COVID-19: Fight Fear with Knowledge
Over the last two weeks, I took a deep dive into COVID-19 so that I could answer all of my questions and YOURS. In this blog post, I have provided all of the information on COVID-19 that I have gathered over the last couple of weeks. This is the information I gathered as of April 6, 2020, and I will try to update this blog as new information is released. I have also created a FREE guide, Truly Immune: Fight Colds, the Flu, & COVID-19 Naturally to give you the naturopathic support you need during this critical time. Check out Truly Immune to download the guide. My hope is that this blog post and my Truly Immune guide empower you to understand how to protect yourself from COVID-19 during this critical time.
What is a coronavirus?
The name of coronavirus comes from its shape, which resembles a crown or solar corona when imaged using an electron microscope. Coronavirus is a type of virus that is in the same family as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). These coronaviruses can cause severe respiratory illness and other complications in humans.
Where did COVID-19 come from?
COVID-19 is a new coronavirus that was first reported in December 2019 in Wuhan, a major city in central China. Most of the first group of patients hospitalized were workers or customers at a local seafood wholesale market which also sold live consumable animals, including snakes. Researchers have found that the protein codes in COVID-19 are most similar to those used in snakes. There is speculation among researchers that the virus originated in bats and then jumped to snakes - who often hunt for bats in the wild - and then made its way to humans from the snakes at the seafood market (1).
What is the mortality rate of COVID-19?
The best source I have found for staying updated with the stats for COVID-19 is the Johns Hopkins University global Coronavirus tracker (6), which synthesizes data from 5 different sources (WHO, CDC, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, China’s National Health Commission, and ncov.dxy.cn).
As of today, April 6, 2020, there have been 1,292,564 cases and 70,798 deaths worldwide. If we use these numbers to calculate the mortality rate of the disease, then we come up with a mortality rate of 5.4%.
In thinking about the mortality rate of COVID-19, we might want to consider that the worldwide numbers may be a little skewed. This is because there may be infected individuals not getting diagnosed, thereby lowering the total number of cases. These individuals may not be getting tested because they are only experiencing mild symptoms or have a lack of testing available, as we are seeing in the United States (2).
To get a more accurate representation of the mortality rate for COVID-19, we may want to look at the numbers in South Korea, which has been the most aggressive country with their testing. This is a great chart from vox.com (10) that shows how impressive South Korea has been with their testing. Officials in South Korea have set up drive-thru style facilities where they test people in a 10 minute process, and the possibly infected individuals can limit contact with others by staying in their cars. As of today, April 6, 2020, there have been 10,284 cases and 186 deaths reported in South Korea. Using these numbers, South Korea currently has a mortality rate of 1.8% (3).
The mortality rate in the United States is closer to the numbers in South Korea, than it is to the numbers we are calculating worldwide. As of today, April 6, 2020, the United States has 338,995 cases and 9,683 deaths, or a mortality rate of 2.8%. To understand the significance of this number in relation to the flu, we can compare these COVID-19 numbers to the CDC estimates of the flu this season, so far. The CDC estimates that there have been at least 39 million flu illnesses, 400,000 hospitalizations and 24,000 deaths from flu, which is a morality rate of 0.06% (16). COVID-19 has a higher mortality rate (2.8%) compared to the flu (0.06%), even though the flu has been estimated to cause more total deaths than COVID-19 this year.
So first off, in thinking about the mortality rate of COVID-19, it's important to stay informed so that you are not getting skewed numbers from the media. The Johns Hopkins University Global Coronavirus Tracker is a great resource for staying up-to-date with the latest numbers. And second, it's important to understand that COVID-19 is a virus that has caused 70,798 deaths worldwide and 9,683 deaths in the US, and has a higher mortality rate than the flu. This is why public health officials are taking such drastic measures to protect us from this virus.
Who is most adversely affected by COVID-19?
This is another great chart from Vox.com (10) showing the mortality rate according to China’s data from January to February 2020.
Seniors over 60 and those with predisposed health issues, especially those with lung and cardiovascular diseases, are the groups most adversely affected by COVID-19. Those who are 80 years old or older have the highest mortality rate. Young adults, teens and children have the lowest (4). It is possible that stronger immune systems in the youth may be protective. Scientists at Wuhan University found that COVID-19 also seems to be mild in pregnant women (4).
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The majority of infected people have a dry cough and fever, and there are even some cases of asymptomatic carriers. The other most common reported symptoms include fatigue, muscle or joint pain, sore throat, headaches, chills, nausea or vomiting, nasal congestion, and diarrhea (10). Infected individuals may also experience mild pneumonia symptoms, which include chest pain that’s worse with breathing or coughing, cough that produces phlegm, difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath.
Elderly patients and those with predisposed health issues are more likely to develop more severe symptoms such as severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), sepsis, septic shock, and death. This may be due to a weaker immune system, weak lungs, or simply a worse overall health. At the Central Hospital of Wuhan, the ARDS cases had an average age of 61 years old (4).
What does this mean for you?
If you are below age 30, you are less likely to be adversely affected by COVID-19 unless you have a predisposed health issue that weakens your immune system or lungs. If you get infected, you may not even realize it because your symptoms may be mild or not severe enough for you to get tested. You must still protect yourself because you may unknowingly transmit the virus to those around you, and these individuals may fall into the higher risk categories. Go to the Truly Immune guide to see how you can protect yourself.
If you are between ages 30 and 60, you are more likely to develop symptoms such as fever, dry cough, fatigue, and sputum production – these symptoms may prompt you to get tested. You can take immune support (see Truly Immune) to protect yourself, and to support your immune system to combat the virus, should you get infected.
If you are over 60 or an individual at ANY age that has predisposed health conditions causing immune system or lung weakness, then you are at a greater risk for having adverse reactions such as severe pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). It is very important to take immune support (see Truly Immune), but those with immunocompromised systems or medical conditions should consult with a naturopathic physician prior to taking the herbal immune support found in Truly Immune. Contact my office at (650) 396-7117 for a complimentary consultation if you do not have a naturopathic physician and want to discuss how you can support yourself with natural medicine.
How COVID-19 spreads
A virus is a microbe that attaches to a cell, takes over the cell, then copies itself so that it can repeat this process over and over again. A virus must take a “ride” on a respiratory droplet, such as saliva, or in a cough or a sneeze, as it cannot travel on its own. These droplets can enter your body through your eyes, nose, or mouth.
There are four factors that play a role in how COVID-19 spreads:
What You Do with Your Hands
The CDC suggests that a distance of 6 feet is necessary to protect you from exposure. Imagine having a conversation with someone and being able to smell what they had for lunch. If you can smell their meal, you are breathing in their respiratory droplets and potentially exposing yourself to COVID-19! With a 6 foot distance away from another individual, the respiratory droplets coming from that person’s mouth are more likely to fall to the floor, than get inhaled into your mouth or nose.
Prolonged exposure to someone infected with COVID-19 possibly increases your exposure to more respiratory droplets carrying the virus, so limit your time with those who might be infected.
If you have to be within 6 feet of a possibly infected individual for a prolonged period of time, it is important for you to limit your exposure to virally infected respiratory droplets. Wearing a mask can decrease your risk of getting infected through inhalation, but it does not eliminate exposure completely as there is still a risk of exposure through the eyes. N-95 masks filter out at least 95% of very small (0.3 micron) particles, including bacteria and viruses (14).
What You Do with Your Hands
If you touch a contaminated surface or object and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes, you can expose yourself to COVID-19. Smooth, non-porous surfaces (e.g., countertops, door knobs) are better at transmitting viruses than porous materials (e.g., paper money, pet fur) because porous materials absorb and trap the virus. In a study of other coronaviruses, researchers found that these types of viruses remain on metal, glass and plastic for 2 hours to 9 days (11).
The good thing is that coronaviruses are easy to kill with a simple disinfectant because they have a delicate envelope that can be broken by soap and other cleaning agents. The viral droplets do not pass through your skin, so if you wash your hands before you touch your face, you will kill the virus before it can enter your system.
Can COVID-19 spread through food?
Although researchers cannot rule it out completely, transmission of COVID-19 through food has not been seen as a mechanism for spreading the virus (12).
Is my pet at risk?
The World Health Organization and the CDC both state that there is no evidence to suggest that dogs or cats can be infected with COVID-19 (13). However, it is possible that a person with COVID-19 could contaminate their pet, and then another individual could touch that animal and expose themselves to the virus.
