Let’s start with the typical symptoms that come with COVID-19. For most, this respiratory infection causes mild cold-like symptoms and fever. Some have no symptoms at all. The list of reported symptoms include:
- Loss of smell and taste
- Cough, sore throat
- Nasal congestion, headache
- Muscle aches
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Mild-severe pneumonia
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome
- Sepsis and septic shock
People who are most at risk of having severe symptoms are 60 and older, those with immunodeficiency, diabetes, established pulmonary or cardiovascular disease and healthcare workers. A study from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention gave this breakdown of mortality rate per age group:
- 10-39 years 0.2%
- 40-49 0.4%
- 50-59 1.3%
- 60-69 3.6%
- 70-79 8%
- 80+ 14.8%
Note that the study did not report any deaths in children younger than 10. Although mortality rates continue to be updated, these numbers are over 10 times higher than the seasonal flu. This is especially concerning because at this time there are no treatments for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. In contrast, for influenza we have anti-viral medications to help reduce morbidity.
Also important to note is that approximately 80% of people infected have mild symptoms and may not even realize they have COVID-19. Testing is also very limited right now, which makes it more difficult to identify who has it. It is likely to spread into the community easily, and thus it is especially important to practice self-quarantine and social distancing to reduce the load on our healthcare systems, so that adequate treatment is available for vulnerable populations. It is best to limit contact with anyone having known risk factors and maintain a 6 feet distance from others.
General Prevention Strategies:
- Wash your hands frequently. Use soap and friction for 20 seconds before rinsing with water. If you have children, practice this with them frequently and remind them before they go to school and other activities. Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if you are not able to wash your hands.
- Cover your sneezes and coughs using your arm or a tissue (followed by washing your hands)
- Do not touch food or your face (eyes, nose, mouth) if you have not recently washed your hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Try to stay at least 6 feet away from other with obvious cold and respiratory symptoms.
- Allow yourself more time to sleep and feel rested. This helps optimize your immune system and keep you healthy. If you are sick, it is especially important to adjust your schedule to recover.
- Spend more time outside. In the winter people typically spend more time indoors and are exposed to re-circulated air, which can contribute to the spread of viruses.
- Reduce your stress load. High stress can lead to physical symptoms and a lower ability for your immune system to fight off infection. Take time every day to breath, relax and do something you love.
- If you have a fever, cold symptoms or respiratory symptoms, stay home from work or school.
- Bolster your immune system with ample rest, healthy food choices and additional immune supporting vitamins and herbs (more on this below).
Are masks helpful?
Masks are effective at capturing droplets, which are the main transmission route of COVID-19. Some studies have estimated a roughly five-fold protection versus no barrier. However, the types of masks currently available are probably not that effective for reducing risk for the public in general. Medical providers with properly fit masks and training in sterile technique benefit the most from wearing them. The CDC currently recommends that only properly trained and fitted medical providers and patients with active COVID-19 should be relying on masks.
When and how to seek medical attention and testing
- If you’ve had contact with a person who has a known COVID-19 infection or if you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, you should seek medical attention. Call Santa Clara County Public Health call center at 408-885-3980 or call your local hospital’s Emergency Care line in advance so staff can give you instructions on how to receive care safely.
- If you have cold and flu symptoms and are concerned but are unsure if you meet the guidelines above, call our office and our staff will help determine if you should schedule an in person visit or a telemedicine visit with one of our doctors.
Dietary and Nutraceutical Strategies to Support Immunity
Below are strategies to keep your immune system healthy and able to fend off infections as well as to help you recover in case you are sick.
- Consume warm, well-cooked broths and soups & stews containing herbal antimicrobial foods such as onions, thyme, sage, and garlic.
- Stay well-hydrated using water, herbal teas, or low sugar electrolyte drinks. This supports your mucus membranes, which are your first barrier against infection
- Restrict intake of dairy to support relief of symptoms of congestion
- Eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Include foods with antiviral and anti-oxidant properties like garlic, oregano, ginger, pomegranate, blueberries and shitake mushrooms.
- Take your vitamin D! Vitamin D levels typically drop in the winter, which can be part of the reason viruses spread more easily this time of year. Discuss optimal Vitamin D dosing for yourself with your doctor.
- Increase your vitamin C! Vitamin C, in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables, ascorbate supplements and electrolyte drinks gives your immune system an extra boost in fighting infections. Some of our favorite sources of Vitamin C include: amla (indian gooseberries), oranges, grapefruit and kiwis.
- Avoid simple sugars and processed foods. These can lower your immune system function for hours after consumption.
- Probiotic and prebiotic foods (like miso, kombucha, kefir, active culture yogurts) and supplements can support a healthy microbiome. Having a healthy terrain and microbiome makes it more difficult for viruses to take hold.
- Immune and anti-inflammatory herbs such as artemisia annua, isatis, quercetin, curcumin (turmeric), elderberry, goldenseal and boswellia. These herbs have been found effective against flu viruses and to reduce the more severe symptoms caused by cytokine storm. Talk to your doctor about dosing before starting these herbs.
- Colostrum is a natural, food-like substance that has been the subject of numerous studies in treatment of viral infections. In one small study Colostrum supplement was found at least 3 times more effective than vaccination alone to prevent flu (4).
There are no vitamins, minerals, herbs, nutrients or other natural medicines that have been shown in human clinical trials to prevent or treat Covid-19. While some natural medicines in the form of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other nutrients can help enhance immunity, such measures should not replace social distancing, quarantining when necessary, or any other recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention related to the novel coronavirus and Covid-19 infection.
No vaccine or specific treatment for COVID-19 is currently available; care provided is supportive and for symptom management. Antiviral medications used for the flu are being experimented right now for COVID-19 and we can do the same with our natural tools.
There are a lot of myths circulating about what you need to do to protect yourself from Coronavirus. As always, scrutinize your sources of information for accuracy. The most important things you can do to prevent infection from COVID-19 are to wash your hands and self-isolate.
Naturopathic doctors are experts at personalized medicine, designing a plan that takes into account your lifestyle to optimize immunity and resilience to infection. Our doctors are available over Telemedicine and in-person to help you and your family in this cold and flu season.
- What to do if you are sick with COVID-19 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/steps-when-sick.html
- Hand-washing Instructions https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/
- Heather Zwickey, PhD. How integrative practitioners can help reduce disease spread and improve outcomes. Natural Medicine Journal. February 2020 Vol. 12 Issue 2. Coronavirus, Cold, and Flu. Available online: https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2020-02/coronavirus-cold-and-flu
- Cui J, Li F, and Shi ZL. Origin and evolution of pathogenic coronaviruses.Nat Rev Microbiol. 2019 Mar;17(3):181-192. doi: 10.1038/s41579-018-0118-9.
- Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available online: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/#PublicHealthLaboratories
- Cesarone MR et al. Prevention of influenza episodes with colostrum compared with vaccination in healthy and high-risk cardiovascular subjects: the epidemiologic study in San Valentino. Clin Appl Thromb Hemost. 2007 Apr;13(2):130-6.