Regular viruses are worrisome enough. Every year we face them… stomach viruses, upper respiratory viruses and, of course, influenza.
But over the years, alarms have been raised about new types of viruses, most originating overseas, that potentially pose a deadly threat. MERS, SARS, bird and swine flu comes to mind.
Now we’re just starting to hear about a new one from China that’s made landfall in the US and is identified as 2019-nCoV.
Two Americans, both after traveling to Wuhan China (the epicenter of the virus), have been diagnosed stateside: one in Washington State and the other in Chicago.
The good news is they are hospitalized and in stable condition. The bad news is the virus has killed at least 17 people in China, as I write this (maybe more by the time you read this).
Now, we don’t fear what we understand, right. So, let’s just go over what we know about this virus — and because it is a virus, let’s talk about how to protect ourselves from it and others… Because, frankly, these viruses seem to be the new norm. Next year and the year after there will be more.
What is Coronavirus 2019-nCoV
A coronavirus virus, named for the crown appearance it has when viewed under a microscope, causes an upper respiratory infection… the kind that affects your nose, sinuses and upper throat.
The truth is that most coronaviruses are not dangerous and are not unlike viruses that cause colds, like the rhinovirus. In fact, symptoms would be similar to what we normally experience with a cold… runny nose, coughing, sneezing, and a sore throat.
A coronavirus can, however, spread to the lower respiratory tract which includes your lungs, and can cause pneumonia, especially in people with a compromised immune system, the elderly and anyone with heart disease.
Coronaviruses can sometimes infect both animals and humans. Right now, not much is known about human-to-human transmission with 2019-n-CoV.
Should you be concerned
Occasionally a coronavirus develops that seems especially virulent.
Two examples you may remember are Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) which first appeared in 2012, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) which caused an outbreak in 2003.
MERS killed about three or four of every 10 people it infected. But experts have said it appeared more likely to kill people with underlying conditions like diabetes, kidney problems, and breathing problems.
Even when it comes to the flu virus, this can be said. Most adults with healthy immune symptoms can survive these infections. And in the U.S, medical care is more available than in the countries where MERS, SARS and now the new coronavirus, erupted.
Still, following certain practices can make you less likely to be infected with a virus of any kind. So even if your immune system isn’t the best because of underlying issues, you can feel safer taking them.
We can all also work to boost our immune systems, though most of us never give this idea a second thought until cold and flu season rolls around. But working at it year-round is the best option.
How these viruses spread
According to the CDC human coronaviruses are passed through coughing and sneezing, close personal contact, touching contaminated objects and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.
That’s why avoiding doing any of the above is on their list to avoid infection or spread of any virus.
Since only two persons in the US are infected and hospitalized, it’s a safe bet this coronavirus won’t be a threat to most of us. Still, this is no trivial matter. But to avoid a viral infection regardless, especially if your health is already compromised, ramp us these practices:
Wash your hand more than you think you need to: Experts advise washing with soap for at least 20 seconds. In between trips to the sink or if you’re out and about, keep hand sanitizer with you and use the stuff often.
Keep your hands away from your face: For microbes, your nose, eyes, and mouth are easy gateways to infiltrate your body. If you’re in the habit of touching your face a lot (I used to!), develop a habit that deters your hand. I started tapping my thumb and index fingers together anytime my hand went for my face. It helps.
Don’t share drinks with friends or family members: During cold and flu season you have an excuse without offending anyone.
Wear a mask in crowds: They do it in China, so why not? At worst, you might feel funny the first time you do it. At best, you won’t get sick grocery shopping around the sick people who don’t or can’t stay home.
Carry disinfectant wipes with you: They make small flat packs now that could fit in a purse, backpack or coat pocket easily. Use them to wipe off the grocery cart. And clean surfaces at home a little more often with them.
Pumping up your immune system
Good nutrition is one of the best ways to keep your immune system strong. Whole foods, less sugar, and good clean water and warm soothing teas get me through these cold and flu winter months.
But because the viruses don’t play around, neither do I. There’s no reason I shouldn’t take advantage of potent nutritional sources that are known to improve the immune response.
When it comes to these things, I’m a fan of Dr. Eliaz’s writings. Most of my list of top immune enhancers comes from his post on antiviral tips for the winter season and includes:
- Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Stimulates immune cells called macrophages, stops viral replication of influenza and inactivates the virus. Use it in the form of deglycerized licorice if you have any blood pressure issues, after discussing it with your doctor.
- Tulsi or Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum): Has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activity and stimulates the immune system.
- Garlic (Allium sativum): Has shown antiviral activity against influenza and common cold viruses.
- Coconut (Cocos nucifera): Contains medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) with potent antiviral activity.
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale): Has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Hibiscus tea: Viral pandemic protection in a teacup
- Indian gooseberry, aka amla, (Phyllanthus emblica): Has immune-strengthening and antiviral activity.
- Green tea (Camellia sinensis): Has potent antiviral properties as well as immune enhancement activities.
- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea): Activates infection-fighting capacity for faster recovery and reduction of symptoms when taken at the first sign of cold or flu.
He also explains why mushrooms are vital for immune support: They contain minerals known to be essential to proper immune function including zinc and selenium. They also possess 1,3 beta-glucans, a type of carbohydrate shown in numerous studies to modulate the immune system. Research shows these mushrooms can enhance the immune response to influenza vaccines.
Lastly, consider increasing the amount of vitamin D you take. And here’s why: Research in Africa shows that vitamin D possesses such powerful immunity benefits – your immune system’s T-cells and beta cells also have vitamin D receptors – that it can even help the body fight a virulent invader like HIV-1.
Most of us, if we supplement, only take the minimum 400 IU for bone health. But the Vitamin D council and Dr. Michael Cutler recommend 5,000 IU daily.
Stay safe out there!
- Coronavirus — WebMD
- How dangerous is coronavirus? — FOX News
- What You Need to Know About MERS — The New York Times