As concern has grown about COVID-19, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about how you can protect yourself and possible treatments if you do get sick. Below, Dr. Joe answers some of the most common ones.
Have a question not covered here? Ask Dr. Joe in the comments!
How worried should I be about COVID-19?
The challenge right now is not to let our guard down. This is as true in rural areas as it is in cities. We know that the novel coronavirus is more contagious than anything previously seen. We also know that people who have no symptoms at all can have the infection and potentially infect others.
Although the measures can seem extreme, it’s critical that we continue to practice physical distancing and wear masks when going outside the home.
It’s also important to keep following the established safety measures of frequent handwashing with soap for 20 seconds, covering all coughs and sneezes carefully, and minimizing any activities which take you away from your home.
The current hygiene measures may be onerous, but they won’t last forever. In fact, the more diligently we follow them, the greater likelihood that the virus will die out more quickly.
The President keeps talking about Plaquenil. Can it really be used to treat COVID-19?
The information we have on Plaquenil – hydroxychloroquine – is extremely limited. It has been used only on seriously ill patients who have been hospitalized with heart monitors on, primarily those in intensive care.
The doses used are about four times higher than are used to treat most infections. The risk of serious side effects is much higher, as well. These include heart failure, ventricular fibrillation (a life-threatening rhythm disturbance), seizures, vision and liver damage, and bone marrow suppression. It can also cause increased lowering of blood sugar in patients taking insulin.
Plaquenil cannot – and should not – be used outside the hospital at these high doses, nor should lower doses be used. Lower doses would only increase the possibility the virus would become resistant to the drug.
Over the years, I’ve used Plaquenil in much lower, moderate doses for specific infections. Even at these levels, regular blood testing and follow-up evaluations are required to ensure safety.
If Plaquenil isn’t the answer what is? Are there other treatments and therapies you think would be more helpful?
While there’s not yet a specific treatment for COVID-19, there are about 30 different treatments currently being evaluated worldwide, including the use of antiviral medications recently written about in the New England Journal of Medicine.
There are many anecdotal reports of herbal and vitamin therapies, although none of these should be claimed as a treatment for the virus. My personal belief is that there can only be benefit from herbs or vitamins that have historically been shown to support immune system functioning.
Vaccines are also being developed, although these will take months to test and begin to be used for the general public.
Besides sheltering in place, what should I do to stay healthy during this time?
Psychological and emotional well-being are paramount right now. Connecting with others outside the home is important. Maintaining our social communities and not becoming isolated while physically sheltered is a great support for your health and immune system.
We are faced with tremendous – in many cases, extreme – financial and social challenges right now. But it is also true that we, as Americans, have incredible resilience, strength, and resolve during times of crisis.
We all need to spend time protecting our inner life, our social life, our spiritual life, and our connections with others while we move through this difficult time.
We will get through this. Our greatest dedication should be in maintaining our faith, our belief in ourselves and our support for each other.
What happens after recovery from COVID-19?
Recovery does not equal immunity! Patients who recently have had COVID-19 infections or flu infections should continue to be cautious in their exposures to others.
Immune protection in the form of both antibodies and cell mediated immunity takes weeks to months to develop after infections. There are numerous cases of patients who have become reinfected with COVID-19 after recovering from their initial infection. This happens because they were re-exposed, often in the belief that they were immune because they had recovered.
It is not actually possible for our immune system to respond this quickly.
I tell patients recovering from COVID-19 to do the following things:
- Once your symptoms have completely subsided, stay on any immune support herbals or treatments which helped you recover for an additional 48 hours. This should be done at the full dose as you were using when you were ill.
- Continue to exercise extreme caution after you recover, using the preventive measures described above. Protect yourself exactly the same way as you would if you had never been infected.
- Keep doing this for as long as COVID-19 persists as a threat in our country.
An expert panel from the National Academy of Sciences has recently concluded that the infection may persist into the summer with a chance of it continuing into the fall. Hopefully this will not be the case, and we’ll all be reassured within the next month. Such projections are based on a number of assumptions which are necessarily incomplete. But we need to let the facts speak for themselves and follow the recommendations based upon what actually occurs.
Stay safe. Stay protected. Stay in touch with friends and loved ones, and let’s continue to support each other!