We thought it was just a respiratory virus, but we were wrong!
In late January, when hospitals in the United States confirmed the presence of the novel coronavirus, health workers knew to watch for precisely three symptoms: fever, cough, and shortness of breath. But as the number of infections climbed, the symptom list began to grow. This list started with some patients losing their sense of smell and taste, and for some nausea or diarrhoea. The growing list included irregular heartbeat or even heart attacks. There had been reports of kidney or liver damage, whilst others had headaches, blood clots, rashes, swelling, or strokes. However, many had no symptoms at all.
By June, clinicians were swapping journal papers, news stories, and tweets describing more than three dozen ways that COVID-19 manifests itself. Since then, researchers around the world have begun taking a closer look at this diverse array of symptoms to get at the root cause. They are learning from people inside the hospital and out; people on the brink of death and only mildly sick; people newly exposed and recovered; of all ages and ethnicity. As a consequence, they are beginning to piece together the story of a virus, unlike any known before.
Viruses have protein cloak and consist almost entirely of genetic material – DNA or RNA. To survive, they must break into a cell and co-opt the cell’s gene-copying machinery.
Spikes on the virus’s surface act like jack-knives to enter human cells.
If exposed to SARS-CoV-2 – say, from a cough or sneeze – the virus will likely first encounter ACE2 receptors on cells in your nose or throat. But these receptors also populate your heart, gut, and other organs. There is evidence which suggests that male sex hormones such as testosterone may increase the number of ACE2 receptors that cells produce, which could help explain why SARS-CoV-2 appears to wreak greater havoc in males than females and why kids rarely get sick. The fewer ACE2 receptors, the less risk of infection, although this hypothesis for the disease’s gender gap is only one of several.
Once inside a few initial host cells, the virus sets them to work churning out copies of itself. Within hours, thousands of new virus particles begin bursting forth, ready to infect more cells.
SARS-CoV-2 replicates throughout the airway, making it highly contagious, similar to the common cold.
However, infection with SARS-CoV-2 usually doesn’t feel like a cold. Fewer than 20% of infected people who eventually show up at a hospital report having had a sore throat or runny nose. During the first few days of being infected, you’re more likely to have a fever, dry cough or, peculiarly, lose your sense of smell or taste.
Most likely, though, you won’t feel sick at all; 53% of those infected never have any symptoms at all; this is much higher than expected. Surveys of outbreaks in nursing homes and prisons show similar or even higher numbers. Millions of people may be spreading the virus without knowing it, making asymptomatic transmission the ‘Achilles heel’ of efforts to control the pandemic – and highlighting the importance of universal masking.
The majority of people who have COVID-19 are out in the community, and they are either asymptomatic or only mildly ill.
SARS-CoV-2 is first and foremost a harmful respiratory virus. If your immune system doesn’t defeat it at its landing site in your nose or throat, it will advance down your windpipe, infiltrating the cells lining your bronchi and lungs. Tiny air sacs called alveoli transfer oxygen to your blood. As the virus multiplies, the alveoli may fill with fluid, shutting down this critical gas exchange. Your blood-oxygen-level may drop and, typically about six days into an infection, and you may start feeling short of breath.
Being a fast-replicating virus (add the word it) will kill or injure many of the lung cells it infects; the more cells it infects, the more ruin it will leave in its wake. The virus’s fatality rate seems to be roughly ten times that of the flu. One of the weirder things about this new coronavirus is it doesn’t seem to be particularly fatal to cells. On the other hand, the flu virus does kill cells.
Data indicates that ravaged lungs are just one example of an immunological battle gone awry. This rogue immune response could explain why, around day 11 of a COVID-19 infection, patients often develop severe pneumonia known as acute respiratory distress syndrome or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
This virus behaves in mysterious ways. Some symptoms (such as fever, cough, and loss of smell) are common, whilst others (such as sore throat, pink eye, and stroke) are rare. Symptoms which can occur are headaches, brain fog, dizziness, delirium, and stroke. Pink eye; loss of smell or taste, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat. Arrhythmia, weakened cardiac muscle, heart attack. Shortness of breath, lung injury; Kidney injury; Elevated liver enzymes, nausea, stomach-ache, vomiting, diarrhoea. Fever, fatigue, muscle aches. Inflammation, blood clots, vascular damage, skin rash, numbness or swelling in feet.
Pre-existing heart disease and related conditions put people at higher risk of suffering and dying from COVID-19. Many patients who have more severe forms of the illness are obese, are diabetic, or they are hypertensive.
Most symptomatic cases of COVID-19 are mild.
It’s not just dermatologists who are adding their observations to COVID-19’s ever-expanding symptom list. Gut specialists are finding that 20% to 40% of people with the disease experience diarrhoea, nausea, or vomiting before other symptoms. If you swallow virus particles, there’s a good chance they will infect cells lining your stomach, small intestine, or colon. Especially alarming, is how long the virus seems to persist in the gut. About 50% of patients with COVID-19 have virus particles in their stools, often for weeks after their nose swabs test negative.
Injury in one area such as blood vessels in the lungs can set off clotting cascades that affect multiple organs. Some of that trouble likely results from inflammation triggered by the immune system. However, another culprit may be the body’s hormone system that controls blood pressure and fluid balance.
