This article will outline everything you need to know about Coronavirus Disease 2019, COVID-19,– its characteristics, transmission, symptoms, what to do if you suspect infection, treatment, and prevention.
What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a virus that mainly infects the cells lining your respiratory tract. It derives its name from its characteristic crown-like appearance under the microscope (Latin: corona = crown). The crown-like appearance is a result of studded proteins (called spike proteins) that cover the outer viral membrane. The coronavirus uses these spike proteins to bind to receptors on our cells, specifically the angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor, which becomes important when we talk about treatments later on. After it binds to the ACE2 receptor, it invades the cell and takes over the show.
Like any virus, the coronavirus is not alive so it requires human cells to replicate. The coronavirus’ preferred cells for replication are our ciliated epithelial cells, the microscopic hair-like cells that line our respiratory tract and are responsible for sweeping away mucus, dust, and debris. This preference accounts for the major coronavirus respiratory symptoms we see. However, the virus can also invade and replicate in our immune, lymph, and spleen cells. After it invades these cells, it creates a storm of inflammation called a “cytokine cascade.” It is the inflammation that causes the severe respiratory damage.
The coronavirus strain that is responsible for COVID-19 is closely related to the coronavirus strain that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) in China back in 2002, and has therefore been termed SARS-CoV-2. Besides SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, there are five known coronavirus strains that have been linked to disease in humans. Other coronavirus strains cause disease in birds and mammals, particularly bats.
How is coronavirus transmitted?
The majority of transmission occurs human-to-human via respiratory droplets. When an infected individual coughs, sneezes, or even spits accidentally while talking, the virus gets released into the air and can infect another person within about a 6 foot radius, as long as it makes direct contact with the person’s mucous membranes (eyes, nose, lips, and mouth). Transmission can also occur indirectly when a person touches an infected surface and then touches his or her mucous membranes.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
The main symptoms of the virus include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. These symptoms usually appear 3 to 6 days after exposure, although the incubation period could be as long as 14 days. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Other “flu-like” symptoms such as fatigue, malaise, chills, loss of appetite, headaches, and muscle aches are also common. Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are less common but possible.
Who is most at risk for contracting coronavirus?
As mentioned above, symptoms can range from mild to severe. Severe disease is more likely in the following individuals:
1. Elderly adults
2. Those with pre-existing illnesses like cardiovascular disease, lung disease, chronic kidney disease, or hepatitis B
3. Those with weakened immune systems due to:
- Diabetes (especially uncontrolled)
- Immunosuppressive drugs (ex: corticosteroids, methotrexate, cyclosporine, tacrolimus, sirolimus, mycophenolate, cyclophosphamide)
- Inherited diseases that affect the immune system (ex: congenital agammaglobulinemia, congenital IgA deficiency)
What should I do if I suspect that I have been infected with coronavirus?
If you begin to display any of the symptoms mentioned above, or have had direct contact with an infected person, do the following:
1. Stay home and quarantine yourself! Avoid all public areas – work, school, stores, parks, public transit, etc.
2. Contact your healthcare provider immediately. Do not come into the office.
3. Contact your local hospital or urgent care clinic to see if they offer coronavirus testing. If they do, go get tested and leave the house only to seek medical care.
Are there treatments for coronavirus?
There are currently no specific antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19.
There are some botanicals with antiviral properties that can be effective against coronavirus. Much like the pharmaceuticals Tamiflu and Relenza block the infectious cycle of the influenza virus, there are various botanicals that block the infectious cycle of the coronavirus. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis), Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), Chinese rhubarb (Rheum officinale), horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), elder (Sambucus nigra), and cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.) block the attachment of coronavirus to the ACE2 receptor. By blocking the attachment to varying degrees, these botanicals can help protect your lung, lymph, and spleen cells from invasion by the virus.
Other botanicals like kudzu (Pueraria montana), sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza), gingko (Ginkgo biloba), and hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) help protect your ACE2 proteins and thus protect your lungs from virally induced inflammation and damage. Anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating botanicals are wonderful adjuncts to antivirals; think of turmeric, astragalus, cordyceps, and berberines.
