What we know so far
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely been deluged by reports of the Coronavirus daily. It’s also known as COVID-19 since it was discovered late last year. This respiratory virus, which originated in Wuhan City, China, has now made its way to the US with over 75 confirmed cases to date. Here’s what we know thus far. 1
The virus has spread to nearly 40 locations internationally and is considered a public health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO). The US declared it a public health emergency at the end of January. The virus itself is common in certain animals including bats, cats, camel, and cattle. The outbreak in China was initially thought to have started at a seafood and live animal market, indicating animal-to- person transmission. The spread of the virus is now more likely person-to-person, though some infected individuals do not know how they contracted the virus. 1
Symptoms of the virus may appear as early as 2 days and up to 14 days after exposure and are similar to the flu including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and currently 2,800 people have died from the virus. CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 32 million flu illnesses, 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths from flu. 2 Those at higher risk of infection include infants, the elderly and individuals with compromised immune systems such as HIV, AIDS or individuals that take immunocompromising drugs such as MS, RA, and Lupus. 1
How to stay healthy
Like any other contagious disease, your best bet to staying healthy is to avoid being around sick people and wash your hands frequently. Don’t forget to lather your hands with soap for 20 seconds, rinse, and dry your hands. In addition, never underestimate the power of sleep, exercise, and a nutritious diet to keep your immune system strong.
Adequate sleep allows the body and brain to rest and there are multiple reasons why sleep affects the immune system. To begin with, adequate sleep improves T cell function, a type of white blood cell that tailors the body’s response to specific pathogens and disease. Sleep also produces cytokines- a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation in the body. 3 Getting enough sleep also impacts the gut microbiome. Adequate sleep improves the diversity of bacteria in the gut, and in turn, sleep quality is affected by the gut microbiome. According to a recent study, total microbiome diversity was positively associated with increased sleep efficiency and total sleep time. 4
Keep moving to keep your immune system strong. Similar to adequate sleep, exercise boosts T cell production in the body to fight disease. Research shows that regular exercise prevents the immune system from aging and helps with preventing both communicable diseases such as cold and flu and non-communicable diseases like cancer and chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Evidence also exists that a single bout of exercise after receiving a vaccination enhances the immune response. 5 Don’t forget to get your flu vaccine, too!
A nutritious diet is also important in maintaining a healthy immune system. Fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin C such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, citrus fruit, and berries protect the immune system by stimulating the production of antibodies. Vitamin A found in fortified dairy products, eggs and a variety of dark green and orange fruits and vegetables may help fight infection by keeping the lining of the mouth, respiratory and gastrointestinal system intact. High-quality protein sources such as lean meat, fish, pork, poultry, beans, nuts, and soy products are also important to aid in wound healing and antibody production. Finally, fermented foods including kefir, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, and yogurt contain probiotics to help keep gut bacteria thriving.
How should you prepare for the Coronavirus if it spreads?
The CDC has been providing alerts about the spread of the virus as well as the number of confirmed cases and deaths. Watch the CDC web site and news reports for updates. Stay away from anyone that’s sick. Stock up on medicine such as Tylenol (to break a fever), cough and cold medicine and anti-mucus medication such as Mucinex. Don’t forget a box of tissues! Keep easy to prepare food on hands such as eggs, canned beans or lentils, broth for soup, frozen vegetables, seasonal fruit, bread, and milk. If you do catch the virus, stay put to prevent the spread to others.
The CDC lists these 4 steps to lower the likelihood of getting sick:
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Avoid contact with anyone who is sick.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water.
What to do if you get sick
First off, don’t panic.
- The Coronavirus is similar to the flu and is contagious. 6
- Stay home except for medical care. Call your doctor if you suspect being sick from COVID-19 or experience a high fever or shortness of breath. Alert your doctor before your appointment if you suspect COVID-19.
- Quarantine yourself from others (including animals) and wear a mask if/when you go out to prevent the spread of illness.
- Wash your hands often to kill germs.
- Try not to touch your mouth, eyes, and nose.
- Cough into a tissue if needed and throw it out.
- Don’t share personal household items such as towels, hairbrushes, dishes, cups, cutlery, etc.
- Keep track of your symptoms. Stay home until the risk of spreading your illness to others is low.
- Use a household cleaner to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects.
- Drink plenty of fluids (water, 100% fruit juice, broth in soup) to stay hydrated as having a fever increases fluid loss in your body.
- Get enough sleep. Adults should aim for 7 to 8 hours per night or more each night. More is always okay if you feel sick or exhausted.
- Jeffrey A. Haspel,1Ron Anafi,2 Marishka K. Brown,3 Nicolas Cermakian,4 Christopher Depner,5 Paula Desplats,6,7 Andrew E. Gelman,8 Monika Haack,9 Sanja Jelic,10 Brian S. Kim,11,12,13,14,15 Aaron D. Laposky,3 Yvonne C. Lee,16 Emmanuel Mongodin,17 Aric A. Prather,18 Brian J. Prendergast,19 Colin Reardon,20 Albert C. Shaw,21 Shaon Sengupta,22,23 Éva Szentirmai,24 Mahesh Thakkar,25,26 Wendy E. Walker,27 and Laura A. Solt28 JCI Insight. 2020 Jan 16; 5(1): e131487.
- Robert P. Smith, Cole Easson, Sarah M. Lyle, Ritishka Kapoor, Chase P. Donnelly, Eileen J. Davidson, Esha Parikh, Jose V. Lopez,Jaime L. Tartar . Perfect timing: circadian rhythms, sleep, and immunity — an NIH workshop summary. Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans Published: October 7, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0222394
- John P. Campbell*and James E. Turner* Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan Front Immunol. 2018; 9: 648.
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD