I’ve had a ton of questions and I’m sure you have as well. I’m writing biweekly (possibly more) on aspects of this pandemic that you might not see elsewhere. Topics that range from the science of a pandemic, keeping your health, and to the actualities of this new reality—bringing in the medical, spiritual, and emotional side of dealing with a world pandemic.
I promise the posts won’t be all doom and gloom (just turn on the news for that), but I’ll fill my musings with information, occasional humor and what we need most of all right now, hope. Also, I will discuss practical aspects of fighting for your health and that of your family. What supplements should I take? Do I really need to stay away from ibuprofen? What the heck is a virus, anyway? Is this pandemic real?
So, let’s dive in:
My wife and I went to bed last night, turned to each other, and said, “This can’t be real.” It’s like we’ve gotten stuck in a nightmare or unfortunate episode of The Twilight Zone—this fear-inducing, toilet paper hoarding, isolation of COVID-19. As I drifted off to sleep (something else this pandemic has tried stealing from me) I decided I stood in a unique position as a physician, writer and someone connected to the local, national, and world medical community. I’ve spoken directly with medical personnel on the front line and scoured medical data to grasp an understanding.
I have had a hard time wrapping my mind around this whole thing, and I’m sure there are many others feeling the same. So, first, let’s start with an important topic, Virology 101 and some terminology. It’s so essential you understand what a virus is and why washing your hands with soap and warm water is important.
SARS-CoV-2 virus causes the disease Covid-19. Yes, that’s correct, we are actually fighting a novel SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus that belongs to the broad family of viruses known as coronaviruses.
But to understand viruses, you first must understand the basics of genetics. When is the last time you’ve thought about the human genome? Remember, all that we are—what we look like, how our bodies function—is coded in our DNA. DNA is the master code for every system in our body. Along the strands of DNA are short sections of information we call genes.
In every one of our 40,000,000,000,000 (forty trillion) cells, there is a nucleus packed with strands of DNA that are over six feet long. Incredibly, if you put the DNA in all your cells end-to-end, they would wrap around our solar system twice. Amazing, I know!
This DNA is a microscopic molecule that is tightly twisted and folded inside the nuclei. We all carry ninety-two strands in each cell. It’s wild, but the information on the DNA is coded by only four building-block molecules called nucleotides: adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine. Yes, only four—repeated over and over and over in different order.
A series of these nucleotides along the strand of DNA creates the gene or code for the body to make proteins. To accomplish this, the cell produces a mirror image of that small section of the DNA called RNA. The RNA is then used as the language in the cell to make proteins. In turn, these proteins create our lives and run each of our delicate systems. (I’m obviously simplifying here).
So, what does this have to do with a virus? A virus is NOT a living organism. It’s not a cell, like bacteria, but simply consists of some protein, often a protective fat layer, and a small amount of genetic material in the form of DNA or RNA. Each virus is unique and can mutate (which the SARS-CoV-2 appears to have already done) and is why producing vaccines is a challenge. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is comprised of four structural proteins, with one of these proteins holding a single strand of RNA.
Think of these viruses as rogue invaders. They enter the body through our mucous membranes (eyes, nose, and throat). The virus cannot go through healthy skin. The virus attaches to our cells and introduces its genetic material, RNA into the cell. These viruses act like a message delivered in an envelope that tells a cell what to do. (For those that are interested the SARS-CoV-2 virus appears to gain entry via ACE2 receptors…and why there is much discussion concerning patients on ACE inhibitors, medication for high blood pressure). The virus highjacks our cell’s own protein manufacturing system, forcing it to produce thousands of more viruses. This overproduction of the virus eventually causes death of the host cell.
1) Yes, unfortunately the pandemic is very real, and we ALL need to take this very seriously. Unlike the flu (Influenza virus), NO ONE has immunity and with no vaccine currently available and a 5-20% higher mortality rate (depending on what study you read) than the flu, this is a true global crisis. (Perhaps I’ll eventually write a post on the realities of the front line…it’s as bad as the news reports, if not worse.)
2) If you’re like me, you might look out the window, and think, “Perhaps the worst has passed, and I don’t need to be as careful.” I will share some reports soon on the projected timelines of COVID-19 peaks for different areas of the country. THIS IS NOT OVER. Please continue to do everything you can to keep you and your family safe.
3) Remember how a layer of fat protects the virus? That’s why soap, detergent, and hand sanitizer with over 65% alcohol kills the virus. (Cue the Dawn commercial of detergents cutting through grease) YES…WASH YOUR HANDS OFTEN with soap and warm water.
Practical Tip of the Day:
I am doing everything I can to bolster my immune system. I have personally increased my Vitamin D, Vitamin C, CoQ10, and take a good Probiotic for gut health.*** I work on getting plenty of good sleep and take walks alone in the mountains around the house…stopping and enjoying some quiet meditation time to reduce stress. And lastly, and not always succeeding, I try to eat a good healthy diet. I thought I was becoming the expert resident chef…however, my wife has banned me from the kitchen.
***This is not meant as medical advice so please check with your doctor before using any supplements