The COVID-19 Coronavirus… A Cold Virus That Can Turn into Pneumonia
Think of COVID-19 as nothing more than a common cold, but with the potential to progress into a really bad pneumonia. In most people it starts like a cold and ends like a cold. However, COVID-19 is different from most other cold viruses because it spreads to the lungs more frequently, and acts more aggressively when it gets there.
Please, realize that not everyone is at equal risk for pneumonia. The greatest risk is in older people, smokers, and people with immunodeficiency, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, alcoholism, emphysema, asthma, liver disease, or kidney disease.
What We Know about The Common Cold
The common cold is an upper respiratory infection (URI) that affects the nose, throat, sinuses, and larynx. Like other colds, COVID-19 can cause fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, etc. The average adult contracts two to three colds a year. Symptoms include coughing, sore throat, sneezing, runny nose, fever and headache. Recovery usually takes one to three weeks.
Cold viruses can be contracted through the air from people who are coughing or sneezing. But the greater risk is by touching inanimate objects and surfaces (doorknobs, faucets, or light switches) that have previously been touched by someone who is sick. The COVID-19 cold virus can survive outside the body on inanimate surfaces for up to a week. If you touch an infected surface, the virus sticks on your fingertips. When you raise your hands and touch your eyes, nose or mouth, the virus sticks to the mucous membranes, penetrating into those cells and starting an infection.
What We Know about Viral Pneumonia
Pneumonia frequently starts with URI symptoms and then later moves down into the lungs. No one dies of coronavirus infection unless it progresses to pneumonia. Not all types of pneumonia are equally serious. Many cases don’t even require hospitalization. However, those who are sick enough to require hospital admission show high fever, racking cough, shortness of breath, and sometimes chest pain when they breathe. Mortality rates from pneumonia have been radically reduced over the last 50 years due to antibiotics, intensive care units, trained respiratory care, oxygen support, and mechanical respirators. While antibiotics don’t treat coronavirus directly, they do prevent bacterial pneumonia, which is one of the known complications of viral pneumonia.
What Is the Mortality Rate of COVID-19?
We get some sense of the COVID-19’s danger by reviewing an inadvertent experiment performed on a large group of people on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship. Out of the approximately 3,700 passengers, 700 were infected and 6 perished. I suppose we should ask ourselves, “Are people who take cruises representative of the rest of us average Americans? Perhaps, but only if you happen to be over 50. As it turns out, the six people who died were all over 70. So, the estimated COVID-19 mortality rate comes in at around 1% for older people. The risk in younger people is far lower.
Avoid COVID-19, The Same Way You Avoid Any Cold
I am a 65-year-old physician who has worked in coastal Los Angeles for over 30 years. I greet and shake hands with 10 to 20 patients daily. I love being around people but I hate being sick. Yet even with daily human contact I only get one cold every three to four years. What is my secret? I live in constant awareness that my hands and my entire surrounding environment are covered with infectious viruses. Therefore, I never touch my eyes, mouth, or nose without first washing my hands. Keeping my hands off my face seems to do the trick.
Remember, while it may seem purposeful sterilize your surrounding environment by wiping down all your counters, it won’t help if you relax your vigilance to avoid touching your face. Those sneaky viruses are everywhere. Also, think of using a face mask as just one more way to remind you not to touch your face. As for their ability to protect you from inhaling the virus, I am doubtful.
I also take precautions not to be coughed or sneezed on. If someone with a cold sneezes or coughs near me, I temporarily cease inhaling and move away so that I don’t breathe the standing air that closely surrounds them. As a service to others, when I have a cold, I confess to anyone I am greeting that I am infected and I abstain from shaking hands. Many times, when my patients have colds, they kindly warn me to not shake hands with them as well. This is a common courtesy to extend when coping with symptoms of a cold or flu.
Now of course, we are entering into a brand-new era where it is not advised to be in public with active cold symptoms. The new standard is to protect others by isolating ourselves until the symptoms go away. Like smoking cigarettes indoors, moving around in public with a cough and runny nose is now unacceptable.
What about avoiding crowds? I’m not convinced that government’s present enthusiasm for disallowing crowds will be helpful. However, no doubt these policies will persist. It’s political suicide for politicians to appear uncaring. Not allowing people to gather in large groups is a wonderfully dramatic way to declare, “We take this very seriously” and “We really care.”
Treatment for Coronavirus
Presently there is no direct treatment for the coronavirus. However, it is well known that zinc inhibits the propagation and spread of the cold viruses from their starting place in our throat area to other areas of our body (like the lungs!) It is only when COVID-19 spreads into the lungs that it becomes dangerous. To minimize viral spread throughout the body, anyone who feels a new onset of cold symptoms should keep their mucous membranes (mouth and throat) constantly bathed in zinc until the cold symptoms abate. Cold-EEZE and Zicam are a couple of zinc products that are available over-the-counter at your local pharmacy.
Just recently I read some fascinating preliminary research about an antibiotic called hydroxychloroquine that enables zinc to enter into infected cells more efficiently. If anyone you know develops viral pneumonia you might want to mention to them about the possible benefits of adding hydroxychloroquine to the zinc. It is an inexpensive and well-tolerated antibiotic that is available at the drug store by prescription.
Lastly, I see many of you with colds and stuffy noses, sniffing to prevent any secretion running down your face. Stop doing this! When you sniff nasal secretions inward you are sucking the virus down into your lungs. Infection of the lungs leads to pneumonia. Use tissues or a handkerchief but don’t suck those infected secretions down into your lungs!
Colds are inherently contagious and as a result they spread far and wide very quickly. Cold epidemics only blow over once a high percentage of the general population develops immunity and the season finally ends. Do I believe that people will stop touching their faces under this new threat of COVID-19? Knowing how hard it is for us humans to change our habits, I doubt it. But now, at least you and I know the level of discipline required if you personally want to avoid infection with this virulent virus. Just keep those unwashed hands from touching your eyes, nose or mouth. It really works!