Viruses: Natural Protection and Treatment

Novel Coronavirus: Read this First

Blood testing

If you have travelled to Wuhan China (or another affected area) in the last two weeks, or have been in contact with someone who has: Call your local health authorities.  In Ontario, call Telehealth at 1-866-797-0000. 

DO NOT go to your naturopathic doctor, medical doctor, walk-in clinic, or hospital as you risk transmitting the virus to others.

Need personalized advice?

Smiling female doctor writing notes on a clipboard

Below I am providing a summary of easy, cheap, and helpful steps you can take to prevent and treat viral infections.  However, it is always best to get personalized advice.  If you are prone to illness, currently sick, or would like specific guidance about what supplements or herbs to take, more ideas on treatment that are not listed here, or how to manage fever or other symptoms at home, please make an appointment

I have to be able to ask you questions and assess you before I can provide a treatment plan that is right for you.  Given the current concerns about viral illness, if you are ill I recommend booking a phone appointment so you do not have to leave home.

What you need to know about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus

Blue-grey sphere covered in protrusions on background of red

With this new coronavirus in the news and confirmed cases in Toronto, I have been getting some questions from patients, family, and friends about how serious it is, how to protect yourself, and generally what to do to treat the usual viruses like the common cold and influenza.

Signs and symptoms

Cold and flu

Did you know the common cold is a coronavirus?  SARS is another type of coronavirus.  So, this type of virus is not new, but this particular virus, originating in Wuhan and named 2019-nCoV, is new.

This virus appears to present like a cold or flu, including:

  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Other mild respiratory symptoms including a dry cough and difficulty breathing

Apparently, there is less nasal congestion with this specific virus than a typical cold.  In more vulnerable people (immune compromised, elderly, very young, chronically ill), it can quickly progress to pneumonia and respiratory distress.

Transmission

This coronavirus can be transmitted through the air by coughing/sneezing, close contact such as touching or shaking hands, touching a surface with the virus on it followed by touching your mouth/nose/eyes.

However, so far it seems the virus does not survive long without a host, meaning it won’t survive long on surfaces. 

Why to take it seriously

This virus is estimated to be about 70% similar to SARS which spread rapidly and caused 8000 infections and 774 deaths. 

This is a new virus and as such, a lot is unknown.  The incubation period and rate of infection are unknown but early on it seems to have a high reproductive number (r0), which is the number of new infections caused by each existing infection.  This means that the virus can spread quickly and infect large numbers of people.

It also can progress quickly from manageable cold-like symptoms to pneumonia and respiratory distress which is why it has been deadly to some.  

Those who have died so far have been elderly or ill, with pre-existing conditions (including high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease).  However, some previously healthy people who contracted the virus have required intensive care.

How to Prevent and Treat Viral Infections

Hygiene

Wash your hands

Soap and water is best.  Get into the habit of washing your hands upon arriving anywhere (home, work, school, etc), before and after eating, after coughing/sneezing/touching your mouth/nose, and after using the washroom. 

Sneeze (and cough) into your sleeve

Avoid sneezing or coughing into your hands, instead sneeze or cough into your sleeve at the crook of your elbow.  This avoids transferring germs on your hands to surfaces!  And obviously launder the shirt…

Choose glasses over contacts

If you wear contact lenses, you are at risk of getting sick via the conjunctiva of the eye.  Viruses can be transmitted this way.  So if you are concerned, stick with your glasses to avoid touching your eyes.

Steer clear of sick people

Avoid sharing water, food, or products with others who are ill.  Also keep shared surfaces clean and dry

Keep your germs at home

If you are sick, stay home and avoid contact with others.  If you MUST leave the house, this is the time when it is most helpful for you to wear a mask to prevent OTHERS being exposed to your germs.  Even a poorly fit mask that you take on and off is helpful because it acts as a physical barrier between you (the sick person) and others.

Unfortunately, wearing a mask when you are WELL to prevent you getting sick may not help as much.  This is because to truly be effective, the mask would need to be a medical-grade mask that is fitted perfectly to your face.  Even health care staff have trouble getting a perfect fit on these masks and require training to learn to do it correctly. 

Most people are not capable of wearing a properly fitted mask for any length of time – it is very claustrophobic and uncomfortable.  If you take the mask off at all, the inside can be exposed and then wearing it again can get you sick.  So, if you choose to wear a mask, learn to fit it correctly and keep it on while also keeping your hands clean!

Home Care

Avoid sugar

Eating sugar can impair your immune response.  Reducing your sugar intake while well can help prevent illness and avoiding sugar strictly while ill is important to allow your immune system to do its work. 

