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Coronavirus: What You Can Do To Protect Your Health

A rendered image of the Coronavirus, made by the CDC

No doubt you and your loved ones are concerned about the situation regarding the Coronavirus. As the current international response and the research has been ever-moving, we've been watching the situation unfold, and have taken some time to put together the latest research to give you current information on the virus, and what you can do about protecting your health and the health of those around you. 

So in this article, we're going to share with you what we know about COVID-19 as it stands right now. Towards the end of this article, we'll share details on how you can best support your immune system and stay well during this time.

 

Coronavirus: current stats and outlook

What we are calling coronavirus, is actually called SARS-CoV-2. The name of the disease that results is COVID-19; like getting AIDS from HIV.

It is an RNA virus similar to SARS and MERS, all of which belong to the corona family of viruses.

Coronavirus is spread primarily through respiratory droplets, and other bodily fluids like saliva.

It is probably more infectious in colder conditions – like influenza and the common cold. If this turns out to be true, then we in Australia are yet to get to our seasonal worst.

For most, the coronavirus will present similarly to a cold or mild flu: sore throat, dry cough, fever.

It differs from flu symptoms which may also include fatigue and body/muscle aches. Common cold symptoms include runny nose, cough with phlegm, and no or low fever.

With coronavirus, many will display no symptoms at all, effectively functioning as carriers. 80% will recover with no complications.

For about 20% (current estimate) the symptoms will be much worse, and may include: shortness of breath, pneumonia and respiratory distress (ARDS).

It appears that the most affected populations are those that are immune compromised, those with existing disease conditions (respiratory and cardiac), and those of advancing age (70+ years).

Seasonal influenza has an infection rate (R zero) of about 1.3, meaning 1.3 people are likely to be infected from one person that is carrying the virus. Coronavirus is thought to have a R0 of about 2.2-2.6, though we really can’t be sure at this point and it may well be lower. By reference, SARS R0 was 2.9.

Coronavirus will be most contagious when symptoms are the most mild. We think it may be able to live on surfaces for a surprising 9 days, and while normally for viruses the incubation period is 3-14 days, some research is suggesting that for coronavirus it may actually be up to 24 days.

The current mortality rate is hard to lock down because we don’t know the denominator, meaning we can track deaths much more easily than actual infection rates, especially given the mild symptoms some express.

Mortality is probably somewhere from 0.6-3%, bearing in mind that this will be a lot higher for those most at risk, and lower for other population groups.

By reference, mortality rate for SARS was 9.6%; MERS was 34.4%; seasonal influenza 0.1%. The difference is that the other coronaviruses were contained to being epidemics, while SARS-CoV-2 has gone pandemic, which means it could look more like the ‘Spanish Flu’ of 1918, which was a pretty big deal.

If you are possibly infected, isolate. Seek medical treatment should the symptoms require acute intervention care. If you aren’t sure, use TeleHealth services. We’d be happy to help.

A rendered image of the Coronavirus, made by the CDC
A rendered image of the Coronavirus, made by the Center for Disease Control, USA.

What you can do to prevent infection?

If you are an at-risk population group, prevention is by far and away the best idea. This can most easily be achieved by ‘social distancing’, and is the reason behind the declaration in Victoria of a state of emergency, requiring avoidance of non-essential activites.

This also includes minimising time in the 1.5-2 metre infection zone around others.

Beyond social distancing, you can decrease your contamination risk through cleanliness.

  • Wipe surfaces you are in control of.
  • Minimise directly touching surfaces you're not in control of.
  • If you have been in an ‘at risk’ environment, minimise touching your face with your hands.
  • Wash your hands before eating.
  • Wash your hands properly.

Be vigorous and create friction when washing.  Do not skip the wrists, between fingers and back of hands.  Use soap, which we think will kill coronavirus. Wash for at least 20 seconds and rinse with fingers pointed down.  Dry hands with disposable paper, or a clean towel.

 

One last little bonus:

Gargle and drink green tea. Green tea can substantially - by 15 times in one study - reduce risk of contracting colds and flus through the anti-viral properties of the tannins topically. Also, viruses hate heat, so water hotter than 40 degrees tends to kill them, though we are not sure on what temperature exactly is required for coronavirus.

Gargling with green tea can risk of contracting colds and flus through the anti-viral properties of the tannins.
Gargling with green tea can risk of contracting colds and flus through the anti-viral properties of the tannins.

The functional medicine approach to the Coronavirus

So, Coronavirus is a serious threat to public health, and these measures are ones we can all take to prevent the worst case scenario from playing out. Time will tell if we over, or under, did it.

What you probably want to know, is… what can we do from a functional medicine perspective?

