Every day brings a new update about the spread of coronavirus. There are more cases all around the world every day and naturally people are very concerned. There’s certainly not a shortage of stories in the media but is the virus as dangerous as it’s being portrayed? And is the hysteria that’s being generated potentially more damaging than the threat posed by the virus?
In Canada, you can get the very latest updates courtesy of the federal government, including the current situation in different parts of the country, the risk to Canadians, how the government is monitoring the virus, travel advice, and the symptoms, treatment, and risk factors here.
Mass panic is certainly not going to help the situation but neither will complacency. Despite the fear being whipped up on social media and in the traditional media reports, it’s perfectly natural to be anxious about this situation. This outbreak isn’t to be casually dismissed as it is very serious and everyone needs to accept that and not be in denial. We all need to work together to get through this. We may not know everything about the coronavirus yet and vaccines, treatment and indeed cures are still some way off, but we need to determine strategies that are going to work to protect ourselves and prevent the spread of the virus. So what exactly is coronavirus?
Coronavirus is an illness that mostly affects our respiratory system. Doctors are still learning about the virus but it is thought to primarily be airborne, which means that it can be spread from one person to another. When a person coughs or sneezes they produce what are known as respiratory droplets. These can be breathed in by other people that are nearby or left on your hands if you touch your face after coughing or sneezing. In China, the fact that the illness seems to be mainly transmitted to family members, healthcare workers and others in close contact with an infected person strongly indicates the transfer of the virus is by respiratory droplets. The droplets can also remain on objects that have been touched, such as door handles, keyboard, elevator buttons, and many other everyday items. The virus can then spread if a person comes into contact with a surface that’s been contaminated.
It has been suggested by recent studies that asymptomatic patients are also able to transmit the infection. This means that isolation might not be as effective a weapon against the virus as was previously thought. Researchers followed viral expression through infection through throat and nasal throat swabs in a small select group of patients. The researchers discovered that there were increases in viral loads at the point when the patients became asymptomatic. Doctors in Wuhan, China, studied 425 patients that had the virus. Many of the earliest cases were linked to direct exposure to live animal and seafood markets. However, later cases were unconnected to the animal markets, reinforcing the theory that the virus is transmitted between humans.
There are believed to be many different types of coronavirus but only 7 of them can cause disease in humans. Some of the coronaviruses that usually affect animals are also able to infect people. The diseases Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) are also caused by coronaviruses that moved to people from animals. Like MERS and SARS, COVID-19 is believed to have originated in bats. Before the illness was brought under control in 2003, SARS infected more than 8,000 people and almost 800 died. 2,465 cases of MERS have been reported since 2012 and 850 people have died. The mortality rate for SARS was around 10%, whereas for MERS the mortality rate is around 34.5%.
The coronavirus that is currently in the news is called SARS-COV-2 (formerly called 2019-nCOV). The disease that it causes has been called Coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). Once someone has the virus, the symptoms can be very mild but for some people they can be very serious and endanger life. Although we’re still learning about COVID-19 it does seem to be milder in its effects than SARS or MERS, with only a 2% mortality rate. Initially, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the worst severe cases in China were mostly in adults over 40 years old with significant comorbidities. This means that the patient has more than one chronic medical condition. The illness also seemed to affect more men than women, although this could change as the outbreak continues. As of March 12, 2020, COVID-19 had been confirmed in more than 128,343 people, mostly in China. To date 68,324 people have recovered from the infection. By this date, the virus had caused more than 4,720 deaths and has spread to more and more countries. These websites have information on the global situation that is updated regularly. Keep in mind that an estimated 291,000 to 646,000 people die worldwide from flu every year.
Symptoms of Coronavirus
A person that has Covid-19 might not show any symptoms at all for between 2 and 12.5 days, with the average time being 5.2 days. This one can easily pass it on to others without even knowing that they are infected in the early stages. The average time from infection to symptoms appears to be 12.5 days. The pandemic worldwide appears to be doubling every 7 days and every infected person appears to infect an average of 2.2 others.
Symptoms can include:
- Breathing difficulties and shortness of breath.
While some of the symptoms are similar to colds and flu that people suffer from throughout the year, there are important differences. With the common cold we suffer from a runny nose and there is sputum or phlegm. This is the mixture of mucus and saliva that we cough up from our lungs when we get sick. With the coronavirus there’s a dry cough but no runny nose. This may occur in a small percentage of patients (4%) but it’s thought this is because they already have some form of flu or cold symptoms.
