Melbourne Functional Medicine
Medically reviewed by:
No doubt you and your loved ones are concerned about the situation regarding the Coronavirus. As the current international response and the research has been ever-moving, we've been watching the situation unfold, and have taken some time to put together the latest research to give you current information on the virus, and what you can do about protecting your health and the health of those around you.
So in this article, we're going to share with you what we know about COVID-19 as it stands right now. Towards the end of this article, we'll share details on how you can best support your immune system and stay well during this time.
What we are calling coronavirus, is actually called SARS-CoV-2. The name of the disease that results is COVID-19; like getting AIDS from HIV.
It is an RNA virus similar to SARS and MERS, all of which belong to the corona family of viruses.
Coronavirus is spread primarily through respiratory droplets, and other bodily fluids like saliva.
It is probably more infectious in colder conditions – like influenza and the common cold. If this turns out to be true, then we in Australia are yet to get to our seasonal worst.
For most, the coronavirus will present similarly to a cold or mild flu: sore throat, dry cough, fever.
It differs from flu symptoms which may also include fatigue and body/muscle aches. Common cold symptoms include runny nose, cough with phlegm, and no or low fever.
With coronavirus, many will display no symptoms at all, effectively functioning as carriers. 80% will recover with no complications.
For about 20% (current estimate) the symptoms will be much worse, and may include: shortness of breath, pneumonia and respiratory distress (ARDS).
It appears that the most affected populations are those that are immune compromised, those with existing disease conditions (respiratory and cardiac), and those of advancing age (70+ years).
Seasonal influenza has an infection rate (R zero) of about 1.3, meaning 1.3 people are likely to be infected from one person that is carrying the virus. Coronavirus is thought to have a R0 of about 2.2-2.6, though we really can’t be sure at this point and it may well be lower. By reference, SARS R0 was 2.9.
Coronavirus will be most contagious when symptoms are the most mild. We think it may be able to live on surfaces for a surprising 9 days, and while normally for viruses the incubation period is 3-14 days, some research is suggesting that for coronavirus it may actually be up to 24 days.
The current mortality rate is hard to lock down because we don’t know the denominator, meaning we can track deaths much more easily than actual infection rates, especially given the mild symptoms some express.
Mortality is probably somewhere from 0.6-3%, bearing in mind that this will be a lot higher for those most at risk, and lower for other population groups.
By reference, mortality rate for SARS was 9.6%; MERS was 34.4%; seasonal influenza 0.1%. The difference is that the other coronaviruses were contained to being epidemics, while SARS-CoV-2 has gone pandemic, which means it could look more like the ‘Spanish Flu’ of 1918, which was a pretty big deal.
If you are possibly infected, isolate. Seek medical treatment should the symptoms require acute intervention care. If you aren’t sure, use TeleHealth services. We’d be happy to help.
If you are an at-risk population group, prevention is by far and away the best idea. This can most easily be achieved by ‘social distancing’, and is the reason behind the declaration in Victoria of a state of emergency, requiring avoidance of non-essential activites.
This also includes minimising time in the 1.5-2 metre infection zone around others.
Beyond social distancing, you can decrease your contamination risk through cleanliness.
Be vigorous and create friction when washing. Do not skip the wrists, between fingers and back of hands. Use soap, which we think will kill coronavirus. Wash for at least 20 seconds and rinse with fingers pointed down. Dry hands with disposable paper, or a clean towel.
One last little bonus:
Gargle and drink green tea. Green tea can substantially - by 15 times in one study - reduce risk of contracting colds and flus through the anti-viral properties of the tannins topically. Also, viruses hate heat, so water hotter than 40 degrees tends to kill them, though we are not sure on what temperature exactly is required for coronavirus.
Gargling with green tea can risk of contracting colds and flus through the anti-viral properties of the tannins.
So, Coronavirus is a serious threat to public health, and these measures are ones we can all take to prevent the worst-case scenario from playing out. Time will tell if we over, or under, did it.
What you probably want to know, is… what can we do from a functional medicine perspective?
The basic four pillars still apply; don’t do things that will weaken the immune system. Do things that will strengthen your immune system:
There is more you can do to minimise chance of infection. Broadly speaking the strategies are:
Immune boosting / supporting foods include foods that contain Vitamin A, Zinc, Vitamin C and Vitamin D.
How much you want to lean into taking immune supporting food or supplements will be different for all people. If you are concerned about it, do something, preferably things that don’t do any collateral damage.
You’re probably better not to self-medicate given you can simply ask us. Please do! Our favourite supplemental options to augment the above, are:
Update: May 15, 2020
A team of functional medicine practitioners in the US just published a groundbreaking paper on the treatment for the virus. It defines four phases of illness and outlines specific strategies for managing patients in each phase to improve health outcomes.
The four phases of illness are Prevention, Infection, Escalating Inflammation, and Recovery. While supporting the function of the immune system earlier on is imperative, in the latter stages of escalating inflammation, reducing excessive inflammation caused by the immune system is the priority to avoid the cytokine storm that increases risk of mortality. Hence treatment should be modified based on the stage of the illness a patient is in, to reduce severity and improve chances of recovery.
Click here to read the paper - and please do share with your friends, colleagues and any medical professionals you know. This information could save many lives, so we're hoping this approach is adopted across the globe.
We wish you the best of health and sanity during this time.
Please do reach out to us if we can support you in any way. We’ll get through this time together.