As with any infection, how long a bout of COVID-19 lasts varies from one person to another. If you’re ill enough to need critical care, you can expect the disease to take at least a few weeks to run its course. In some cases, symptoms persist for months. For a typical milder example, though, you should feel better within a couple of weeks.
At that point, the question foremost on your mind will be: Am I immune? There are now more than a dozen antibody tests on the market, but most are unreliable, and even the best tests can’t tell you whether you have enough of the right kinds of antibodies to protect you against re-infection.
In the meantime are a lot of unknowns. If you do become immune to SARS-CoV-2, how and when does that occur? Will you gain immunity from a mild or asymptomatic case, as well as a severe one? How long will that immunity last? The answers will have enormous implications for social distancing and masking and for getting the economy back up and running.
How can herbal medicine help?
Medical herbalists have considerable experience of using herbal and dietary interventions to support people with conditions likely to bring about a reduced resistance against viral infections. The novel nature of the virus causing COVID-19 infection means that research data about the potential effects of any therapeutic interventions of this illness is scarce.
The World Health Organisation is registering many herbal trials at present. Initial information remains tentative, but there seems to be some evidence that patients who received a combination of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and conventional strategies may have done better than those offered just one type of treatment.
Another approach investigated by the herbal community is to use our previous experience of plant chemistry to target critical stages in the activity of the coronavirus during infection.
Support your immune system with a healthy lifestyle
Day after day, and increasingly, in the heart of the pandemic, the media does not explain the functioning of our immune system.
Advice is to use external protection that will save us: buying masks, buying hydro-alcoholic gels (without specifying that these gels should not be used for several days in a row because, based on ethanol, they will eliminate the first natural immune barrier of our body: bacteria and lipid film of our skin, which is a barrier to viruses… [This is also due to the excessive use of antibacterial products in recent years, and a misunderstanding about the role of bacteria in our immunity, which our bodies become more sensitive year by year.]
The more we use these alcohol-based gels, the more permeable and epidermal sensitive are the viruses… Let’s prioritise classic soap! Regardless of social distancing and hand washing the health of our immune system is critical in fighting viruses.
Everyone can naturally strengthen their immune system in a few days (young people) or a few weeks? It would not prevent the spread of the virus, but it would strengthen our defences against it and therefore reduce the proportion of severe cases, to heal much faster at home.
• Get outside into nature and the sunshine as much as possible & try walking barefoot on grass.
• Keep active – walk, dance, play or even do a kitchen workout.
• Connect with friends and loved ones in whatever way you can
• Get the right amount of sleep and spend some time relaxing each day.
• Find a way to help others and start a gratitude practice.
• Have some fun or watch funny films – laughter is excellent medicine.
• Yoga can be beneficial.
• Cold showers can also be beneficial. In a few days, the level of specific T lymphocytes (killer cells) can increase dramatically.
• Fasting strengthens the immune system in just three days.
• Fear is immunosuppressant. However, it’s the only emotion conveyed right now by the mainstream media.
• Eat real food. Eating trash, such as industrial products, processed and refined, is the first thing that destroys our immune defences. The efficiency of our immune system closely depends on the quality of our intestinal flora (and therefore, the quality of what we eat). Therefore, vegetables and fruits, that are raw and in season are the best way to strengthen our mineral reserves, necessary for immunity.
Natural Remedies & Supplements
Herbal remedies and nutritional supplements can both play a role in helping us build a healthy immune system. Herbal remedies can help to alleviate symptoms, and some have anti-viral properties too. Whilst we are not recommending these instead of routine medical care, they can be used by those who are not currently in need of medical care and taken in addition to conventional treatments.
• Garlic and onions: Anti-viral and can help coughs.
• Thyme: Great for coughs
• Ginger and turmeric: Anti-inflammatory and may help with muscle aches and fever
• Chilli pepper: Helps flu-like symptoms in multiple ways.
• Fermented foods: e.g. sauerkraut, kimchi yoghurt, and kefir – boost the immune system via the gut
• Herbal teas: These are great for keeping us hydrated. If feverish try diaphoretic herbs (i.e. herbs which encourage perspiration) such as peppermint; chamomile; lemon balm & ginger.
Essential Nutrients for the Immune System
It is ideal for getting all the nutrients we need from Real Foods. However, at times of higher stress levels supplementation may be beneficial. If wanting to supplement in doses above the recommended amount, then it is advisable to seek the help of a suitably qualified practitioner.
• Vitamin A
• Vitamin D
• Vitamin C
• Glutamine is an amino acid which is abundant in the protein collagen which is high in bones and other connective tissue.
• Zinc blocks viral replication, and it helps stop the virus from getting in’. Vitamin D has shown 40-50% less respiratory disease and lower respiratory disease.’
• Our bodies don’t store essential minerals like zinc, legumes and pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc. As for vitamin D, look for diets rich in fish, like salmon or sardines and egg yolks.
We have within us a potential defence and healing that is infinitely more powerful than any drug in the world and can be activated quickly. Our body is a real healing machine.
In this period, when we finally have time, it’s time to take an interest in how we function, claim our power, take control of our health and our future.