Be Fearless and Prepared; Gearing Up For The Coronavirus Covid-19
by Ethan Borg, M.A.OM, L.Ac.
I am more concerned about people’s anxiety about this virus than the virus itself, so please permit me some re-framing of our international predicament:
As a healthcare provider, I have been tracking the coronavirus covid-19 with intense interest — trying to gauge whether the virus poses a true danger or if its bark is bigger than its bite. What makes this pathogen more challenging than most is that so many people are only mildly sick rather than overtly sick this can skew the data, ironically making the virus look far deadlier than it actually is.
A mortality rate as high as 2% as suggested by some models may turn out to be an artifact of “what’s visible” bias. What I mean by this is as follows: let’s say 100,000 people get sick and 80% have such a mild illness they do not even know they are sick. Maybe they feel “off” for a few days, have a headache, maybe a mild cough. They tell no one they feel “off” and no one otherwise picks up on this. In our scenario, let’s say 20% of people who contract the virus demonstrate more obvious symptoms, showing up at urgent care, their primary care physician’s office, or hospitals. Let’s include in this number family members and friends of someone who is sick who end up also getting tested and finding they have caught the bug. Of that set of 20,000 people who are now on the medical radar as “having covid-19”, sadly 2% die. In this case, the mortality rate is based on known cases (only the 20,000 sick people are measured in this example) and not taking into account a giant number of gentle and subtle cases (the 80,000 people not being included in the calculation). While the news may report a 2% mortality rate, in actuality it may be much much lower (0.4% in this example).
I am not sitting in the room with leading international epidemiologists and I do not know what numbers they are actually seeing. Even if I were, their numbers are mostly based on countries that are proprietary with their data (China and Iran). So, we can bet scientists are making educated guesses based on information shared with them, but this information is likely incomplete. It is very possible the mild cases are so far exceeding the known cases that even these numbers are significantly off.
News of “community contact” rather than through travel to countries with high infection rates actually suggests that a much larger population is likely infected than is known (and therefore many people are not being included in “infection rate” calculations). Given this, I am as yet hopeful that the organism will turn out to be much less dangerous than newspaper headlines are shouting.
WHAT WE KNOW FOR SURE
Nevertheless, what we do know for sure is the following:
- This organism is highly virulent and replicates akin to a flu, very quickly, threatening geometric growth. At this growth rate, with people outside quarantine passing it along, at best we can slow the transmission by cancelling public gatherings and having people isolate themselves with known or suspected infection, but the virus will eventually cross the globe and reach high population saturation (latest headlines suggest 70%).
- The virus attacks the lungs in what we call in Chinese medicine “a direct strike” of a “damp” pathogen, leading to high bronchial congestion — for most people expressing as a cough.
- Kids appear to weather it pretty darn well (thank goodness).
- People with pre-existing lung issues should be most vigilant in preventative care and should seek medical interventions faster if they meet the criteria I mention below.
Given this, we should all best prepare ourselves for this wave to pass through our communities by preparing ourselves and families in a way that optimizes our individual, family, and community immunity.
I am suggesting the following protocol to maximize your immunity and to improve your response should you get exposed or sick:
Obviously, first thing first. If you get sick and feel like you need emergency care, go to the hospital. These recommendations are not a replacement for Western medical emergency care.
SUPPLIES YOU’LL NEED
* 3% hydrogen peroxide
* 70% alcohol solution
* Fruits and veggies
* Baking soda
* Multivitamin (preferably one that includes all amino acids)
* Herbs for boosting immune system (if you are a fan of these)
* Fever reducers (ie. Oscillococcinum homeopathic remedy)
* Eucalyptus essential oil
* Pear juice (shelf stable) — be prepared to share yours with others who need this if grocery stores get low
* Alcohol based mouthwash (especially for parents of babies and toddlers)
* Q-tips or cottonballs
Western science has proven the following boost one’s immune system: regular exercise, eating vegetables and healthy proteins, hand washing, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, maintaining healthy social boundaries, elbow/fist bumping instead of handshaking, attacking superficial colonies, and reducing stress. This is a great moment in time to take each of these seriously.
