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  • Writer's pictureJoyce Knieff, ND, LAc

COVID-19: What To and Not To Do

As the new coronavirus continues to gain attention on a global scale, a wave of stress and anxiety about the pandemic continues to gain momentum in our communities. In such times of uncertainty, where scientists and health care workers are constantly learning new things about the virus, it's no wonder that misinformation and poor advice is also circulating like wildfire.

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In times like this, what do we believe? What actions can we take to protect ourselves? Let's start with what we know about the virus.

COVID-19 is different from the flu. This is one of the major points that makes COVID-19 a pandemic that deserves serious management. COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, which means that it came from animals to humans. This is important because it means humans have no natural immunity against it, unlike the seasonal flu. This leads to our second fact:

COVID-19 is much more infectious than the flu. Based on data from China, each case of COVID-19 can spread to an additional 2-3.5 people. This is higher than the 1.3 people on average that get the flu from any one person. Moreover, analysis of cases showed that the serial interval (time it takes for one person to show symptoms after the person who infected them showed symptoms) of COVID-19 is about 4 days. This can be shorter than the incubation period (time it takes for symptoms to show after infection) of the virus (1-14 days, with most cases showing symptoms at 3-7 days) meaning that it is very likely that a large number of people got the infection from people who hadn't yet showed symptoms. The CDC in China estimates that even though 80.9% of patients were asymptomatic or showed mild to moderate symptoms, they shed large amounts of the virus at the early stage of infection, which made containment of the virus very difficult.

COVID-19 is much more deadly than the flu. Even though the vast majority of people who contract the virus recover fine on their own, close to 20% of COVID-19 patients develop symptoms bad enough to need hospitalization for an average of about 11 days. This compares to the 1-2% of flu patients hospitalized for an average of 5-6 days. This creates an enormous burden on health care, with medical supply rationing happening in countries where the spread of infection is bad. COVID-19 is currently estimated to kill 10 in one-thousand cases (1%), compared to 1 in one-thousand cases for the flu (0.1%). This makes COVID-19 about 10 times more lethal than the flu.

COVID-19 is transmitted similarly to the flu. From the most up to date reports from China, the main modes of transmission for COVID-19 is by respiratory droplets and close contact with infected persons, similar to how the flu is transmitted. Prolonged exposure to a high concentration of aerosolized virus in closed spaces may also cause infection. Since viable viral particles were detected in the urine and stool (poop) of infected patients, touching these substances and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth can also cause infection.

It is important to also consider how long COVID-19 can survive on surfaces. It is possible that you can pick up the virus from someone even if you do not directly interact with them. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, COVID-19 was found to remain in the air after being aerosolized for 3 hours, remained stable on cardboard for 24 hours, and plastic and stainless steel for 72 hours.

COVID-19 is vulnerable to common ways of disinfection. According to the reports from China, coronaviruses in general are vulnerable to UV rays and heat. It can be effectively inactivated by heating at 56°C (133°F) for 30 minutes, using 75% alcohol, and chlorine-containing disinfectants (such as household bleach).

What To Do?

1. Wash Your Hands and Disinfect Surfaces Regularly

Because COVID-19 can survive for quite some time on common surfaces, it is advisable that you wash or disinfect your hands after handling anything that you touch in a public space, including doorknobs, railings, or elevator buttons. This is important to keep in mind for objects that come from outside your home as well. Because COVID-19 can survive on cardboard and plastic surfaces, it is good practice to wash your hands after you handle your mail, and disinfect any surfaces that you may have set it down on. With food delivery, make sure that you put your food into clean dishes from the disposable containers, and wash your hands before eating. Also make sure to properly wash your produce, and if your area uses plastic shopping bags, give them a brief spray with rubbing alcohol before reusing them. Consider any object that you handle regularly, such as your cell phone, and make sure to wipe it down with disinfectant regularly.

