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Ask Pat #109 Coronavirus – Are we supposed to worry?

Ask Pat columnI have never found worrying to be helpful. But a little foresight and action often is helpful. 

The Covid19 form of  the coronavirus is in the process of taking down many parts of the world including Italy and Germany. It has achieved crisis proportions in some states. Major events characterized by crowds of people (like NBA basketball games) are being canceled because a player was diagnosed and the exposure level is so large. 

As of this writing Arkansas, however, has finally gotten its first case. It may be tempting to think, “well, gee. This is only one.”  But the message really is,  “Now it starts.” And when it starts it becomes rampant. It may well already be rampant, not identified because of limited testing. 

The good news is that healthy people who are exposed (many of whom won’t even get symptoms) will develop antibodies to the virus, protecting themselves from future infection. All is good. The bad news is unhealthy people with underlying health conditions can get very sick and some will die. The problem is, we are wandering around in a mixed group.  

What is a virus?   

Examples of viruses are the common cold (which is often a coronavirus), different types of flu, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, small pox, shingles, hepatitis, herpes, polio, rabies, SARS, MERS, HIV, Ebola. A quick read tells you that some of these are much more deadly than others.

Virus protection  

The human body’s immune system is intended to identify viruses and create “antibodies” to kill the virus. A vaccine is created to introduce antibodies in the body and prevent the illness from happening or at least minimize the  problems. As a rule vaccines have been created to prevent viruses that have historically been particularly virulent.

Take note. Many of the viral diseases outlined above are those for which there are typically vaccines. That is because there are no cures for viruses. Treatments are typically designed to reduce the symptoms and, in some cases, keep you alive until the immune system can do its job.  

Polio is a good example. Polio, a virus, was a major crisis in the world. Yet about 95% of polio cases were asymptomatic (not even noticed). Though most people recovered quickly from polio, some suffered temporary or permanent paralysis and even death. Many polio survivors were disabled for life. Therefore prevention seemed like a really good idea.

The situation with Covid 19 is exactly the same. A large percentage of the population (including children) will carry it,  mildly ill or not sick at all, exposing other people who will not be so lucky. Children are extraordinarily impacted by the flu but apparently not with Covid 19.

Coronavirus and Covid 19

Coronavirus is a family of viruses, the most common of which is the common cold. Covid 19 is a “novel” corona virus never before seen. So despite its potential virulence for susceptible individuals, there is not yet a vaccine. 

Covid 19 and the flu 

Both of these are respiratory in nature and are transmitted, along with air) through the nose and mouth into the lungs. The early symptoms are similar but the flu tends to manifest quickly upon infection while Covid 19 has an incubation period (somewhere between 4 and 14 days) before symptoms show up. So you could have been infected last week and not see the illness until this week.

You are exposed to viruses every day of your life. Tens of thousands of people die every year from the flu.  We don’t yet know if Covid 19 is more deadly than the flu. 

If your immune system is in full operating mode you may not be symptomatic at all. So it is obvious that those susceptible to the worst cases of flu and Covid 19 are those who are immune compromised.

What is immune compromised?

If you seem to catch everything that goes around, you are immune compromised. Do you have any autoimmune diseases or other underlying health conditions? If so you are immune compromised. Those who take immune suppressants for any reason are definitely immune compromised.  Are you old? The older we get the more our immune systems start to falter. There is a reason why Covid 19 and the flu can become virulent in nursing homes.     

Those who end up in ICU and die are typically those who are immune compromised. 

Worry is not the answer.  Protection of the immune compromised from exposure is the answer. By the way, that could be you.   

Protect yourself and everybody else

Protecting yourself and everyone else is identical.  Everyone is going to be exposed.  

The incubation period is the problem. You are exposed to people who are “incubating.” Then you unknowingly pick the virus up and begin your own incubation, pass it on to somebody else (even when you don’t get sick), and so it goes – spreading like wildfire. Just like the flu, by the way.

Most people aren’t going to be sick. But you probably don’t know who around you is the VERY ONE who will.  

Smart rules to follow:

  1. Wash your hands vigorously for 20 seconds with soap and water, making sure to get soap into every nook and cranny including under your nails. Both the Covid 19 and flu viruses have a fat layer that protects the virus. Nothing beats soap for breaking down that layer, allowing the virus to come apart and die.
  2. Do your best to keep your hands away from your face. That virus is looking for a track into your nose or mouth. Not breathing is the best but will kill you for sure.
  3. Keep your symptoms to yourself. Coughing, sneezing, etc. on others should be avoided because you are spewing a virus around to others. If you have symptoms, put yourself in isolation at home.
  4. Keep your distance, say 6 or more feet, from other people. And don’t be touching people. (This is really hard for me.) Every handshake, hug, kiss, or shared drink is an opportunity to spread the virus you didn’t even know you had. Or catch the virus from someone else.
  5. A serious symptom for both flu and Covid 19 is a temperature  and shortness of breath. Do not ignore these.  
  6. If you have any respiratory or any other serious symptoms, call (do not visit) your doctor or the hospital and get advice on how to proceed. This precaution keeps you from exposing anybody else AND it keeps someone else from exposing YOU. People in emergency rooms, clinics, and doctor’s office are sick. Don’t go there unless instructed to do so.
  7. It is possible for this virus to overwhelm the medical system including hospitals.  As it is, this year’s high flu levels are already doing that. Don’t contribute to the problem. 
  8. The incubation period is the problem. You are exposed to people who are “incubating.” Then you unknowingly pick the virus up and begin your own incubation,, pass it on to somebody else (even when you don’t get sick), and so it goes – spreading like wildfire. Just like the flu, by the way. 
  9. At this writing the one diagnosed case of Covid 19 in Arkansas (so far) is a person who came in from out of state. Many of the hospital staff and students from a school are exposed. The health department is doing their best to identify every person who might have been exposed anywhere else. This is a daunting and potentially impossible task. On the date of publication that number will undoubtedly be different.

There are school systems in the state who have already been advised to prepare for closing because there are likely virus cases that have not been officially diagnosed. Here is what we know. Those kids will probably not be a problem for themselves but they are carriers. It is unsure to me that sending them out into the population is helpful but that is a decision made by others. 

In other states (and countries) it has become necessary to limit crowd gatherings of any kind. This is to avoid exposure and prevent transmission. Given that  mixed populations (healthy and unhealthy) are the greatest danger, this makes the very best sense.

Bottom line 

Avoid particularly large mixed gatherings. Avoid unnecessary (however much this conflicts with your social norms,) touching of others. Be particularly protective of yourself or others who are older and immune compromised. 

Populations in particular dangers are in nursing and assisted living facilities. Stay away from the nursing home unless you have a truly important reason to be there. And don’t get all bent out of shape when you are stopped at the door. When some “gathering” is canceled, consider it an inconvenient but protective measure on your behalf. It is not a cause for panic. 

Our economy and that of the world is going to be impacted. But not dying in a virus pandemic is more important.  

These rules may be counter to our culture. But they are simple. I have never found worrying to be helpful. 

 

 Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Proceeds from her book benefit the Montgomery County Food Pantry. She can be contacted at patsmith2@live.com, 870-490-1836. Her Facebook page is www.facebook.com/patsmithbooks.  Her website is http://www.allaboutthefood.org/ 

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