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Over the past 3 weeks, I’ve been in and out of multiple airports and even took a vacation on a cruise ship (read here on why I’m not afraid of catching the virus). At first, I saw a few people wearing masks and gloves and being careful of what they touched. But once they announced the first death from this unprecedented pandemic in the US, the atmosphere completely changed and the fear was palpable. People rushed to their destinations holding scarves over their faces and avoiding eye contact, liberally dousing themselves with hand sanitizer after touching anything, and sitting rigid in their seats on the airplane, afraid to touch the armrests.
When I got home and ran my errands, I was amazed to see the store shelves completely empty of cleaning products, bottled water, and toilet paper. People eyed each other suspiciously and once again were afraid to touch anything. It’s one thing to read about all of this online, but another to experience it in-person. It quickly became clear to me that I needed to “clear the air” about what really works to avoid infection with a novel virus like this one — and what doesn’t.
When the H1N1 influenza virus made its appearance, clinics everywhere set out boxes of medical masks for anyone with a cough to put on. We’ve seen immunocompromised people wearing them for years when they’ve gone out in public, so it appears they are the ultimate prevention for any airborne illness. But unfortunately this is NOT the case.
Most of what you see people wearing are medical masks, which loop around the ears and fit loosely over the nose and mouth. These do not form a tight seal over the nose and mouth, so you can still breathe infected air. Also, the material used to make them is somewhat porous and infected particles can still travel through the material. Lastly, there is something called strike-through contamination that can actually make infections travel more quickly.
Breathing into a mask causes humidity to build up and causes the mask to feel damp on the inside. This moisture acts like a wick for any infectious particles that touch the mask, and allows them to travel through all the fibers more quickly. If the mask is touching broken skin or the mucus membranes of your nose or mouth, it actually increases your risk of infection. The same is true if you are holding up anything to your nose and mouth, like a scarf or paper towel.
When should you wear a mask? In the case of this new pandemic, there are 3 situations where it makes sense. First, we know from past experience that if you have symptoms of a respiratory infection, wearing a mask helps prevent you from spreading the infection. Studies show a 70 to 90 percent decrease in the spread when you wear a medical mask when you are infected. Secondly, if you are likely to be coughed or sneezed on by someone in close proximity to you, then wearing a mask may provide some protection.
Finally, if you are someone who touches your face a lot, then a mask will keep your hands from reaching your nose and mouth. The droplet particles that spread this bug are heavier than most respiratory infections, so they settle on surfaces and stay active. Touching an infected surface seems to be the most likely way to catch this virus, which means washing your hands frequently and keeping them away from your mucus membranes and broken skin will go a long way toward stopping the spread.
Not all homemade hand sanitizers are created equally. Once stores started selling out of the cleaning essentials, hand sanitizer recipes began flooding my social media feeds, from everywhere from Forbes to my neighbors — New York even has prison inmates making hand sanitizer! The recipes vary between exact amounts and “fill a bottle about one third full with alcohol.” So what makes a hand sanitizer effective? The alcohol content.
According to the CDC, hand sanitizers need to be at least 60 percent alcohol to be effective against germs and viruses (if you are buying from the NY inmates you are safe – theirs is 75 percent alcohol). So, if you are following a recipe that calls for rubbing alcohol (isopropyl), vodka, or Everclear for example, you need to know what percentage that alcohol is. Vodka can be anywhere from 40 to 95 percent alcohol, while Everclear is anywhere from 60 to 95 percent. You can tell by the “proof” what percentage of alcohol is in it, which is half by volume – 100 proof is 50 percent alcohol, for example.
Next you have to consider how much you are diluting the alcohol with other ingredients. For example, when your hand sanitizer recipe calls for less than half the ingredients to be alcohol, you can be assured it won’t be effective against this pandemic.
Finally, you need to consider how you are using it. Hand sanitizer needs to be applied to one palm then rubbed liberally all over hands continuously until it dries. If you use a smaller amount or wipe it off, it won’t be as effective.
We don’t know as much as we’d like to about the current pandemic, but we can go by what we know in general to guide us. These viruses can live anywhere from 2 hours to 9 days on surfaces. This means your packages and mail from China are highly unlikely to have any infective particles on them, unless your mail carrier has an active infection.
These viruses are aerobic, meaning they need oxygen to survive. Bubble wrap won’t release any live virus into the air when it’s popped because there wasn’t enough of an oxygen supply to keep the virus alive.
Initial reports from China showed that older adults were more likely to get sick. Recent studies have debunked this and found that children are just as likely as adults to catch this disease. That being said, children are less likely to have severe symptoms, or any symptoms at all, for that matter.
We’ve all seen the memes touting the statistics that influenza is much more deadly than this virus, or that coronaviruses in general are no worse than the common cold. This pandemic does have the same symptoms as influenza – fever, cough, and body aches – but is progressing to interstitial pneumonia and more severe symptoms in higher rates than the flu does. It is also proving to have a higher mortality rate than the flu, especially in people over age 60 who have chronic respiratory diseases or diabetes.
When coronaviruses were discovered in the 1960s, it’s true that they were all thought to be much like the common colds we experience. However, with the discovery of SARS in 2003 and subsequent epidemic, we have learned that these viruses can become much more virulent than was previously thought. We need to look at this pandemic much more like SARS rather than the common cold.
While mortality rates are higher from this than they are from influenza, for example, we need to keep this in perspective and not panic. Right now, the mortality rate is estimated at 3 percent, which means 3 out of 100 infected people may die from this illness. And according to the data we have, those 3 are most likely to be over the age of 60, with a chronic respiratory illness or other chronic illness, like diabetes. The vast majority of people are experiencing manageable symptoms and making a complete recovery.
While mainstream medicine hasn’t found any medications to treat the infection once you have it, research shows there are common sense measures and natural alternatives you can use against viruses. The best thing you can do is be proactive and prevent the spread of this disease. Wash your hands often with soap and water, and stay home if you have a fever or other symptoms of illness.
I’ve recently written about what you can do to protect yourself from viral infections like this, including influenza, the common cold, and other viruses (read more here and here). My top 5 go-to nutrients are Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Selenium, Oil of Oregano, and Lomatium.
Vitamin C is a potent antiviral that gets inside the infected cells and stimulates a reaction that kills the virus. It also strengthens your immunity and helps with cell repair. I recommend at least 1 scoop of UNI KEY Health’s Vitality-C daily. Vitamin D stimulates your innate immunity to viruses and has been shown in numerous studies to decrease infection and duration of illness from influenza and other viruses. Doses up to 5,000IU daily during viral outbreaks help support your immune system.
Your immune system relies on selenium-dependent proteins to keep viruses under control. When you are deficient in selenium, viral illness symptoms are more severe because you can’t mount a sufficient defense against them. I recommend 200 micrograms daily to keep levels optimal during this outbreak.
Oil of Oregano has long been known for its antimicrobial and antiviral properties. It showed promise during the SARS outbreak and studies found it stopped virus replication within 20 minutes of exposure. I recommend 2 gelcaps twice daily at the first sign of symptoms.
Lomatium has been used for centuries for respiratory illnesses. According to prominent American herbalist Stephen Buhner, it is considered the primary antiviral herb in the US. The mature root has compounds that penetrate the viral coat and may inhibit the cytokine storm caused by more severe viral illnesses.