Though this blog is typically about Weight Loss, Fitness, and improving Health, the past 2 weeks has prompted me to spend some time assessing my own thoughts on the Coronavirus pandemic. The views and opinions I'm going to go over here are based on my practice of medicine as a Family Physician of 39 years and as a recent patient with COVID 19. As I finish my 2 week quarantine and have resolved 99% of this disease, I feel that I can lend some perspective that others may not be able to.
First, this can be a devastating and lethal disease, but not for the vast majority of individuals. In fact over 99.5 plus percent of people who acquire the disease will survive and do well. The truth is that this virus like many other illnesses is most dangerous for the elderly, the already sick and young people with significant underlying conditions. When a child succumbs to any disease or illness, it is especially tragic and devastating to a family. Fortunately, this virus spares all but the most ill of children. The thankfully limited number of childhood deaths has occurred in children with organ transplants, on immune suppressing medications, and with either genetic or acquired severe medical diseases. The typically healthy child is at nearly non-existent risk of dying and even unlikely to acquire the virus.
Our sick elderly patients in nursing and rehabilitation facilities are the most vulnerable with nearly 40% plus of all deaths occurring in this group of people. They are to be protected from this virus with every means we have. The saddest point to this is that these same individuals are the most likely to suffer from loneliness, isolation, and depression. They are already relegated to the separateness of a small room or apartment with only intermittent contact from their loved ones.
One of the fears with this COVID 19 disease is that from the outset, most of us, including me as a Dr., thought that contracting the virus was a coin toss as to whether one would live or die. We now know that is so far from the truth. Yet, deep in our minds, we still have this feeling. Once I became ill with this virus, I could hear and sense fear in the voices of my patients, staff, friends, and family that I might suffer the ultimate fate. At a point, I remember waking up on about the 3rd night thinking "people are dying of this disease", and wondering if I might also. The thought was not logical considering the only moderate symptoms I was dealing with.
Let's look at how the virus works. It is like all other viruses in that it is a segment of RNA (Ribo-nucleic acid) housed inside a shell. The virus attaches to our human cells, mostly in the respiratory tract which is our nose, throat, and lungs. Yes, it can enter on our eye membranes and make its way through our eye drainage ducts into our nose. Once attached to a cell, it injects the RNA message into our cell. RNA is a genetic message. It does not mingle with our DNA which is the instruction code for our entire cellular structure and function. When it enters the cell this messenger RNA is found by our protein making machinery and is read. The message tells our cells to manufacture more viruses and to dump them back out of the cell so we can send them to others on a cough, a sneeze, or a handshake of our contaminated hands.
The mission of the virus is to move from one of us to the next. It cares not for us as a host, only that we make more of the virus to pass on. Over time the messenger RNA will go through mild genetic changes or drifts. This may make the virus more easy to transmit or change the symptoms slightly when one is infected. It is possible that the current surge of virus may be due to a drift in the RNA genetics that makes the virus more contagious, but may in fact make it a bit less lethal. It would make scientific sense that if a virus rendered it's host (us) so debilitated that we could not get out of bed or were isolated in a hospital or if it killed 100% of its hosts, it would cease to exist as it could not be transferred from one person to another.
Some theories suggest that the first known Coronavirus attacked humans in the latter 1800's and was devastating. Over a couple hundred years this Coronavirus is most likely a genetically calmed version and causes the modern day cold. None of us want a cold, but understand that a cold is a nuisance and not a serious disorder.
It is also important to note that the virus does not come after us. It doesn't know we exist. The virus can only enter us when it is discharged from an infected person. That means it does not come into our house or car. It is not hovering around waiting for us to meet it. The particles of mucous from one infected individual must enter the eyes, nose, or throat of another. That is why masks, distancing, and hand washing, though simple, are the mainstay of prevention. When someone who smokes or vapes expresses the smoke or vapor, this is exactly how the virus escapes us. Each smoke or vapor particle is much like a virus particle. We just can't see them as we can the smoke or vape.
This pandemic has not only caused sustained health issues around the world, it has also caused financial hardship, depression, relationship issues, education issues, real estate issues, and as many issues as we can think up. It is easy to focus on the bad stuff and the concerns that this pandemic has brought.
Can there be a positive side to this last year? I believe that answer is YES.
First, at no time in history has the entire world been focused on finding a treatment or vaccine for this scourge. The resultant scientific knowledge may well lead to the understanding of viruses as a whole and allow us to create cures for many of the viral infections that plague us today. We certainly will know better how to deal with any future outbreaks of viral diseases.
This pandemic can also teach us that we are responsible for our lives. We are also responsible for others. Taking care of ourselves is taking care of others. The most important fact about prevention of this disease is that a healthy body is rarely a victim of this disorder. The lesson is that we must spend more time taking care of our body and keeping it operating at a higher level of health. Routine physical activity, healthy eating, and adequate sleep can guard us from the negative effects of any infection and may prevent the infection to begin with.
A healthy body carries with it a healthy immune system capable of rendering nearly all foreign invaders useless. The wake up call should be that we must drop the excess body weight, improve our lean body tissue mass, eliminate toxic habits, and treat our body at least as well as we treat our car or our pets.
This two week period has allowed me time away from my practice and many times in isolation to reflect on my health, this virus, our response to it, and where I go from here. We don't have to get sick or contract the virus to reflect on these personal issues. Take some time as we enter the holiday season to think about your health, your family, your work, and what you want your life to be like moving forward. We are ultimately the only ones that can move our destiny in the direction we feel works best for us and those around us. Take charge and come out of this pandemic a stronger, healthier, and more positive person, ready to take on any challenge the world can throw our way.