News around the Coronavirus has taken the world by storm and many of you have been asking just how worried you should be about it and what are the best ways to protect both yourself and your family against contracting the virus. So, we’ve pulled together the latest facts from some of our most-trusted resources and outlined some preventative and natural approaches that you can take, in the hope that this helps you navigate this time with knowledge and not fear.
What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)? COVI-19 was first reported in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019, what started out as an outbreak, has since become an epidemic, and may be set to become a pandemic.
Let’s clarify the terminology.
An outbreak happens when a disease occurs in greater numbers than expected in a community and can even be just one case. You can have outbreaks in different communities. An epidemic is an outbreak that spreads rapidly to many people. A pandemic is an epidemic of global proportions that has become widespread across several countries or continents.
COVID-19 is the name of the respiratory illness caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus that was first detected in Wuhan, China. You will also see it referred to as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, or SARS-coV-2. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are named for the spikes on their surface that look like crowns (“corona” in Latin means crown). Coronaviruses can cause mild illness like the common cold, or more severe illness like we’ve seen with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) or MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), and now COVID-19.
How many people actually have COVID-19?
The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are increasing every day, so these numbers are a moving target. WHO COVID-19 Situation Reports provide daily reports of worldwide numbers. As of March 2, 2020 92.96% of worldwide COVID-19 cases were still in China.
How is COVID-19 transmitted?
It is now clear that human-to-human transmission of COVID-19 is possible and is occurring. Transmission is mainly through respiratory droplets and close contact – similar to how influenza is spread. The CDC defines close contact as being within 2 metres or within a room for a prolonged period without personal protective equipment OR having direct contact with secretions of a person with COVID-19 infection.
There is some evidence that faecal-oral or blood transmission may be possible, even when COVID-19 is not detected in oral swabs. Investigation is underway to determine how long COVID-19 can survive on various surfaces and possibly be transmitted through “fomites” (a fancy word for objects or materials that can carry infection, such as tabletops, keyboards, clothes and utensils).
The incubation period is thought to be 2-14 days, with a median incubation period of 4 days. Patients are thought to be most contagious when they are symptomatic. However, a recent report found that an asymptomatic woman who transmitted COVID-19 to 5 other people may have had an incubation time of 19 days.
What are the symptoms?
What is important to remember is that the majority of infected people appear to have mild infections – with mild cold-like symptoms and fever, and likely many who have no symptoms. As noted above, there are case reports of asymptomatic carriers. However, most people who contract COVID-19 do seem to develop symptoms of some sort.
Reported symptoms include:
- Fever (which may not be present in the very young or very old, or immunocompromised)
- Uncomplicated upper respiratory symptoms (Cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, malaise, headache, muscle aches)
- Difficulty breathing
- Mild pneumonia
- Severe pneumonia (the severe pneumonia caused by COVID-19 is now named severe acute respiratory infection (SARI))
- Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)
- Sepsis and Septic shock
What is the COVID-19 mortality rate?
Unfortunately, we don’t really know. The high number of deaths in China is devastating but may not be reflective of mortality rates in other parts of the world given the tragic lack of hospital staff, medical supplies, ICU beds, and test kits that China is facing. If we look at the WHO numbers as of March 2, 2020, of the 79,394 reported cases in China, there have been 2838 deaths, which puts the mortality rate in China at 3.57%. Outside of China, however, there have been 89 deaths out of the 6,009 cases, which is a 1.48% mortality rate.
Certain populations seem to be more at risk for infection and for death. Increasing age seems to be the most important factor. In a report released by the Chinese CCDC on February 17, 2020 in the Chinese Journal of Epidemiology, the risk of death increases with age, with being over 80 the highest risk factor. The fatality rate of patients over 80 years old was estimated to be 14.8%.
Death in those under 50 appears to be unlikely, with the mortality rate of 40-49 year olds estimated to be 0.4% and 0.2% for patients 10-39 years of age. Having a chronic, pre-existing medical condition also significantly increased the risk of death. Without any pre-existing condition, the mortality rate was 0.9%. A history of cardiovascular disease increased the risk to 10.5%.
So, like the influenza virus, the elderly and those with underlying chronic medical conditions appear to be most at risk for serious complications and death from COVID-19.
How to protect yourself
There are common sense measures to protect yourself from COVID-19 that you should be practicing regardless of whatever virus is circulating at the moment. The only unique recommendation with COVID-19 is to avoid unnecessary contact with non-domesticated animals due to presumed animal-human transmission.
Other common-sense measures to protect yourself and prevent spread of illness include:
- Wash hands frequently, especially before eating or touching your face. Washing hands with warm soap and water for at least 30 seconds is the best option. A recent study found that washing hands even with plain running water without soap was more effective than ethanol-based hand disinfectants at killing the Influenza A virus!
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth! Do your best to keep those fingers away from your face.
- Stay home when you’re sick, unless you need urgent medical attention.
