Coronavirus: What is it, how does it spread and how can you protect yourself


Okay, I’ll admit it…

The most dangerous thing I expected to face this winter was the possibility of coming down with the flu. The prospect of a few days to a week in bed and feeling miserable was not really all that worrisome to me.

But now, however, that’s changed… a new threat has emerged overseas and raised the specter of a global pandemic.

Yup, we’re talking about coronavirus, also known as 2019-nCoV.

As I’m writing this, CNN is reporting that “More than 5,900 people have fallen sick and at least 132 people have died in mainland China. In addition, there are dozens of confirmed cases in 17 locations outside of mainland China, including at least five in the United States.”

A group of students and teachers from a local school in my hometown are under quarantine after attending a four day conference at Yale University.

A student with the Chinese delegate became ill with flu-like symptoms. Out of a measure of caution, they ended the conference early and attendees were told not to come back to school until the results of their coronavirus test came back.

I could walk to this school from my home. Thankfully the students are all okay and returning to school shortly.

Although that story has a happy ending, the fact is the number of worldwide cases has now hit 6,000.

By the time you read this, I suspect it will be higher — especially in China.

That means the time to prepare for an illness like this is now, and we need to begin arming ourselves with as much information as possible in order to ensure we get our immune system in the best shape possible should the need arrive.

With that in mind, here’s what we know about coronavirus…

What is coronavirus?

When we say the word coronavirus, we’re actually talking about a very common group of viruses that cause upper respiratory infections. This group gets its name thanks to the fact that when you look at them under the microscope, they look like a crown.

And while most of these viruses only cause mild issues, like what you would feel if you had a cold, (think runny nose, sneezing and sore throat) they’re not all so benign.

They can be deadly.

That’s because you only get the mild, “cold” version if they remain in your upper respiratory tract. If things get worse and the virus spreads to your lower respiratory tract, real trouble begins. This is especially true for the elderly or those with compromised immune systems who have trouble fighting off the effects of these viruses.

Once this happens, it can lead to severe respiratory disease, pneumonia and death.

According to experts, current estimates put the death rate from this coronavirus at 2 to 3 percent of those it infects. However, they say that we’re in the early stages where it’s hard to really know where we stand, and that number could be low in comparison to what may happen in the coming weeks and months.

Previous coronavirus threats

It’s also important to note that this is not the first coronavirus outbreak we have faced.

The most recent was Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012 and, of course, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) back in 2003.

By the end of those outbreaks, SARS had killed 9.6 percent of infected people and the fatality from MERS was a whopping 35 percent.

Like with MERS and SARS, there is no treatment for coronavirus.

Doctors can only treat the symptoms and do their best to make the patient comfortable. And, of course, like with these past outbreaks and even seasonal flu, people with underlying conditions such as diabetes and respiratory and kidney problems are most at risk.

But in all of the darkness, there is good news…

Based on expert analysis, it seems that most adults with a healthy immune system have a good chance of fighting off even this latest iteration of the coronaviruses should they be exposed. And even if you have any of those underlying conditions, taking steps now to boost your immune system and avoid contact with the virus could make all the difference.

Stopping the spread is paramount

Most viruses are spread the same way and first and foremost, you must take basic precautions to stop the spread.

So far, it appears that this coronavirus is spread through personal contact only, like from upper respiratory droplets (sneezing, coughing and touching contaminated objects), so these steps should take priority:

Wash your hands regularly — Practicing good hand washing, even more often than you think is necessary, can help protect you from coronavirus.

Block the gateways — Coronaviruses need somewhere to enter your body, like your eyes, nose and mouth so avoid touching them as much as possible and risking the spread of the virus.

Consider a mask — You might consider wearing a mask (especially those that have anything that compromises there immune system) when going to places that draw crowds such as grocery stores to avoid inhaling the respiratory droplets from the potentially sick people around you.

It may feel silly the first time, but feeling silly is far better than actually getting sick. And honestly no one will really know why you’re wearing it.

At the least, purchase masks now from your local pharmacy for future use as they will disappear quickly in the event of a true crisis.

Disinfect everything — If your immune system is compromised, you might want to also consider gloves as part of your virus-prevention strategy. Everyone else should always carry disinfectant wipes and cleanse everything prior to touching it — such as grocery cart handles. Buy gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes now rather than wait until an emergency.

Get in the habit of using wipes daily on the things we touch most, such as light switches, refrigerator door handles, toilet bowel handles, faucet handles, etc.

Now’s the time to get serious about immune boosters

Finally, you should be doing everything you can to strengthen your immune system.

Here are a few nutrients I suggest…

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) — Good old licorice that you usually only think of when it comes to candy is actually well known for boosting the action of the macrophages your immune system uses to put a halt to viral replication.

One important thing to remember however is that if you’re living with high blood pressure, you should talk to your doctor before taking a licorice supplement and only use deglycerized licorice.

Vitamin D — The vitamin D your body makes when exposed to sunlight is a potent immune system booster and with the winter upon us, it’s more likely than ever that you could be deficient. According to the Vitamin D council, most of us should shoot for 5,000 IUs today of a quality D3 supplement. I personally prefer softgels to powder formulas.

N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) — A potent antioxidant, NAC has been shown in scientific studies to inhibit viral replication as well as inflammatory molecules that can make a bad situation worse.

Echinacea — When taken at the first sign of a virus, like the cold or flu, Echinacea may reduce not only symptoms but also duration of symptoms, so its one to keep on hand just in case.

Hibiscus tea — A study published in The Journal of Veterinary Medical Science found that hibiscus tea had the power to combat bird flu, a notoriously resistant upper respiratory infection and “significantly and quickly reduced the virus and stopped it from replicating”.

Tulsi or Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) — Tulsi has been scientifically proven to be antiviral and antimicrobial and to have the power to battle inflammation — a potent combination for protection.

Mushrooms  — Packed with 1,3 beta-glucans, mushrooms may help modulate your immune system to help it know when to respond and how many soldiers to send out when it’s time to fight off unwanted invaders.

Contagious infections are a fact of life outside of this current coronavirus scare. There are resources at your fingertips to help fortify your immune system. It just makes sense to do everything you can to protect you and your family for the current cold and flu season in addition to take a measure of caution in the event of something more serious.