Updated March 17, 2020
COVID-19 Coronavirus is up to 10x more contagious than influenza. It lives on certain surfaces for days. Hand washing and 60% alcohol can kill the virus if proper technique is used. However, there are innumerable opportunities to re-innoculate over the day. Social isolation will not prevent the illness when a person is (ultimately) exposed, but will slow the spread from weeks to months. This gives the health care and related systems time to mobilize and to have less patients at any one time (“flattening out the curve”). This is truly better for all.
However, this coronavirus is not like a tornado that will pass through quickly. The virus will continue to circle around and around until everyone who will get it, will get it.
Severity will ultimately rest squarely upon an individual’s immune system. From the data, 80% of cases are mild, while those whose immune systems are compromised are more at risk for severe illness. This include the elderly, those with certain medical conditions, and even a surprising set of younger health care workers.
There are several well-established lifestyle factors that strengthen or weaken the immune system. These include: maintaining a consistent sleep-wake cycle, abstaining from sugar and alcohol (not permanently!), drinking plenty of quality water and breathing quality air. Adjusting these factors amounts to improving immune function.
In addition, while testing for the coronavirus, we can also test individuals for markers that can reflect immune concerns, such as white blood cell count, levels of zinc, vitamins a and d, thyroid, and certain omega oils. Nutritional supplementation, while controversial, can be tailored to the individual based on conventional lab testing and, of course, overall health status. Persons who have low levels of important nutrients on such tests can also be more closely watched. Certain nutrients, like vitamin c and probiotics, while not easily measured, can confer some benefit with little risk.
Finally, the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline both affect the immune system directly, and indirectly through their effect on other systems. Forms of stress-management include humor, exercise, family/community activities and, as stated above, good sleep, water and air.
Prevention always proves to be the most effective method in infectious medicine, and the most cost-effective to boot. Since it will take several months for this virus to circle the globe, and is currently running an approximate 4% mortality rate, we have an excellent opportunity to implement more preventive measures.
Michael Cheikin, M.D.
Plymouth Meeting, PA