With the coronavirus strain COVID-19 making a beachhead in the United States, it is certainly time to evaluate what options you have for staying safe. While much of the advice circulating the country focuses on how to avoid exposure, it is also essential that people understand methods they can use to support their immune systems, which will be the first line of defense in your body once infections set in.
Prior to Exposure
There are many common-sense tactics you can use to minimize exposure. However, it is helpful to understand that this is a highly contagious virus that can infect the body by an entrance through the mouth, nose, eyes, and skin. The tiny, ambient viral particles can enter through open wounds or the eyes, so while you turn to mask for protection, it may not be effective without wearing goggles, as well. Even a mask could give you a false sense of security unless it is the proper type and properly sealed.
To avoid exposure take the following steps:
- Stay away from crowds
- Wash hands frequently with a disinfecting formula
- Wear a sealed paper mask and eye protection
- Cover up any open wounds.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of early April changed their recommendation for masks, advising everyone to wear cloth face masks that cover their nose and mouth while in public, “especially in areas of significant community- based transmission” of the virus, naming specifically grocery stores and pharmacies as higher risk areas. It follows, of course, that any location with any active or recent public access are danger zones. The CDC advises cloth masks that:
- Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
- Be secured with ties or ear loops
- Include multiple layers of fabric
- Allow for breathing without restriction
- Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape.
The CDC website has the most up-to-date recommendations. That said, the CDC notes that the recommended home-made cloth masks are “not surgical masks or N-95 respirators,” noting that “Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidelines.”
Masks, furthermore, are not recommended for persons with compromised health conditions that include:
- Children under age 2
- Anyone who has trouble breathing
- Anyone who is unconscious
- Anyone who is incapacitated or
- Anyone unable to remove the mask without assistance.
The symptoms of COVID-19 are pneumonia-like, as this virus attacks the alveoli cells in the lungs, which causes inflammation and a build-up of fluids. These are the cells that transfer oxygen from your lungs to your blood, which provides oxygen for all or your body’s various tissues. As this interferes with that process, shortness of breath is one of the more serious symptoms of the coronavirus.
- Shortness of breath
- Fever or chills
- Lack of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chest pain
- A dry cough (although, as the virus progresses, a phlegm-producing cough will appear
What Else Can You Do?
The system that will defend your body once the infection sets in is called the immune system. This system provides cells that attack the cells of the virus. As such, if you can support or strengthen the immune system, you have a better chance of reducing the severity of the virus or shorten the duration of your illness.
There are five options for helping your immune system rise to the occasion with this potentially deadly infection. They include reducing stress, improved sleep, changes in your environment, getting exercise and diet.
If you have a stressful job or a stressful home life, it would be wise to try to reduce areas of high stress before exposure and certainly after exposure to COVID-19. You know working through a cold only compromises your immune system, making the cold last longer. The same occurs with an infection of this kind.
Getting enough sleep is a critical component of your immune system. While the exact relationship of immune systems and sleep is mostly anecdotal, sleep is as close to a universal cure to infections as you can find.
- Environmental stress
The single most critical factor involved here is smoking. This is an illness that focuses on attacking your lungs, causing shortness of breath, disrupting your body’s ability to stay oxygenated. Smoking on top of that only adds to the pressure and dangers.
You need to be strong to stay strong if only because your biological systems will be compromised with this infection, so the stronger you are, the greater the capacity to protect yourself.
There are, in fact, many ways to quickly strengthen your immune system through dietary changes. We don’t have the space here to elaborate on these, but a quick list is helpful.
Here are the recommendations:
- Antioxidants and phytonutrients, which are found in colorful fruits and vegetables, but also found in powder and pill form as supplements. (It would take 5-8 portions a day to provide your body with enough, so a supplement is not a bad idea unless your diet is already rich in colorful fruits and vegetables.
- Broad-spectrum vitamins – often called “all-in-one” vitamins
- Essential fatty acids. Omega-3 (found in fish) can be found in supplements
- Omega-6, on the other hand, should be decreased.
- Probiotics can be found in yogurt, kifir, kombocha and other fermented foods. Make sure you eat these regularly to maintain a healthy level of flora in your gut.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of this deadly virus, make sure that you contact your primary care doctor.