How long is an infected person contagious?
Once someone has been exposed to COVID-19, the individual may not show symptoms for up to 14 days, with the median time being 5.1 days and the majority of people (97.5%) developing symptoms within 11.5 days (7, 8). Once exposed, researchers found that pathogens can remain in the respiratory tract for up to 37 days (9), with a median time of 20 days. So although the current recommended isolation period after exposure to COVID-19 is 14 days, it may be important to keep your distance from others if you have been infected, for up to 37 days.
How do you get tested?
Having accurate numbers of infected individuals is important in helping us understand this virus and its implications. Unfortunately, COVID-19 testing has been low in the US due to a lack of testing kits available. NaturalStart Medicine is now offering an IgG/IgM COVID-19 antibody test, which is a screen for possible COVID-19 exposure and immunity. Click here for more information about the test.
How long do we have to worry about COVID-19?
It is hard to know for sure, but theoretically, viruses in the coronavirus family are sensitive to high temperatures because they have an external membrane that is sensitive to heat (5).
In 2003, the SARS coronavirus, which is in the same family as COVID-19, had its first recorded case in late 2002, confirmed cases peaked in April 2003, and there were no more cases reported by July. SARS coronavirus could stay alive for 5 days in low temperature, low humidity, typical air-conditioned environments (22-25°C or 71.6-77°F, and relative humidity of 40-50%), but it lost viability at higher temperatures and higher humidity (38°C or 100.4°F and relative humidity of >95%).
However, it is hard to predict the resilience of COVID-19 because this new virus is more contagious than SARS. SARS could only infect others by patients who had a fever, but COVID-19 can be spread from individuals who are asymptomatic (5). Based on all of this information, we can speculate that the cases of infected COVID-19 individuals may die down as the weather heats up, but we cannot know for certain.
This is a great chart from IHME (17) showing the projected deaths per day in the United States as of today. As of today, April 6, 2020, this chart shows the amount of deaths in the United States dropping below 100 per day as of May 23, 2020 and dropping to zero as of June 19, 2020, with the peak number of deaths projecting to occur on April 16, 2020.
Is there a treatment for COVID-19?
This week, a full peer-reviewed study (15) has been released by Didier Raoult MD, PhD. After being treated with Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin, all the patients in the study were cured of the COVID-19. This may be a promising conventional treatment.
The herbal and vitamin support in the Truly Immune guide may also provide the immune support needed to help the immune system kill the virus.
Based on my research, it is evident that COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus that can be transmitted by individuals who are possibly not showing any symptoms. This is the reason we need to take increased precautions in limiting close contact environments. An individual may be contagious for up to 37 days after exposure, which is why people may be unknowingly spreading this virus.
In the United states, IHME is projecting that there will be 81,766 deaths by August 4, 2020 (17). The CDC estimated that in last year's flu season (2018-2019), there were 34,157 deaths in the United States (18). At this time, COVID-19 is a much more serious virus than the flu, with projections showing close to 50,000 more deaths from this new virus than from the flu last year.
Because COVID-19 is a new virus, I cannot know for certain whether the naturopathic modalities I commonly use for colds and flu can provide support for COVID-19. But based on the science of the immune system function and the studies we have on the immune boosting properties of food, vitamins, minerals, herbs, homeopathy, and essential oils, I believe that we can use these tools to support our immune systems to protect ourselves and provide support should we get infected with this new virus.
Check out my FREE guide, Truly Immune: Fight Colds, the Flu, & COVID-19 Naturally, where I teach you everything you need to know about protecting yourself from this virus (and all the other ones floating around right now!). If you are immunocompromised, take medications, or have a medical condition, you should consult with myself or your naturopathic physician before taking the recommended herbs and supplements in this guide. Contact my office at (650) 396-7117 for a complimentary consultation if you would like to discuss further.
I know that staying home during this time may not be the easiest thing to do, but on the bright side, this is a great excuse to spend quality time with your loved ones and focus on your health! Stress weakens your immune function, so now is not the time to stress. Instead, take a deep breath, educate yourself, and do everything you can to boost your immune system so that you can fight fear with knowledge!
Dr. Diane Angela Fong, ND