2. Stay at Home or Increase Physical Distance From Others

Also known as self-quarantine and social distancing. You can prevent spreading illness to others by staying home if you feel sick, or are exposed to someone who is sick. The CDC recommends self-quarantine for 14 days if you think you've been exposed. You can lower your likelihood of contracting the virus by keeping your distance from others (preventing those respiratory droplets from getting to you). The CDC defines social distancing as "remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible." If you are a front-line worker who comes into contact with the public on a regular basis, such as a healthcare worker or a grocery store employee, it may also be a good idea to wash your clothes with detergent and shower with soap when you get home.

3. Do Your Best To Stay Healthy

Having a robust immune system to keep you from getting sick means being healthy on a daily basis first. Make sure you are eating well, exercising, and sleeping well. If you are experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety about events surrounding COVID-19, it is also important that you find healthy coping mechanisms, and seek professional help if needed. If you have chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, poor sugar control, or autoimmune conditions, you may be at increased risk for more severe symptoms if you get sick with the virus. If your diet and daily movement isn't ideal. and you have trouble sleeping or staying asleep, now is a good time to take advantage of technology to book a virtual visit with a Naturopathic Doctor who is trained in optimizing healthy lifestyles.

What Not To Do

1. Take Antibiotics

Because COVID-19 is a virus, and not bacteria, taking an antibiotic will do little to prevent or cure you of the infection. Despite what certain government leaders and media have touted, the combination of azithromycin (an antibiotic) and hydroxychloroquine (an antimalarial drug) was only shown in one small study to decrease detection of the virus in the upper respiratory tract. However, the study did not report clinical benefit (whether or not someone gets better). Furthermore, this combination of drugs can cause serious problems with the heart, enough to cause sudden death.

2. Gargle Bleach

This should go without saying, but PLEASE do NOT gargle any household disinfectant, no matter how diluted it is. Household bleach disinfects surfaces by irreversibly damaging the proteins of microbes - something it can also do to the back of your throat, or any other mucous membranes. Similarly, although some circulating social media posts may convince you to gargle alcohol, rubbing alcohol is never safe to use internally, and high-proof alcohol enough to kill the virus can also cause damage to mucous membranes if used frequently enough at larger volumes.

3. Self-Prescribe Supplements

It's times like these where social media posts or multi-level marketing companies will try to say taking such-and-such herb or essential oil will cure or prevent you from getting COVID-19. Although there are many herbs and natural substances that may boost your immune system and can be antimicrobial/antiviral, blanket statements about taking high doses of vitamins (such as vitamin C, E, D, or A) or essential oils internally can be very dangerous. This is also true with Chinese herbal formulas that are being advertised as definite cures for the virus. Chinese herbalism is very sophisticated in its diagnosis, and taking a formula not indicated for your diagnosis can do more harm than good. Moreover, if you are taking any prescription medications, it is possible that any supplement or herb can interact with your medications. Taking supplements and herbs are fine, but please make sure you have a professional on board to make sure what you are taking is safe and effective. Naturopathic Doctors are well-versed both in the efficacy of herbs and supplements, and their interactions with drugs. You can save money by working closely with a Naturopathic Doctor through a membership, or have a one-time consultation to evaluate your needs.

4. Self-Prescribe Medications

Similar to supplements, without proper training, it is very possible that you could hurt yourself by self-prescribing medications, even over-the-counter ones. Despite what some social media posts may tell you, there is currently no medication that cures COVID-19 infection. Most therapy is supportive, allowing your own body to fight off the infection. It may do more harm than good to take old antibiotics, antivirals, and other medications (such as aspirin). Taking antibiotics and antivirals without cause can unnecessarily damage your gut flora, which can lead to immune and digestive problems down the line. Aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs should also not be taken regularly without a doctor's input. Aspirin in particular can cause damage to the stomach lining and cause unnecessary blood thinning that may lead to bleeding problems. If you'd like to find ways to support your body's own ability to fight off infection, again, working with a Naturopathic Doctor is a better investment than buying medications and supplements that don't work or may be harmful.

5. Hoard Hand Sanitizer

If you have access to running water and soap, it is more effective to wash your hands than use hand sanitizer. In this time where medical resources are running short in many communities, please leave the hand sanitizer and other medical resources, such as surgical face masks, to front-line workers who may not have constant access to running water, but are constantly exposed to the public.

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