The basic four pillars still apply; don’t do things that will weaken the immune system. Do things that will strengthen your immune system:

  • Manage your stress. Stress weakens the immune system more than just about anything else. Stay connected to loved ones, focus on creating joy, practice mindfulness and stay in the present, take long walks outside in nature, and use deep breathing exercises like the 4-7-8 exercise. Avoid sensationalist, fear-led news on the TV and online, including social media. Focus instead on what you can control, versus what you can't. Connection and fostering a sense of community is good for your immune system, partly because it helps calm the stress response. Be mindful of those around you who may not have a support network, or who are vulnerable. Reaching out and showing you're there as a support can do the world of good to someone who is isolated.
  • Get your full sleep quota. Sleep is critical for immune function; think on how often you wake feeling better than when you went to sleep. Having a sound winding down sleep routine is key. 
  • Exercise! Exercise can strengthen your immune system, and movement is beneficial for stress reduction and mental health too. Be careful not to over-exercise though, as this can weaken your immune system. Do as much exercise as you normally do, or a little more, rather than overdoing it. 
  • Eat well. Nutrient dense, whole foods, and stay hydrated. 

Beyond the basics

There is more you can do to minimise chance of infection. Broadly speaking the strategies are:

  • Give your immune system the fuel that it needs to function, immune nutrients: vitamin C, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin A. Make sure your vitamin D levels are optimal. Food sources of these nutrients include:
    • Vitamin A: Liver (highest in beef – choose organic only), eggs, dairy products, fish liver oil (cod liver oil), green, red, orange and yellow fruit and veg: carrots, oranges, apricots, mangoes, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes, melon, spinach, peppers, watercress, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus etc., pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts.
    • Vitamin C: Peppers (chilli + sweet), watercress, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, citrus fruits, kiwi, peas, melons, tomatoes, parsley, blackcurrants, apples, papaya, bean.
    • Vitamin D (main source is sunshine, with small amounts in foods): Herrings, mackerel, salmon (wild caught only), oysters, cottage cheese, eggs.
    • Zinc: Seafood, shrimp, shellfish (esp. oyster), haddock, canned fish, ginger, lean red meat (esp. lamb + beef), nuts (pecans, Brazil, almonds, walnuts), peas, turnips, egg yolk, oats, seeds (pumpkin, sunflower), rice, lentils, pulses, molasses, calf’s liver, Crimini mushrooms, dark green leafy veg (esp spinach, collard greens), asparagus, turkey, quinoa.
Immune boosting / supporting foods include foods that contain Vitamin A, Zinc, Vitamin C and Vitamin D.
Immune boosting / supporting foods include foods that contain Vitamin A, Zinc, Vitamin C and Vitamin D.
  • Consume foods with anti-viral properties: Ginger, garlic, turmeric, manuka honey.
  • Stimulate the immune system appropriately with herbs and mushrooms: astragalus, echinacea, Andrographis, manuka, reishi, cordyceps.
  • Borrow immunity: colostrum and probiotics like S. Boulardii (including fermented foods if you digest them well).

How much you want to lean into taking immune supporting food or supplements will be different for all people. If you are concerned about it, do something, preferably things that don’t do any collateral damage.

You’re probably better not to self-medicate given you can simply ask us. Please do! Our favourite supplemental options to augment the above, are:

  • An immune boosting formula with herbs and nutrients. Kind of an all in one. We’re currently using Designs for Health Immunitone and OptimalRx Defence Complete.
  • The basic immune nutrients: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc, Selenium.
  • Quercetin: shows promise in dealing with SARS
  • Propolis: This is a bee’s all-purpose immune food, which is a known anti-viral.
  • Monolaurin: derived from coconut oil. There's no direct evidence of efficacy with SARS-CoV-2, but it has significant action to similar viruses. It's thought to work by dissolving lipids in the viruses fatty-acid envelope. By destroying the protective shield it makes it easier for the immune system to destroy.

Update: May 15, 2020

A team of functional medicine practitioners in the US just published a groundbreaking paper on the treatment for the virus. It defines four phases of illness and outlines specific strategies for managing patients in each phase to improve health outcomes.⁠

The four phases of illness are Prevention, Infection, Escalating Inflammation, and Recovery. While supporting the function of the immune system earlier on is imperative, in the latter stages of escalating inflammation, reducing excessive inflammation caused by the immune system is the priority to avoid the cytokine storm that increases risk of mortality. Hence treatment should be modified based on the stage of the illness a patient is in, to reduce severity and improve chances of recovery.⁠

Click here to read the paper - and please do share with your friends, colleagues and any medical professionals you know. This information could save many lives, so we're hoping this approach is adopted across the globe.

Listen to our founder Jabe Brown discuss the latest facts about the virus, how it spreads and how to keep yourself safe, and the four ways you can support your immune system on the How To Not Get Sick And Die podcast.

We're here to help

We wish you the best of health and sanity during this time.

If you'd like personalised health advice to strengthen your immunity, we're now offering Immune SOS telehealth sessions with our functional medicine practitioners, which you can book here.

Please do reach out to us if we can support you in any way. We’ll get through this time together.

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