Updated: Mar 25, 2020
The recent Coronavirus outbreak has triggered so many memories for me. Some of you may know that I was living in Taiwan during the SARS virus outbreak. I will never forget the empty streets and markets and the surreal feeling of seeing only masked faces everywhere I went. Yet amidst the tension, there was a great sense of community and solidarity. People gladly took on the responsibility for both not infecting others and for protecting themselves. Again, I am witnessing people's genuine desire to do the best possible things to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.
Over the last few weeks, many people have reached out to me wondering what they can do to protect themselves and others from contracting the Coronavirus and also what natural substances and techniques they might use to help them recover if they are infected. There is still a great deal that we do not know about COVID-19 because it is a novel virus (unknown until now). There is no body of research on this specific virus to refer back to. However, I do think it is valuable to reflect on what we do know about other Coronaviruses that are similar to this one (SARS and MERS). In addition, we can utilize what we know from a public health standpoint and also what we know about natural remedies that can support healthy immune function.
I think it is also worth noting that in China and Taiwan, they have integrated national health care systems that utilize both western and traditional medicine simultaneously. Traditional Chinese medicine has been a part of the standard treatment of care provided in Asia in response to viral epidemics. If you are interested in the specifics of how herbal medicine and acupuncture are being used you can find information here and here. This information is quite in depth but it provides a look into how TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) doctors think about pathology and how TCM can be used on a large institutional level.
In addition, in this post, I provide several links for useful information that will help you keep track of the progression of COVID-19. I also share some insights from other natural health practitioners I have been receiving information from and provide some ideas for both prevention and adjunctive treatment. It is important to remember, none of these recommendations are intended to replace medical advice. If you believe you might be infected, please contact your primary care provider and your local health department immediately and stay home. You can find a link for Multnomah County Public Health Department here.
A good starting place for dealing with Coronavirus is staying current with the spread of the virus. You can track the updated number of cases daily using this link from John's Hopkins. I also suggest taking a look here at recommended products for sanitizing. Here is what the current CDC guidelines are. Keep track of this link to check in with updates.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Stay home when you are sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, then wash or sanitize hands immediately.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
If you are sick: You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then you should do your best to cover your coughs and sneezes, and people who are caring for you should wear a facemask if they enter your room.
If you are NOT sick: You do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask). Facemasks may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers.
Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
If surfaces are dirty, clean them: Use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
From my perspective, these are the bare minimum things we should be doing to prevent the escalation of this epidemic. From a public health perspective it is integral that people try to stay home as much as possible. Avoiding as many people as possible is the most responsible and compassionate thing we can do. Another powerful way of protecting yourself is through educating yourself. There is a lot information flying around. I recommend being cautious about what you read and hear. Dr. Elisa Song is a well know pediatrician who recently shared a great synopsis of facts that we do know about this epidemic. I highly recommend reading this full article and I personally thank her for taking the time write such a thorough piece. After reading it, I felt a great relief that I could just share her article rather than having to write out so much of this myself! Below you will find some informative facts from her article to help you better understand what is happening. Dr. Song's article is a few days old. For updated numbers please reference the John's Hopkins link above.
"What is the COVID-19 mortality rate?
Unfortunately, we don’t really know. As stated above, we need real case numbers to know real death rates. The high number of deaths in China is devastating, but may not be reflective of mortality rates in other parts of the world given the tragic lack of hospital staff, medical supplies, ICU beds, and test kits that China is facing. And this may similarly be the case in other countries like Iran.
If we just look at our current numbers, the death rate appears to be quite high. The reported mortality rate in China is 3.8%, in Iran 3.3%. BUT – let’s take a look at South Korea. In South Korea, of the currently 7,478 people who have tested positive for 2019-nCoV after testing 100s of thousands or people, 53 have died:
That’s a 0.7% mortality rate – a far cry from the 2-3.5% mortality rate that is currently being reported in the news. Note that this is still significantly higher than the estimated 0.1% mortality rate from influenza. No death is to be taken lightly, and my heart goes out to those who are suffering tragic losses. But before we accept the high reported mortality rate and succumb to the rapidly worsening hysteria and potential worldwide economic collapse, we need REAL NUMBERS. I urge policymakers to quickly develop more widespread and rapidly available testing capabilities, not simply to quarantine those who are infected, but to shed real light on the gravity of the situation and help the public, clinicians, public health departments, and businesses be calmly and rationally prepared."
Who's Getting Sick:
Children are being diagnosed with the virus but do not seem to be exhibiting symptoms. It is unclear yet whether they are carriers of the disease. Previously healthy adults (age 30-79) who’re getting the virus seem to be exhibiting mild flu-or common cold-like symptoms. However, with age, the risk of more severe symptoms does increase, with the highest risk of severe respiratory symptoms and complications (including death) being in people over 80 who have pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions. These are the people in our community we want to protect.