Other general antiviral botanicals that may be useful against coronavirus include chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata), woad (Isatis tinctoria), weeping forsythia (Forsythia suspensa), shrubby sophora (Sophora flavescens), sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), Chinese yam (Dioscorea batatas), eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.), Korean gentian (Gentiana scabra), and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng).
These botanicals can be taken in tincture, tea, or capsule form.
Are there ways to prevent coronavirus?
There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19.
The best way to prevent coronavirus is by practicing good hygiene and building a robust, strong immune system.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, scrubbing every little crevice for at least 20 seconds!
- Use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not readily available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, lips, and mouth.
- Cover your mouth when you cough, sneeze, or yawn and wash your hands immediately afterwards.
- Clean and disinfect all the surfaces and objects that are touched often – counters, faucets, doorknobs, phones, etc.
Immune System Support
1. Diet: Avoid dietary factors that depress the immune system, like refined sugar and simple carbohydrates, food allergens, and alcohol. Emphasize a whole food, plant-based diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
2. Sleep: Get adequate, restful sleep every night. For adults, this means 8-9 hours of sleep every night. Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool; create a relaxing bedtime routine; and avoid bright light, particularly LED or blue light, for an hour or more before bedtime to encourage melatonin production and restful sleep.
3. Stress management: Chronic stress dampens your immune response. Engage in daily activities to calm your nervous system and lower stress – diaphragmatic breathing, warm Epsom salts baths, soothing music, aromatherapy, yoga, meditation, prayer, time in nature, and other activities that bring you joy.
4. Healthy microbiome: About 70% of your immune system resides in your gut. It even has a special name – the Gut-Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT). The health of your gut directly impacts the health of your other mucosal tissues (i.e. your respiratory tract). By feeding and supporting the good bacteria in your gut, you are directly benefitting your immune system and protecting your respiratory tract! Include fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, tempeh, natto, kefir, and yogurt in your daily meal plans. Also include adequate amounts of dietary fiber, which will feed your gut bacteria and promote a diverse microbiome. Supplementation with probiotics, specifically Bifidobacterium and Bacillus strains, can also be very beneficial when your microbiome and immune system need an extra boost.
Immune Boosting Nutrients
1. Zinc: Zinc is crucial for the function of your natural killer cells that are responsible for killing virally infected cells. Oysters have the highest zinc content of any food, but meat, dairy products, beans, whole grains, and nuts are also good sources. Additional supplementation with 25-40 mg of zinc daily may be beneficial.
2. Selenium: Selenium is another nutrient that your immune system relies on for proper function. Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium. Aim for 200 mcg of selenium daily, which is about 3-6 Brazil nuts per day.
3. Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that contributes to your immune defenses and aids in microbial killing. There are some current clinical trials investigating intravenous vitamin C’s ability to treat COVID-19. As mentioned earlier, infection with coronavirus triggers a great deal of inflammation in the body. Most of this inflammation is a result of free-radical damage and oxidative stress. Early use of large doses of antioxidants, like vitamin C, can play a major role in the management of coronavirus.
4. Antioxidants: Other antioxidants like glutathione and alpha lipoic acid can also be beneficial, as can intravenous ozone and laser therapies.
5. Vitamin D3: Vitamin D3 is an immune system regulator. Deficiency is associated with increased susceptibility to infections. Supplement with Vitamin D3 daily.
6. Mushrooms: Medicinal mushrooms like reishi, cordyceps, turkey tail, chaga, shiitake, maitake, and agaricus are powerful immune system modulators that can help your body be resilient in the face of viral infections. Using these mushrooms in culinary or supplemental form will offer you a broad spectrum of immune support.
New information about COVID-19 is being released every day. Focus on prevention; use your best judgment when deciding if you should attend work, school, or other public events; and remember, fear and panic may be the biggest obstacles to your health!
Written by: Dr. Alyssa Christoforou
If you have any questions or would like to learn more, contact the clinic today to schedule your free 10 minute consultation with Dr. Christoforou: https://naturopathic-doctors.com/contact/
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