What a start to the new decade! In a mere matter of weeks a new virus, the so-called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), spread across the globe. The most common symptoms of infection are fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Most people develop only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. In others it can lead to severe respiratory distress, an illness designated Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19). There is obviously no vaccine yet against this new virus, nor have any existing antiviral medications proven effective against it in randomized controlled trials. Right now we depend on our immune systems to save us if we catch the virus. Of course, our best defence is to avoid becoming infected in the first place.
How dangerous is the virus?
Covid-19 has already claimed more than 200,000 lives worldwide. Since we do not know how many people have become infected – we simply haven’t been able to conduct the necessary tests – we don’t know yet what percentage of infected people died or how many got seriously ill but recovered. What we do know is that people with preexistng medical conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, or chronic respiratory disease are at increased risk.
Sensible preventive measures
The virus is mainly transmitted through aerosol droplets spread by sneezing, coughing, or even just talking. These virus-carrying droplets can remain airborne for several hours and be inhaled by others. They can also land on surfaces like door knobs, railings, or shopping carts where the virus can survive several days and can be picked up when we touch them. If you then touch your face the virus can enter your system through your eyes, nose or mouth. From there the virus can pass through the windpipe into the lungs. If you were out and about it is therefore important to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based disinfectant as soon as you can.
The best way to avoid becoming infected is to avoid crowds. This has of course become mandatory in many places where people are told to stay home if at all possible, where schools are closed, all but essential businesses are shuttered, and sporting events and concerts are cancelled.
Wearing masks in public has also become mandatory in many places, but your mask isn’t meant to protect you; it is meant to protect others from you. If you become infected you can shed high concentrations of the virus from your nasal cavities well before symptoms develop, i.e. well before you yourself know that you are a carrier. Your mask is meant to prevent or minimize the spread of the virus you may not even know you are carrying.
Strenghtening your immune system
Since we depend on our immune system to fight the virus it makes sense to try and strengthen it as best as we can. The non-profit Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, an organization focusing on safe and effective nutritional therapies to fight illness, recommends the following supplement regimen for supporting your immune system:
- 3,000 mg vitamin C per day in divided doses
- 2,000 to 5,000 IU vitamin D3 per day
- 20 mg Zinc per day
- 400 mg Magnesium per day
- 100 mcg Selenium per day
Of course we are told that we can get all the micronutrients we need from a healthy diet. But if a healthy diet were the norm we wouldn’t have a thriving junk food industry. Supplementation isn’t meant to be a quick fix. Supplements are meant for the long haul to support your health, and they are affordable and safe. A healthy immune system is the best defense against any invader.
What happens if you do become infected?
As the acronym SARS in SARS-CoV-2 implies, the virus can wreak havoc if it gets into the windpipe and down into the lungs. The wind pipe (the trachea) splits into two branches (the bronchi), one for each lung. The bronchi divide into smaller and smaller branches, ending in tiny air sacs. These air sacs are surrounded by very tiny blood vessels called capillaries. When we inhale the air fills the sacs and oxygen is transferred to the capillaries. Bound to hemoglobin in red blood cells, the oxygen then gets distributed throughout the body.
If the lungs become infected and inflamed, these air sacs fill up with liquid and eventually can no longer transfer oxygen to the capillaries. At this stage you will have difficulty breathing and need to seek immediate medical attention. While medicine has no proven cure yet, hospitals can support the lungs and in extreme cases provide mechanical breathing with ventilators to keep the patient alive until the immune system (hopefully) gets the better of the virus.
What is being done now?
Literally dozens of research groups are in the race to develop a vaccine against this virus. In fact, the first small-scale trials with volunteers have already begun. Still, it is difficult to foresee if and when a working vaccine will become available or if it will provide long-term immunity. The more rapidly a virus can mutate, the more often a new vaccine may be required.
Since antiviral drugs are also needed and time is of the essence, attempts are made to repurpose drugs that were proven safe and effective for other diseases. At the beginning of May the FDA announced that the Ebola drug remdesivir can be administered to critically ill hospitalised Covid-19 patients. Preliminary results from a government-sponsored study showed that remdesivir shortens the time to recovery. The drug will still have to undergo the usual randomized controlled trials before final approval for this virus.
Another candidate is the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. It has a 50 year safety record, has already been shown to kill the Covid-19 virus in vitro (in the test tube), and in small tests in France more than half of Covid-19-infected patients tested negative six days after treatment. The drug works by lowering inflammation, but it too will require randomized controlled trials before final approval for this disease.
The use of convalescent plasma is another avenue that is being explored. The blood of people who recovered from Covid-19 should contain antibodies against the virus. Injecting their blood plasma into seriously ill Covid-19 patients should help them fight the disease. Preliminary results are promising, but proper clinical trials are still needed to be certain of success.
Intravenous vitamin C therapy, possibly in conjunction with medications like corticosteroids, is another promising approach. Vitamin C has antiinflammatory, antioxidant and antiviral properties. It is known to be effective against acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The therapy has already been successfully applied against Covid-19 in China as well as in some Americal hospitals. Vitamin C dampens inflammatory immune system overreactions. The advantage of this approach is that it would be useful against any virus.
Where can you find credible information on the subject?
You can find reliable and regularly updated information about the coronavirus on websites of public health organizations or medical journals like:
- the World Health Organization (https://www.WHO.int/),
- the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.CDC.gov/)
- The Lancet (https://www.journals.elsevier.com/THE-LANCET),
- the New England Journal of Medicine (https://www.NEJM.org/)
- the Journal of the American Medical Association (https://JAMAnetwork.com/).
Articles dealing with the cornavirus are freely accessible in these publications.
Take care and stay safe!