A major part of your immune system runs on lymphatic “fluid.” Your lymphatic system is the super highway for your white blood cells, which flow along lymphatic vessels within the lymphatic fluid. Your lungs also require excellent hydration to work at peak performance, as oxygen/carbon dioxide transfer in the alveoli performs optimally when the lungs are properly lubricated. Most people do not drink enough water — they bounce from coffee to tea to soft drinks and so on. I recommend during the next few months to focus on hydrating with plain water with absolutely nothing added to it — not even lemon or lime. The stomach lining absorbs plain water and immediately converts it into lymphatic fluid. Add anything to the water, and this is not as efficient. Add sugar to the drink, and it is actually more dehydrating than hydrating.
When you first wake up, before you drink anything else, drink one and half glasses of plain water. This will boost fluids throughout your lymphatic system and promote healthy mucus production. A healthy mucus layer makes it much harder for infectious organisms to colonize one’s airway. The rule I suggest you follow is this: for every cup of something that you drink that is not water, also drink a cup of plain water as you go about your day.
The reason hydration is first on my list is as follows: this pathogen is airborne and floats in droplets that are likely to be breathed in. They will hit the upper airway, the throat, the skin, the central airway, and the bronchi. From there, they will try to colonize, deepen, and spread. If the mucus is healthy, flush, and full because of good hydration, there is a healthy barrier that will allow your white blood cells to efficiently clear the pathogens before they can colonize — and this dramatically reduces the probability of infection.
Some people are going to wonder if using a neti pot is recommended in this protocol, since it is flushing fluid through the nose and nasopharynx. It is my personal opinion that there are cons to using a neti pot that are problematic: a) it increases the likelihood of upper airway pressure and congestion (most people get the salinity wrong of the solution they use) and b) it may become “addictive” in the sense that the mucus membranes may reduce fluid production because they no longer need to work as hard.
Staying hydrated in the manner I suggest works from the inside out to push lymphatic fluid to the surface and promote the secretion of mucus out of the mucin glands throughout the entire airway. I prefer this method over using a neti pot if for no other reason than it is much more comprehensive. But if you have already been using a neti pot, continue doing so just in case your mucus membranes have already adapted to the neti pot and are producing less mucus.
Attacking Superficial Colonies
If a cold sore pops up on the lips, at the lip corners, or inside the mouth including on lips or gums, this is an infectious colony trying to deepen its infection. Saturate the head of a Q-tip or cotton ball with 3% hydrogen peroxide and press the fluid against the sore for 30 seconds. This will kill off the colony and is one of the most powerful acts of prevention in your arsenal.
Exercise every day for 30 minutes. If you are not already exercising, start with 10 minutes a day of walking and add 5 additional minutes every three days. Generally speaking, I prefer exercise in which you sweat (not walking), because in this case you know you have gotten your heart rate up. But as far as this protocol is concerned for raising immunity, walking is sufficiently good. I also prefer weight bearing exercise in everyone’s regular routine, but these being unusual times, I believe focusing on healthy cardiovascular well-being is sufficiently good, especially for people just starting up with this new habit. There are many forms of exercise you can do from home, including yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong — that you can learn from watching Youtube, should you have limited or no access to a gym.
Infectious organisms almost always grow more abundantly in acidic environments than in alkaline ones. Keeping your system alkaline will significantly slow down an infection because the pH of the blood acts, in a way, as part of the immune system — not just the white blood cells — by reducing metabolic activity in the infecting pathogens and subduing replication.
Most veggies increase alkalinity in the blood. Meats, especially red meat, increase acidity. I am not a nutritionist and I am not making recommendations as to proportions of meat vs veggies. Nevertheless, this is what I do recommend: making sure you not only eat vegetables at every meal, but that you snack on fruits and veggies as your in-between meal snacks to stay alkaline all day long. A healthy, whole balanced diet includes protein, but getting these mostly from plant based sources is ideal right now. Reduce red meat consumption specifically. Sugar and dairy will also increase acidity and should similarly be reduced until this wave of pathogen passes.
You may not know this, but washing your hands 6 times a day has been proven to be just as effective if not more so in preventing the flu than the annual flu shot^. Organisms persist on surfaces that you touch. If you touch your face or rub your eyes with these pathogens on the skin of your hand, this increases the likelihood of spreading infection and places organisms where they ideally want to be — at the eyes and nostrils.
Wash your hands every 2-3 hours throughout the day and at night before sleep. Wash your hands before you floss/brush your teeth. I also recommend washing your face with soap when you have returned home from work or school or any other location where you are exposed to groups of people (use moisturizer afterword if your skin is drying out from this intervention during these Winter months).
