I think it’s safe to say that ‘it’ has hit the fan.
People are freaking out. Some are quarantined. Public events are being cancelled. As I write this on 3-12-20 the NBA has cancelled their season.
The Houston Livestock and Rodeo has been cancelled as well…and y’all know how much I love a good donkey show. Many donkeys were already clipped and spiffed and ready to go. What a mess.
All kidding aside, people are in panic mode. Shame on the media.
Let’s put this into perspective. As of today, what do we know and what should we be concerned about?
While nerdy folks are scurrying around to learn more about this novel coronavirus, indications are that the flu continues to be a far greater threat than COVID-19 at this point.
Between October 1, 2019 and March 1, 2020 there were 35 million cases of the flu in the US alone. Up to 50,000 deaths according to the CDC and World Health Organization. (As of today, the number of coronavirus cases is 135,000 and almost 5,000 deaths…and this is globally)
Will the coronavirus be as deadly as the flu? Only time will tell, but here’s what we do know. (Make your own assumptions about what’s happening in the media…)
What is Coronavirus anyway?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that are actually common in humans and animals such as camels, cattle, cats and bats. There are 7 that can cause human disease. The three most severe diseases caused from these are SARS, MERS, and COVID-19.
COVID-19 is not the coronavirus. It is the name of the disease caused by the virus.
(For the nerds out there:SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the actual virus due to it’s genetic similarity to the original SARS virus. It’s short for “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2)
There actually appears to be two types of the virus: the more aggressive type (which was prevalent in the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, but then waned to around 70% of cases), and a milder type (which has increased since the outbreak started, currently making up around 30% of cases).
The fatality rate of COVID-19 appears to be around 2%. This is around 10-20 times that of the flu, which is 0.1% in recent outbreaks. This number (2%) may go up or down as more testing kits become available and milder cases are tested. The most concerning population are the elderly with pre-existing conditions.
This means that 98 of every 100 cases will recover just fine. Once again, those cases that are problematic are most likely to be in the elderly with compromising conditions.
The symptoms compared to the flu:
Shortness of Breath Chills
What is the Incubation Period?
It has been reported as 2-14 days. (There is one case study that indicates it could extend out to 24 days though it hasn’t been verified.) This partly explains why it is spreading more widely. Infected people can look and feel healthy and therefore do not know to take precautions to prevent spreading it to others. It appears to be possible to infect others before someone knows they are sick.
Speaking of precautions… Did you see that politician wearing a gas mask on TV? [eye roll] Don’t be that guy.
Unless you have respiratory symptoms and want to wear a surgical mask to protect others from your secretions, just skip the mask. If you are in contact with babies, elderly or immunocompromised people…you get a pass, wear the mask. Otherwise, don’t bother…they are too loose to keep all the nasties out...and viruses can get in through the eyes anyway.
[Update May 2020: Since govt officials are recommending a mask, I retract my statement "just skip the mask" ... not because I believe they help, but because of the mandate]
Do you have any other tidbits of info?
Hmm, let’s see…
Some good news, warm weather should help. We hope.
At this time, there is no evidence to support any transmission associated with food. Thank goodness.
No support of transmission being possible with packages from China or other countries that export to the US. Especially those shipped over a long period of time. It’s not thought the virus can survive long on surfaces.
Is there anything I can take to prevent it?
OK, time for my pharmacist side…
Let me begin by saying that the new novel coronavirus is too new and is different structurally from the flu or cold viruses. And no one knows yet how well the same supplements that we use for the cold and flu will work against the coronavirus. But keeping that in mind, here are recommendations for cold/flu supplements.
There is moderate evidence that Vitamin C can reduce the duration of cold symptoms if you are already using it regularly (as in, before catching a cold). Might be good to just start that now.
Zinc lozenges have some support to reducing the severity of symptoms due to inhibiting the viral replication at the back of your throat. Don’t swallow them, won’t work. And the nasal spray can cause some permanent adverse effects so avoid that. If you have a choice choose the zinc acetate over the zinc gluconate…but any zinc is better than no zinc.
If you are of a ‘natural medicine’ bent there is some preliminary (although weak) evidence for garlic as a preventative (not treatment) of the common cold. There are more antibacterial studies than antiviral studies though, so keep that in mind. But hey, it wouldn’t hurt to throw a little extra on the spaghetti.
The benefit shown in studies is small, but Echinacea has been used.
Some folks swear by Elderberry. I was unable to find many studies on it. (I did give it to my kids when they were small and my grandkids have been known to force it down).
You may also hear Probiotics will help. Evidence is mixed and I’m sure effects vary between people due to everyone having a different gut microbiome…another discussion for another day.
There’s even some (very weak) evidence that honey has anti-influenza properties…but this is lab evidence on cells, no human trials yet. It does seem to help with cough, however.
Supplements aren’t automatically safe just because they’re available without a prescription. Beware and be careful when deciding what to take. If you're unsure, ask.
And lastly, don’t be fooled. There’s greater financial incentive to run drug and supplement trials, and they are cheaper, shorter, and easier to conduct than diet and lifestyle trials.
Diet and lifestyle trials are few and far between… because, well… there just isn’t any incentive for ‘big pharma’ with those.
Make no mistake, a poor diet and lack of sleep is a great factor in infection risk. As well as stress. If you don’t sleep, your immune system is impaired. High amounts of processed carbs and refined fats interfere with immune function as well.
Evidence is evolving daily on the COVID-19 situation. We will continue to learn more as the days pass. But…please use health authorities, such as the WHO and CDC, as your primary information sources. Don’t let the media put you in a state of frenzy. And certainly don’t rely on ‘Facebook Medical’ [another big eye roll]. The World Health Organization and CDC have hundreds of researchers and public health officials working specifically on trying to reduce the spread of this disease.
Please feel free to comment below and if you have any questions I’d be happy to try to find the answers.
For the love of staying calm,