Recently, pulmonologist Dr Chandrakant Tarke encountered two patients with extreme anxiety.

Both patients were women, aged 23 and 30 years respectively, from Hyderabad, India. They presented with mild cold and no other significant symptoms. They had no risk factors to develop Covid 19 infection (no history of travel to Covid 19 affected countries or exposure to a Covid 19 infected patient). They had extreme fear that they were suffering from corona virus infection. They had developed obsessive trait of washing their hands multiple times with sanitizers despite staying at home and no exposure to outside. Clinical examination was normal except for hyperventilation. The fear had started after the news about Covid 19 infection in India started flashing on Indian TV channels. The fear became extreme on listening to Covid 19 awareness caller tune initiated by Government of India (which started with coughing sounds, followed by steps to prevent Covid 19 spread).
A diagnosis of anxiety disorder induced by fear of having contracted Covid 19 infection was made. Women were counselled and referred to psychiatrist for further management.

With increase in the number of Covid 19 cases across the world and the disruption resulting due to it, we are likely to come across many more people suffering from Covid 19 related anxiety disorder. As a health care professional we need to be aware of it, promptly diagnose it (clinical diagnosis suffices) and advise appropriate treatment (counselling, referral to psychiatrist/psychologist).

Steps to prevent Covid 19 related anxiety

1 .Avoid seeking constant updates about Covid 19 from TV channels or social media (updating twice a day- morning and evening- should be sufficient),

2. Do not constantly discuss about Covid 19 with your family, friends and colleagues,

3. Focus on the positive aspects of Covid 19- more than 80% have mild infections and more than 90% survive this infection,

4. Take steps to prevent Covid 19 (as already outlined across various media platforms)

5. Go for walks, exercise and engage in leisure activities (music, gardening, etc)

6. Consult a healthcare professional if you develop anxiety or fear related to Covid 19

Dr Sudhir Kumar MD DM (Neurologist), Apollo Hospitals, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad
Dr Chandrakant Tarke MD DM (Pulmonologist), Apollo Hospitals, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad

Published by Dr Sudhir Kumar MD (Medicine) DM (Neurology)

I am a doctor with 25 years experience. I have worked as a neurologist for about 20 years. Educating public and healthcare professionals is very dear to me. This is possible due to my interactions with thousands of patients and their caregivers. I salute the patients who suffer and it is our duty to minimise suffering by preventing diseases and ensuring prompt diagnosis and treatment of those already affected.

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