If you sleep less than 7 hours a night not because of insomnia but because of habit and lifestyle choices, go to bed earlier these next few months to get a minimum of 7 hours per night. If you can get 8, all the better. If you feel “off” absolutely go to bed early. From a Chinese medical perspective, we lie down when we are sick because this is a “Yin” position that can help cool down the body. This physical orientation is a natural part of our immune system when we are sick to make it harder for “Yang” pathogens to assert themselves. Sleeping is the most Yin activity we do. The more you lie down and sleep when you have a fever, the more protected you will be.
Obviously, the coronavirus itself is a stresser. Politics today is also stressful. We have family and work stress as well. You may not be able to take a news fast (avoiding all news) right now, but you can do any of the following: 1) read a book of fiction, 2) meditate for 10 minutes, 3) watch a Yoga video on Youtube and follow along, 4) learn self-hypnosis (my personal favorite). Add one or more of these to your agenda daily for the next 3 months . Think of news like it is caffeine, something to take in the morning and not to ingest later in the day. This is important in reducing stress and also in improving sleep. If you feel “off” or get sick, don’t watch the news until you feel better to keep your stress levels down.
Healthy Social Boundaries
Though getting together is a huge stress reliever for most people, there is also a strong argument to be made that if you are feeling “off” to not go out as you might otherwise do, but to take this time to improve your sleep and de-stress. This is good for you and your community (who you won’t potentially be exposing others to a bug). Stay home and watch a movie — specifically one that makes you laugh or releases “feel good” hormones (ie. romantic comedies, sports come back movies, etc). Avoid stressful movies.
The virus appears to hit older people harder than younger ones, so if you are in the “elder” category, feel free to tell people not to come over if you feel it will add to your stress level or if someone in the family system is sick with anything. Phones have video cameras in them now and you can still have face-to-face time without the germs.
That said, being part of a community is hugely important in reducine stress not just for yourself but for others. Make sure to reach out to friends and family who are sick. Check in regularly. Don’t allow this virus to isolate you or the people you care about. It reduces peoples’ stress to know someone is checking in on them.
Instead of shaking peoples’ hands these next few months, bump elbows or give them fist bumps. If you do shake hands, wash your hands as soon as you can thereafter.
There are various herbal remedies that can strengthen your immune system, though these might be in short supply depending on how things progress. Elderberry and echinacea are two examples. If you have a supply of one of these at home, consider taking this now. Echinacea takes weeks to best promote the immune system. Elderberry should be discontinued should symptoms of illness arise as Covid-19 damages the lungs via the body’s own immune system cytokines attacking infectious organisms too vigorously. Elderberry boosts the immune system by increasing cytokines. Feel free to use it for prevention and hopefully you never develop symptoms. But should congestion or cough arise, discontinue Elderberry at that time.
Take a multivitamin daily (even better if they contain all amino acids) to make sure your white blood cells are getting all the nutrients they need.
IF YOU HAVE BEEN EXPOSED
You were just around someone sick. What to do? First of all, don’t panic. You have a powerful immune system and you have health promoting strategies at your disposal.
What to do immediately: wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds. You simply have no idea how many times a day you touch your face unconsciously. So, remove pathogens from your hands.
Wet a hand towel with 3% hydrogen peroxide and wipe your face with the wet towel (closing your eyes, obviously). Let the solution sit for 60 seconds then wash it off with plain water. This will kill off colonies that have landed on your face. Try to avoid doing this more than once a day. Repeating this procedure too many times will cause skin irritation. If you have to do this regularly, make sure to moisturize your face after you wash off the peroxide to keep the skin as happy as possible.
If you are a parent of a baby or toddler and the child coughs or sneezes right into your mouth (its gross but it happens), gargle with alcohol based mouthwash ASAP and immediately start the “Alkalinize Your Blood With Baking Soda” protocol indicated below for the next several days.
If someone is sick at home, wipe down all commonly surfaces (ie. door handles, tv remotes, water nobs) with 70% alcohol once a day. And make sure that your sick buddy stays well hydrated! He/she is counting on you to be their reminder system. Handle any discarded tissues not thrown directly into the garbage with gloves.
IF YOU GET SICK
Again, no need to panic. Given the likely geometric growth possible with this pathogen, there is a very high probability that each of us will get some iteration of this bug. Consider it your turn. Congratulations! The goal of epidemiologists will be to slow transmission down by cancelling large gatherings so that the pressure on the healthcare system is as measured as possible, ensuring the best medical care for those in immediate need. Nevertheless, even with these strategies to slow down transmission, the bug will follow the normal cycles of a flu.
