The outbreak and aggressive spread of Coronavirus is stealing our attention these days — alarming headlines, pictures of crowds in surgical masks, moment-to-moment update of statistics of reported cases, now in 53 countries and more by the time you read this. Collective alarm grips us. In our house, we’re preparing an emergency preparedness kit to stock up on groceries and other necessities against possible ‘supply chain interruptions’ that will happen if many workers get sick.
In the flurry of news, we are reminded of the things we can do to bolster our natural immunity and protect ourselves from the Coronavirus. Nate shares the common sense basics in his article below. Here in the Resilience section of this PlumLine, I’d like to consider hand washing. There is general agreement that hand washing makes a real difference. (Recall a few years back the alarm over SARS, a more deadly form of coronavirus. It’s said that hand washing reduced transmission of SARS 30-50 percent.)
Since we will all be washing our hands like crazy for the foreseeable future, I propose we consider expanding its virtue set. Beyond cleansing bad communicable bugs from the surface-handling and cough-covering units at the end of our arms, the action of taking time out for 42.5 seconds in service to our well-being provides the golden opportunity multiple times daily to Pause. To experience tiny moments of giving attention a mini vacation from the racing train of thought that conveys us across the track of our days, and allowing it ~~our attention~~ to rest, in the present, with what is actually here.
And what is here, actually? Warm comforting water and bubbly soap. Remember how you loved to run your soapy hands under warm water as a little kid? Or how challenged you were as a parent of little ones, trying to find patience with their delight at pulling a chair up to the sink and ‘playing’ with the water experience?
What else is here? A body being cared for. Two feet sustaining the weight of the body being cared for. The system of biological systems operating the functions of that body. The intelligence and precise interoperability that blows our most advanced technology and science out of the water: Our immune system. Articulated and diverse and particularly important to us at this moment of infection bearing down on us.
Can we use our frequent mini-vacation hand washing to bring attention to this present moment of massive and widespread and brilliant effort of our immune systems in every part of this body attached to the hands being washed, needing no conscious input from us beyond some attention to hygiene and maintenance? If we can, we can know that we are actually in good hands.
Can this present moment of mindful awareness give rise to respect for how well made we are? If yes, we are likely to be providing our autonomic nervous system with cues of safety to reduce or replace activating fear and vulnerability. In turn, the nervous system tells the hormonal apparatus to send the messengers of ease around the body. Under the influence of this set of messages, the body moves out of alarm mode into healing and resting and digesting mode. And this is the mode most supportive of healthy immune function.
So in coming full circle with this discussion of practicing mindful respect for our immune system (and enjoying warm water), we might recognize this to be as important a part of protecting ourselves from the fear of Coronavirus infection as our hand washing.
Protection From the Coronavirus
The spectre of a global pandemic caused by the coronavirus has dominated the airwaves of late. However, while the media has kept our attention and stoked our fears by reporting each and every new location of infection and reported in-depth the attempts at containment by national governments, very little has been reported on what we can do to keep ourselves safe.
There are six basic steps, brought to you by the CDC (with my commentary), that we should all follow, global pandemic or not, to help prevent ourselves from becoming sick as well as present the spread of infectious respiratory viruses.
Avoid close contact with sick people. For a lot of us, our first reaction when we see people we care about suffering is to make physical contact with them, ie hold their hand or give them a hug. In a lot of circumstances, this is an appropriate and helpful response but if your loved one is suffering from a contagious respiratory illness, it is best to express your sympathy and concern with words and actions and keep your distance.
Stay home when you are sick. The economic pressures of our current society make missing work or keeping your child home from school due to illness a difficult decision. However, consider the rest of us and especially those who are more frail and for which even a run-of-the-mill cold could be life threatening. Unfortunately, for common colds and the flu virus there is a period of contagiousness 1-2 days prior to the onset of symptoms. So if you are just starting to develop symptoms you are already contagious. For the flu, the contagious period lasts 5-7 days from when you first felt sick. For colds and stomach viruses, the contagious period usually lasts until all symptoms have resolved; however, in rare cases people can remain contagious for up to 2 weeks. Scientists are still learning about how the coronavirus spreads and while it is very possible there is a window of contagiousness prior to the onset of symptoms, this is not believed to be the main way that the virus spreads (see #3). The presence of a fever is generally a strong indicator of contagiousness. Fevers however are not a common symptom of colds but are common with both influenza and the coronavirus. Fevers are an early response of the body to infectious disease designed to try and slow the growth rate of viral and bacterial invaders. Taking medications that lower fevers, such as acetaminophen, may be helpful to relieve symptoms and sometimes is necessary; however, you are undoing an adaptive response of the immune system and only masking your contagiousness. Please do not use over-the-counter cold and flu medications as a way to “power through” illness without missing work.
Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Increasing mucus production as a way to trap bacteria and viruses and then coughing to expel them from the body is also an adaptive response of the immune system. In this case though, viruses have evolved to use this response to their advantage. Respiratory viruses, such as the common cold, flu, and the coronavirus are spread within tiny droplets of moisture that are created when we cough or sneeze, and to some extent just by breathing. If you have never seen a vapor camera of a person coughing or sneezing, check out this video and you’ll be able to easily visualize how an entire airplane or train car full of people can be exposed by one uncovered sneeze. Infection by inhalation of aerosolized respiratory droplets is the main way that the coronavirus is thought to spread. One of the best methods to cover coughs and sneezes is to use your arm instead of your hand. That way, if you can’t wash your hands immediately, everything you touch until then doesn’t become contaminated.
Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from all kinds of germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Washing your hands or anything else without soap or disinfectant does not adequately disinfect it. Untold numbers of lives could be saved by this simple practice.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs that get on your hands don’t normally translocate into your body through intact skin. Respiratory viruses require you to transport them to your mouth, nose, or eyes. Rubbing your eyes with dirty hands is one of the most common ways to contract a virus. However, while contraction of the coronavirus is certainly possible through touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth this is not thought to be the main way this particular virus is spread.
Our hands are not the only contaminated object that people put in their mouths though. Chewing on pens, using your mouth as a third hand to temporarily hold an object, and using spit to “clean” something or help create friction (eg turning the pages of a book) are also great ways to both contract and spread viruses.
Practice other good health habits. Here is where holistic medicine comes into play. The five pillars of health: sleep, physical activity, stress resilience, nutrition, and toxin avoidance aren’t just a way to promote wellness and avoid chronic disease. They help to keep your immune system in tip-tip shape. A healthy immune system can not only fight off infections but snuff them out before they even start.
If you frequently come down with colds and seem to catch everything, the culprit could be in one or more of the tips above. It is also possible though that your immune system has been compromised by poor self-care in one of the five pillar areas. Individuals who suffer from autoimmune diseases and allergies often have suppressed immunity to infections as well. If you are concerned about the health of your immune system, need help addressing one of the five pillars, or suffer from immune dysfunction, Plum Spring Clinic is here to help. Give us a call to schedule a free welcome call today.