Stay hydrated

Ensure you drink enough water daily and especially if you are ill.  You can also drink broth and electrolytes.  By electrolytes, I don’t mean the sugary sports drinks (not helpful at all), I mean powders (like Vega Electrolyte Powder) that contain sodium, potassium, and less sugar. Or you can make your own Natural Electrolyte Drink with ingredients at home.

If you do not feel hungry, do not force yourself to eat.  It is normal to have low appetite with viral infections and it will not harm you (it may actually help you) to avoid food until you feel hungry again.  But make sure you are hydrated no matter what.

Sleep

Make sure you get at least 7-8 hours sleep per night.  When you are sick you need even more sleep!

Boost the humidity

Did you know that dry air is highly associated with infections? This includes the common cold, flu, measles, and bacterial infections.

Keeping the indoor humidity between 40-60% to reduce infections. You can do this by turning up the humidifier attached to your furnace and using humidifiers in bedrooms at night since we spend most of our time at home sleeping.

Man bundled in duvet looking at thermometer

Support a productive fever

I could write a whole article about how fever is mismanaged, probably as a result of frequent Tylenol advertising drowning out actual medical guidelines.  But today I’m just going to give you the bottom line. 

Your body creates a fever as an immune response against an infection.  The fever serves a purpose – it changes conditions in the body to resolve the infection.  Do not focus on a fever, but instead on what is CAUSING the fever (so identify what needs treating), overall well-being and activity level, and how long a high fever is lasting.  These things help you assess the actual severity of illness and whether you should seek further medical attention.

In viral infections, a fever is to be expected because it will help you heal.  Suppressing a helpful fever with medication impairs the healing process and with some illnesses, leads to worse outcomes. It is normal to feel fatigued with a fever and to have low appetite and body aches. 

Fevers are usually not dangerous and will rarely get higher than 40-40.5 degrees Celsius (104-105 degrees Fahrenheit).  Brain damage will not occur unless a temperature of at least 41.6 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) is reached for a long time.  This is unlikely as fevers don’t usually run this high and if they do, it is usually short-lived, but pay close attention to any fever over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) because you want to understand why that fever is happening and treat/support appropriately. Febrile seizures occur when there is a rapid temperature increase, not just from a high temperature. 

When babies or children have a fever, it is important to monitor them closely.  Here is a great article about Fever in Children: What to Do & When to Worry.  For even more specific guidance on managing fever, especially in young children, make an appointment with me for personalized medical advice. 

Foods, Herbs, Supplements, and Hydrotherapy

Foods

  • Fresh-crushed garlic has some anti-viral properties for the mouth, throat, and lungs.  It must be freshly crushed (not whole cloves) as this releases the medicinal compounds.
  • Onions and leeks also have anti-viral properties, so enjoy!
Black elderberries in a bowl and on counter surrounding bottle of elderberry extract

Herbs

It is very early for this specific coronavirus outbreak to know what herbs will prove most useful, but we do know what is helpful for other coronaviruses:

  • Elderberry is a wonderful antiviral and there are several products available (look for ones with little to no added sugar!) and it is safe for a wide variety of ages. I personally add elderberry liquid to smoothies for my whole family all winter.
  • Andrographis paniculata is a great choice for acute respiratory tract infections in adults. I keep an Andrographis product in my house all year to use at the first sign of cold/flu.

Also Licorice, North American ginseng, Garlic, Cordyceps, Astragalus, Stinging Nettle, and more are emerging.

Not all herbs are safe for all people.  For more guidance on using herbs safely, make an appointment with me.

Supplements

Vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin A are all helpful for common viruses but must be dosed safely and appropriately.  For more guidance on using these nutrients safely, make an appointment with me.

Homeopathy

Homeopathy

Every year for common viral infections such as the flu, a “genus epidemicus” may be identified. This is the “combined symptoms of a large group of people afflicted with a disease or epidemic, or a remedy that covers all the symptoms which that particular epidemic is capable of producing.”

Identifying and correctly using an appropriate homeopathic remedy can very quickly alleviate symptoms and speed healing. A few remedy options have been identified for this year’s flu and even for this recent coronavirus (by people treating infected patients in China).

It is important that I assess your particular symptoms to prescribe the right remedy, so for homeopathic treatment, make an appointment with me. Have you noticed a theme yet?

Warming Socks

Home hydrotherapy

Contrast hydrotherapy and warming socks are both wonderful for symptomatic relief and boosting immune response. 

Other Sources:

Dr. Paul Herscu, ND, MPH: “Upper Respiratory Tract infections during the last week of 2019”

Forbes magazine, Leah Binder: “This Inexpensive Action Lowers Hospital Infections And Protects Against Flu Season”

Medscape: “AAP Issues Statement on Managing Fever in Pediatric Patients”

New York Times: “Lifting a Veil of Fear to See A Few Benefits of Fever”

World Naturopathic Federation: “Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)”

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