Given the 14 day incubation period, high infectious rates are all but guaranteed. So, should your prevention strategies fail and your turn comes up to create life long immunity against this virus, follow this advice: take it easy, and keep things light. Watch funny videos and movies. And keep chugging those fluids.
At least 80% of people who get hit will have an extremely mild version and, as I said above, that number could be way higher than 80% if for many it is so gentle it is barely noticeable. For a majority of people, it is likely that it will feel exactly like you got hit with a virus — nothing more, nothing less. You might have flu like symptoms. You might have a cough. You might be congested. Your lungs may feel tight. You know what it’s like to be sick and that is what getting this bug will feel like. Trust your body. Trust your immune system. Trust your strategies.
Seek care from your physician if you develop a cough that is spastic and deep sounding (in the lungs rather than in the central chest/throat/head) — and go to the emergency room right away if you have these symptoms plus extreme fatigue that is beyond what it normally feels when you get the flu. In such a case, getting assessed immediately for pneumonia may be life saving. But again, most people will tolerate this bug just fine and you will get to remember this adventure like Y2K, swine flu, and other unexpected adventures that did not conquer you.
Remember, discontinue Elderberry should you develop symptoms. Read why in the Prevention|Supplements section.
The Normal Stuff First
First and foremost, don’t go to work even if it means you don’t get paid. Give your body everything it needs to recover, not the least of which is rest. Broken record here: Stay hydrated. Drink as much as you can tolerate and drink water and tea regularly throughout the day. Tell people who care about you that you are sick so that if you need some kind of help, they can be there for you. They can help you without exposing themselves in many ways such as: a) leaving chicken soup by your front door or b) calling/texting you regularly for check ins. Lie down flat and sleep as much as your fever lets you.
Pathogens of this variety tend to stagnate lymphatic vessels by filling the lymph with sugars — which in turn makes the fluid viscous and sticky. This keeps white blood cells from moving around like they normally would. Stagnant lymph around an infectious colony means the white blood cells can’t get to the colony. You can often overcome this pathogen strategy simply by drinking the right amount of plain water.
If you notice signs that the fluid is stagnating: dry throat, tickle cough, sticky or colorful phlegm being coughed up — “hyper-hydrate” as I call it — drink 16 ounces of water on an empty stomach as quickly as you can get it all down. You will end up peeing every 15 minutes for a short period, but it will rapidly flush the lymphatic system and mucus membranes with more fluid. It may at first increase the cough as mucus membranes activate, so don’t be alarmed if at first you cough more for a short time. Ultimtely, you will feel much clearer and less congested. I do not recommend hyper-hydrating more than once per day, as it puts pressure on the kidneys. People with pre-existing kidney diseases should therefore skip this one particular strategy.
Alkalinize Your Blood With Baking Soda
1/8 teaspoon (about a small pinch) in 1/4 cup of water four times a day will make it hard for the virus to travel through the circulatory system and infect new locations outside of its originating colonies. This trick often helps to boost energy and relieve the heavy feeling of being sick for a period of time. It turns your entire circulatory system and not just your white blood cells into part of the immune system, by controlling your internal pH.
I am not a Western practitioner but a practitioner of Chinese medicine, so it is outside the scope of my license to tell anyone to take any Western medicine. What I can say is that it is a known property of Ibuprofen and Acetaminophine that these can reduce a high fever. No doubt you have experienced this at some point in your life and no doubt you have some on hand in case of emergencies. If you have a high fever and have the homeopathic remedy Oscillococcinum, you can use this to reduce it. I do not personally recommend this remedy for prevention, as it makes the energy around the body extremely cold and can lead to musculoskeletal pains (in my professional experience). Most people will find that it can, however, reduce a high fever quickly.
If you have a cough, pear juice is a Chinese “remedy” that helps to hydrate the lungs and reduce coughing. Drink a glass and see how you feel
If you have a cough, put a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil in boiled water in a bowl. Drape a towel over your head and breath in the vapor (without touching the hot water with your face). This will increase coughing initially but helps to reduce cough overall for most people.
If you feel extreme fatigue and/or if you develop a deep chest cough, this is the indicator that the infection may have gone beyond our strategies here and that a visit to a Western doctor or the emergency room is prudent. I believe if you follow my advice, you are much less likely to find yourself in this predicament. But it can happen. Be smart, and if you need a doctor go — because we care about you!