The data direct from China (as reported in JAMA) is as follows: most case patients were 30 to 79 years of age (87%), 1% were aged 9 years or younger, 1% were aged 10 to 19 years, and 3% were age 80 years or older. Most cases were diagnosed in Hubei Province (75%) and most reported Wuhan-related exposures (86%; ie, Wuhan resident or visitor or close contact with Wuhan resident or visitor). Most cases were classified as mild (81%; ie, non-pneumonia and mild pneumonia). 14% were severe (ie, dyspnea, respiratory frequency ≥30/min, blood oxygen saturation ≤93%, partial pressure of arterial oxygen to fraction of inspired oxygen ratio <300, and/or lung infiltrates >50% within 24 to 48 hours), and 5% were critical (ie, respiratory failure, septic shock, and/or multiple organ dysfunction or failure).
Common symptoms to watch for (from a recent report in JAMA) are:
· 98% exhibit a fever
· 76%-82% have a dry cough with little to no mucus production
· 11%-44% exhibit exhaustion and fatigue"
Having more information can help us have a more clear sense of what is really going on. Paying attention to what other countries and regions are doing can also be helpful if we want to be active in framing the conversation about what our response should look like. It is unfortunate that at this point in time our national response to testing and containment seems to have been more focused on financial markets and less on public health. This means that it is up to local communities and individuals to be smart. This is not the apocalypse, but we need to be prepared and to be proactive. It also behooves to think about our whole community rather than just our immediate circle. Consider your neighborhood and the communities you are a part of. Can you think of any especially vulnerable individuals that might be feeling isolated and afraid at this moment? Don't be shy about reaching out and offering to be point of contact person for others. You won't catch Coronavirus by dropping off a pot of soup to an elderly neighbor or calling to check in on people. A sense of togetherness and coordinated efforts is what will bring us through this scenario with the least possible difficulty and suffering.
One component of preparedness is staying healthy. I have compiled a list of ideas for you to help you boost your immune system and take care of yourself. I am no longer seeing patients in person but am available for telemedicine consults. For continued updates sign up for this blog or just reach out via phone or email.
Strategies for Boosting the Immune System
Vitamin D: 2,000 - 5,000 IU daily (depends on your situation eg skin color, region and medical history)
Vitamin C: 2,000 mg a day for prevention (if this causes loose bowels reduce to 1,000). Higher doses can be used if illness occurs. IV vitamin C has been shown to be an effective early treatment for those infected with the coronavirus.
Elderberry syrup- one teaspoon daily. I also love the Elderberry Zinc lozenges.
Probiotics: your choice of a multi-strain, high parts per billion (ppb) quality probiotic to strengthen your own microbiome.
Zinc: Excellent immune booster and key for healthy immune function.
Lomatium dissectum tincture: To use as an antiviral treatment for flu type symptoms take 1/4 tsp every 3 to 4 hours for 5 days in 1 cup of hot water. Can also be used for prevention, 30 drops daily in water. Click here to find this product. Lomatium dissectum is "a powerful antiviral plant used by Native Americans to survive the 1918 influenza epidemic may prove to be a strong modern-day cold and flu remedy" according to a report from the University of California. The root’s anti-viral action is combined with a respiratory clearing action that is especially useful for dealing with the secondary infections caused by many strains of influenza.
Mushrooms with anti-microbial and immune boosting properties. The Fungi Perfecti website has great info about the medicinal properties of mushrooms.
Chinese herbs (consult with a local practitioner for a protocol that is right for you).
To review additional research on natural remedies that have been used on Coronaviruses (though not this specific virus yet) that has been compiled by Green Med Info you can link here.
Below are some other food and lifestyle based recommendations you might consider during the upcoming weeks.
Exercise regularly. The general recommendation is to get your heart rate elevated at least 30 mins 3x/week. Be mindful not to overexercise or strain yourself because this can reduce immunity. Exercises like Yoga and Qigong that build and circulate the energy of the body, move the lymph and support stress reduction are excellent options.
Get some fresh air and sunshine if possible.
Stay hydrated. When you think about hydrating, make sure you are getting high quality minerals and electrolytes. Minerals are also important to a well functioning immune system.
Try to not to get chilled. Your grandma was right! Stay warm if you don't want to catch a cold.
Eat a diet of nutritious, fresh, whole unprocessed foods. Include extra onions, garlic, ginger and aromatic spices in your cooking. Avoid sugar and processed foods. If you notice that a food makes you have more mucus, avoid it.
Manage your stress levels. Stress is one of the biggest factors that depletes our own natural immunity.
Get enough sleep. 7 hours is the bare minimum you should be sleeping to be fully rested. Aim for 8 hours for optimal health.
Try contrast showers (alternating between hot and cold water every 30 seconds for 3 minutes) or skin brushing to help stimulate the movement of the lymph.
As an eternal optimist, I like to try and see each situation I encounter as an opportunity for connection to others, greater health and self knowledge. Everyday in clinical practice, I hear people proclaim their desires to slow down and spend more time with their families, friends and pets. Perhaps we can use Coronavirus as an opportunity to find the slowness we desire. Stay home as much as you can! Make soup, drink tea, if you have a garden, plant it. Practice an instrument, read a book, play a game, do a puzzle, go for a walk, paint, re-organize your basement, call old friends. Rediscover the lost arts of recreation that are rapidly disappearing from our lives. This like all things will pass. In the meantime, try to stay well and remember that you are not in this alone.
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Anna Master LAc
Potentials Wellness Center