If nasal congestion does occur with this virus, it is usually very severe. If there is an associated sore throat, it can last for three or four days. The virus might then move to the trachea and lungs, resulting in pneumonia that can last for five or six days. Breathing difficulties and a high fever are also likely at this stage of the illness. People infected might have one or more other symptoms including headaches, muscle pain and stiffness, fatigue, loss of appetite, chills and sweats, a rash, dizziness, stomach upsets, or nausea. Numbers do vary but around 90-98% of people have a fever, 80% a dry cough, and 30% have trouble breathing and extreme fatigue. Acute respiratory distress syndrome developed in about 29 % of patients infected. Even though pneumonia is involved, 80% percent of these cases are mild and the person doesn’t need to go to a hospital. About 15 % had severe infection and 5 % were critical. The Chinese CDC analysis of 44,672 patients reported that the fatality rate on healthy people with no reported comorbid conditions was 0.9%.
In general, children, younger people, and young adults seem to get mild versions of the illness. Those at the highest risk are people aged 70 to 75 or older that have existing medical conditions such as cardiac problems or pulmonary issues such as emphysema. The virus is also more likely to affect people with weakened immune systems, kidney disease, diabetes, hepatitis B, and cancer.
There are a number of ways that you can protect yourself from being infected by the Covid-19 virus. Many of these are things should be part of our daily routines to prevent the spread of germs and keep our bodies healthy.
- Washing your hands regularly throughout the day with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds each time will help to keep infection at bay.
- All surfaces of the hands need to be cleaned, front and back, between the fingers and under the nails. You can use an alcohol-based non-toxic hand sanitizer (60% alcohol-based) if there’s no soap and water available. However, always use soap and water rather than hand sanitizer whenever possible.
- Always wash your hands before eating and touching your face. This is something you may have heard quite often recently, but infection can be spread via the nose, mouth, or eyes if your hands aren’t clean. Admittedly, the virus can only survive on your hands for between and ten minutes but although that may not seem long you could touch another part of your body in that time and spread the virus.
- Things that are frequently touched in the home, workplace or other locations must be regularly cleaned and disinfected with wipes or cleaning sprays. The virus can survive for up to twelve hours if it falls onto a metal surface. On fabric it lives for between six and twelve hours but regular laundry detergent will destroy the virus.
- Gargling can work to protect your throat from the virus. You can use a standard solution from the drugstore but really one made from salt in warm water is all you really need.
- It’s also a good idea to drink plenty of warm liquids such as tea rather than cold drinks, either with or without ice.
- Some people have also found bee propolis mouth spray to work well. Propolis is a substance created by bees to protect their hives against bacteria. As a spray it helps to relieve a sore throat or other mouth issues and strengthens the immune systems. It also encourages antioxidants in our bodies. Antioxidants are molecules that neutralize free radicals, which are unstable molecules cause cell damage. CAUTION: Propolis is not to be taken if you have a Honey or Bee allergy.
- If you’re showing no symptoms and remain healthy, avoid contact with others that are sick since the virus is considered to be airborne and spreads very quickly. It’s believed that the virus can travel between six and eight feet when it’s airborne.
- If you are sick with the virus, avoid contact with other so that you don’t help the virus to spread. Stay away from work or school and isolate yourself at home until you can recover.
- If you’re coughing and sneezing, try not to do this into your hands but into the crook of your arm or use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth and ensure that tissues are safely disposed of in the garbage.
- If you’re sick and have no choice but to go outside your home, wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth. This will stop you from infecting others while you’re out. However, bear in mind that if you don’t already have the virus a mask this will not protect you from catching the virus from an infected person that isn’t wearing a mask.
Li Q, Guan X, Wu P, et al. Early Transmission Dynamics in Wuhan, China of Novel Coronavirus-infected Pneumonia. N Engl. J Med. 2020 Jan 29
Dr. Bruce Hoffman, MSc, MBChB, FAARM, IFMCP is a Calgary-based Integrative and Functional medicine practitioner. He is the medical director at the Hoffman Centre for Integrative Medicine and The Brain Centre of Alberta specializing in complex medical conditions. He was born in South Africa and obtained his medical degree from the University of Cape Town. He is a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner (IFM), is board certified with a fellowship in anti-aging (hormones) and regenerative medicine (A4M), a certified Shoemaker Mold Treatment Protocol Practitioner (CIRS) and ILADS trained in the treatment of Lyme disease and co-infections. He is the co-author of a recent paper published by Dr. Afrin’s group: Diagnosis of mast cell activation syndrome: a global “consensus-2”. Read more about Dr. Bruce Hoffman.