- Cover your cough with your elbow or tissues. Coughing into the crease of your elbow reduces the spraying of contaminated saliva droplets. And if you use a tissue, immediately throw it into the bin and wash your hands.
- Keep your distance. Try to stay at least 2 meters away from anyone who is obviously sick with fever and/or respiratory symptoms.
- Irrigate your nose. While we do not know if nasal irrigation makes a difference for prevention of COVID-19, I believe that one of the MOST preventive things you can do for any viral respiratory illness is to irrigate your nasal passages with Xlear or FESS (travel FESS) nasal spray at the end of every day and after any potential exposure (work, plane travel, etc.). These are saline nasal sprays with antimicrobial properties. You cannot overdo it and will not get “addicted” to it. Other options for nasal irrigation are a regular saline spray or using a Neti pot.
**Apart from regular hand washing, we believe that daily and frequent nasal irrigation is one of the MOST important things that we can do to prevent influenza and other viral respiratory infections from taking hold.**
This is because after exposure to a virus, the influenza virus tries to invade and multiply in your nasal passages for at least 1-2 days before you develop any symptoms. Nasal irrigation can wash away viral particles before they have the opportunity to take hold, and thereby prevent many infections from happening in the first place!
Load up on foods and spices with antiviral properties. These include coconut oil, raw garlic, oregano, ginger, kimchi and other fermented foods, walnut, pomegranate, green tea, apple cider vinegar, and medicinal mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, reishi, cordyceps, turkeytail).
Eat lots of colourful fruits and vegetables. They are full of antioxidants which will destroy the free radicals that weaken our immune system and are responsible for making us feel sick when we catch a bug. Each colour provides different antioxidant power – so be sure to eat a rainbow every day.
Stay well-hydrated. Stick to water, coconut water, herbal teas, and bone broth. No soft drinks or sugary drinks! A good estimate for how much water your body needs, at a minimum, is to multiply 30mL of water per very kilogram of your body weight.
Drink bone broth. Bone broth has amazing immune-supporting properties.
Eat fermented foods. The probiotics contained in fermented foods have tremendous immune boosting powers. In fact, the fermented Korean cabbage, kimchi, was found to have significant effects in preventing and fighting the H1N1 influenza virus! Other examples of delicious fermented foods to try including are sauerkraut, pickles (try “real” pickles without added vinegar), miso, kefir, and kombucha.
Avoid simple sugars and processed/junk food. Did you know that your blood shows evidence of a lowered immune system within 30 minutes of eating simple sugars (like glucose, refined sugar etc), and causes a 50% reduction in your white blood cells’ abilities to kill germs? White blood cells are our “army” cells that fight off germs. This effect is most noticeable 2 hours after ingestion but is still present 5 hours later! Keeping blood sugar levels healthy has been shown to improve immune system activity.
Get fresh air and moderate daily exercise. Moderate exercise can boost the production of macrophages, the kind of white blood cells that “eat” bacteria and viruses. However, intense exercise can actually temporarily decrease immune function – so don’t overdo it!
Get adequate sleep. An increase in sleep actually increases the number of your white blood cells. On the other hand, loss of sleep even for a few hours at night, increases inflammation in our body which makes us more susceptible to catching the flu and having more severe symptoms. So, make sure your whole family is getting enough zzzz’s.
Minimise stress. Emotional stress creates physiological stress in our bodies that lowers our immune defences and makes us more vulnerable to illness. Stress has been shown to lower our white blood cells’ abilities to kill germs, and actually creates more inflammation that may make us feel even sicker.
Keep your immune system as strong as possible!
Nutritional supplements: Consider keeping your immune system even more supported with the following nutritional supplements to give your body even more antiviral defence:
- Fish oil – Omega-3 essential fatty acids have a host of immune benefits too long to list!
- Probiotics – One study showed a dramatic reduction in fever and upper respiratory symptoms when a probiotic is taken with a specific combination of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium daily.
- Vitamin C – Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which assists our ability to ward off and deal with infection.
- Vitamin D3 – There is speculation that rates of illness increase over the winter because of the widespread deficiency of Vitamin D. Studies have shown that people supplemented with adequate levels of Vitamin D3 during the cold and flu season had significantly lower rates of infection. Vitamin D3 increases our body’s production of cathelicidin, an antimicrobial compound, to help fight viral and bacterial infections.
- Zinc – Zinc is required for the normal functioning of white blood cells. Supplementing with just 15mg of zinc per day in adults has been found to improve our immune cells’ ability to ward off infection.
- Traditionally used Western Herbal and Traditional Chinese Medicine: Olive Leaf Extract, Astraglus Root, Echinacea, Elderberry and Medicinal Mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, reishi, cordyceps, turkeytail).
We’re here to support you, so pop in to the clinic or book a 15-minute phone consultation if you’d like us to formulate an immune support treatment plan.
Words by Kate O’Flynn, previous Naturopath of Darling Health
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