Most of us are deluged with conversations and pronouncements about masks and beards and breathing and countless more related to getting COVID-19. There are some statements that are true, but countless others that partake more of fantasy than fact. And there are plenty of unknowns, as well.
What I hope to do in this column is to try to sort out some of what’s what. But let’s start with reviewing some generally accepted truths about preventing infection.
You keep hearing these preventive measures, and are probably bored beyond boredom with the hearing. We keep saying these over and over and over because, although there are no guarantees, these simple steps can go a long way toward keeping you from getting this really nasty bug. No one of these suggestions is adequate by itself, but together, they can keep you relatively safe from infection.
1. Wash your hands with soap. This should be done at least every time you return to your safe zone from an exposure zone. Soap cleans your hands and kills COVID-19 without killing your good bacteria; wash for at least 20 seconds. Avoid hand sanitizers, as they destroy the good hand bacteria you need, but clearly, if soap is not available, use a sanitizer.
2. Keep your hands away from your mouth, nose and eyes.
3. Maintain a 6-foot separation between you and other people. Failure to observe these first three recommendations is far and away the most common reason for contracting COVID-19. There are several other cautions, and best practices.
4. Where 6 feet cannot be maintained, wear a face mask. Governors and other officials have mandated the wearing of a mask when you can’t stay away from others by at least 6 feet.
5. Do a daily saline irrigation of your nasal passages (Ayr, neti pot, etc.) along with a saltwater gargle and eyewash in each eye. In addition to washing COVID-19 out of these entries into your body, this helps make those tissues inhospitable to infecting agents.
6. Avoid touching things touched by sick people.
7. Stay out of the line of fire of those coughing and sneezing.
Vitamins and minerals
For more reasons than COVID-19, it’s important to keep a balance of vitamins and minerals in your system, as deficiencies are always problematic, and overdosing is not much better.
For one example, research has linked selenium deficiency with greater likelihood of viral infections. Correct this with your food, not with supplements; you need only 50-70 micrograms a day. This is most easily done with a couple of Brazil nuts, a couple of eggs or some fish. My favorite is a half-bar of Equal Exchange 80% dark chocolate.
In no case, however, should your daily intake of selenium be over 400 micrograms, as this can lead to selenium toxicity.
There is also evidence that large doses of vitamin C, especially intravenous, may be beneficial. The IV administration is important because the absorption of vitamin C administered orally is less than 1% that of IV. Research shows that only at very high IV doses does vitamin C generate enough hydrogen peroxide to kill a virus like COVID-19. That said, there are also reports of people consuming up to 20 grams a day of oral vitamin C who have remained uninfected by COVID-19 while others in the family have become sick with it.
And now, there seems to be a rash of support for the importance of vitamin D in relation to COVID-19. The fact is that there have been done some important studies that show an increased COVID-19 mortality in those with a vitamin D deficiency.
Please, do not rush out to start hoarding vitamin D supplements, as there is no evidence that vitamin D will prevent COVID-19 or that normal dietary intake of vitamin D is inadequate. And overdose of vitamin D has its own downsides, such as the formation of stones in your body where you really don’t want them, like your kidneys.
Vitamin D doesn’t actually interact with the virus at all. What it does is modulate an overreaction by your immune system that results in what’s called a hyperinflammatory cytokine storm that can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome. It’s this condition that kills a majority of those who die from COVID-19, not damage done by the virus.
There is going around the idea that men should remove their beards because it’s a cozy place for the virus to hide. In fact, I know some people who have done this. There is also the idea that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the shaving of beards.
The fact is that for ordinary folk, there is no evidence that having a beard in any way affects your getting or transmitting COVID-19. This is not my opinion, but the considered work of professors and researchers at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, for examples. Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, concurs, saying: "There's no evidence that having a beard per se makes you more or less vulnerable to the coronavirus."
Regarding the CDC: In 2017, long before COVID-19, the CDC published a graphic that seemed to suggest that men should shave their beards. In fact, what they were saying is that health care professionals who require a tightly sealed face mask, such as the N95, should indeed keep a beard from interfering with the seal. Other bearded people can stay safely away from their razors as long as they maintain the recommended 6 feet of separation.
It’s hard to look anywhere without seeing people wearing face masks. Some won’t go out of their house without wearing one. Some consider it a moral imperative that everyone should wear a mask.
The fact is, as our governor and others have said repeatedly, a face mask is necessary only if you cannot maintain the recommended 6-foot social distancing. I paraphrase Dr. Peter Tippett, who sums up proper usage this way:
— Wear a mask in exposure zones, places near other people.
— Your home, car and yard are safe zones; no mask or gloves are needed.
— Do not touch your face in exposure zones.
— Wear gloves when in touch-exposure zones.
— Remove mask and gloves when back in your safe zone.
— Always wash your hands when you remove gloves or mask, or move out of a danger zone.
— When in your safe zone, relax, scratch your nose, rub your eyes and floss your teeth ... without worry.
There are people who have contracted COVID-19 but show no symptoms like coughing, sneezing or shortness of breath. Can they transmit the disease and, if so, how? The answer is that no one knows for sure.
As of April 2020, the World Health Organization continued to assert that the primary mode of transmission of COVID-19 is through direct contact with infected people producing large respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing. These fall to the ground within a foot or two.
The trickster in this assertion may be what are called aerosols. These are virus-sized particles that are emitted from your lungs when you breathe or talk or sing or otherwise make noise. Symptomatic or not, the more forceful, louder, the outbreath, the more aerosols are released. Aerosols can remain in the air for quite a long time, perhaps hours.
And so, in conditions where there is no air current to disperse the particles, then yes, transmission of COVID-19 by asymptomatic people is a possibility. Research on this possibility is in progress.
And if you get it?
And suppose you do contract COVID-19. Your best ally is a healthy immune system. The best help for your immune system is based on a diet high in fruits and vegetables and nuts, regular exercise, adequate sleep, a healthy weight, and drinking alcohol in moderation. In addition, a major compromise to your immune system is stress. Just for information, my stress relief treatment can be done remotely.
In the words of Rumi and other Sufi poets, “And this, too, shall pass away.”
Bob Keller maintains a holistic practice in Newburyport. He offers medical massage therapy for pain relief, as well as psychological counseling, dream work and spiritual direction. Many patients call him Dr. Bob and accuse him of doing miracles, but he is not a medical doctor nor a divinity. His expertise is medical massage therapy, understanding this miracle we call the human being. He can be reached at 978-465-5111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.