Medicine For People!

March 2020: COVID-19

Lunar Eclipse
Image is licensed as Public Domain.
Image is licensed as Public Domain,
courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's
Public Health Image Library


You'll be reading a great deal about COVID-19 in the coming weeks. Let me jump-start you with some background information this new coronavirus.

What's a Corona?

The left-hand image above shows the fiery glow around the sun, best seen during an eclipse, which we call the sun's corona. Looking into a microscope long ago, someone saw that a virus that caused the common cold had an aura that reminded them of that. Thus was named the coronavirus, of which there are many types. Some cause the common cold. Another recently mutated into a form named SARS-CoV-2. This virus causes COVID-19, an acronym for COronaVIrus Disease 2019. So, the name of the virus is SARS-CoV-2 and it causes an illness we call COVID-19. This virus has been living in bats for some time, and seems recently to have evolved and migrated through domestic animals before moving into humans in early December in China.

Just as the original SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus, this new SARS-CoV-2 version can also result in life-threatening respiratory disease. In those over 80 years of age, the death rate is running at 15%.

The good news is that, for those under the age of 40, only two people in a thousand die. The bad news is that when those younger people catch the virus, they don't feel sick for up to two weeks. During those two weeks they spread the virus through coughing and sneezing. They can infect as few as two or as many as five people. Breathing in the virus or touching surfaces contaminated by such droplets spreads the disease.[1]

The spread of this virus in China now seems to be slowing. People are remaining in their apartments, public places are being disinfected, the health system has been mobilized, and the government has shut down much of their economy. How our nation will respond is still uncertain, so how the virus will play out here we do not know.

What can you do to prevent catching COVID-19?

First, try not to run into it. Avoid crowds, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands , and be careful of what you touch.

Second, do your immune system a favor:

  • Minimize alcohol.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Drink water.
  • Get 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Consume plenty of fruits and vegetables.
    • The important vitamins in these foods are vitamins C, B6, and E. Colorful foods have more of these and other valuable nutrients. Nutrients in foods beat those in supplements, but if you think you need supplements, take them.
  • Encourage a healthy bacterial population in your large intestine. We call this the intestinal microbiome. Our natural microbial community protects us from infections in several ways.[2] Antibiotics and junk food screw it up. Exercise, fermented foods, and fiber boost it.

COVID-19 is Not Influenza

These are caused by completely different viruses.

At this point, our ordinary winter influenza is killing far more people than COVID-19. There is still time to get your flu shot. It cuts your risk of the flu in half and makes you less likely to be in a hospital bed needed for someone with COVID-19.

Our Medical Community is Ready

My wife, hospital commissioner Jill Buhler Rienstra, tells me that at last week's commission meeting, medical staff briefed the administration on preparations. She learned that Jefferson Healthcare maintains a surprisingly voluminous stock of supplies for various disasters such as earthquakes and epidemics. Today she learned from CEO Mike Glenn that Medical Chief of Staff Joe Mattern, M.D., and Jefferson County's Public Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke spent much of the weekend coordinating with the state and regional response.

With any luck at all, this will bear out one of my favorite sayings: "Most of the bad things in my life............never happened."


[1] Cause/Transmission


Thanks to my editor, Jill Buhler Rienstra.



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Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.