Everybody is talking about the novel coronavirus outbreak, feared to be the next world pandemic. Symptoms range from a mild upper respiratory infection to death (though fatality is fortunately uncommon), and testing is cumbersome: while local hospitals are now developing their own tests, samples could previously only be sent to the CDC for evaluation, and the majority still are sent there. This process takes 48 hours–which increases the chance of spread in the meantime.
In the US, testing is also restricted to either those with very severe symptoms who have not tested positive for other causative organisms, or those who have traveled to or been in contact with those who have traveled to affected countries within 14 days of developing symptoms. Given the bottleneck of testing only through the CDC, this makes sense, though the concern is that there may be more cases in the US than we are finding due to the lack of testing.
The responsible organism is a virus related to two past outbreaks, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) of 2002-2003 and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) of 2012-2015. Both of these were also caused by coronaviruses, a family of viruses that encompass strains responsible for the common cold.
Comparing 2019-nCoV with SARS and MERS
SARS lasted 6 months, and fatalities were at 9.6% (of a total of 8000 infected). Fatality rates depended upon age and immune function.
MERS seemed to be both more virulent, but less transmissible. It occurred in two waves, one in 2012 with 35% fatalities of the 55 people infected, and one in 2015 with 20% fatalities of the 186 infected.
All three of these coronaviruses require close contact for human-to-human transmission to occur. However, from the numbers alone, it does look like 2019-nCoV is spread more easily than SARS or MERS. As of March 5th, there have been 97,878 cases and 3353 deaths of 2019-nCoV. That’s a 3.42% fatality rate, mostly among the elderly and those with weakened immune function.
To put this in perspective, according to the CDC, up to 61,000 people die from the flu every year, out of up to 45 million cases yearly. This amounts to only a 0.13% fatality rate, so 2019-nCoV is more deadly, though the overall number of yearly victims is much higher thus far.
Treatment and Prevention
Aside from travel restrictions to and from affected countries (China, Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea at the time of this writing), since there is currently no treatment for the virus, what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones?
The best approach available at present is immune support, but there’s a lot to be said for that: the immune system is better at killing off foreign invaders than any drug ever invented! And really, supporting immune function is something all of us should be doing anyway (but often aren’t.) If nothing else, let’s let a new threat serve as a wake-up call to be as healthy as we can be.
It’s important to start with a firm foundation: make sure you’re eating immune boosting foods, getting plenty of sleep, and managing your stress. But whether you’re looking for additional supplements for prevention or treatment for current symptoms (of coronavirus or anything else), there are a number of supplements to choose from.
Immune Support Vitamins and Minerals
Nearly all vitamins and minerals play a role in supporting the immune system, but if you’re looking to supplement with some of the heavy hitters, these are the ones I’d pick.
- Vitamin C. This is the one everyone thinks of, and this study shows that it increases production of lymphocytes, or white blood cells. Plus, in times of high stress, the adrenals burn through Vitamin C—and being sick is stressful. Dose: 1000-2000 mg daily.
- Vitamin A: This is one of my secret weapons for acute illness, but to be effective, it needs to be given in high doses, around 100,000-150,000 IU daily for a short period of time (a few days, even up to a few months.) Longer term dosing at this level can cause Vitamin A toxicity, elevating liver enzymes. Acute vitamin A toxicity causes a headache. High dose Vitamin A is contraindicated in pregnancy.
- Zinc. This mineral is incredibly ubiquitous, necessary for development of theimmune system’s T-cells as well as decreasing inflammation. Vitamin A and zinc are synergistic, as well, as zinc helps to mobilize Vitamin A from the liver. Doses over 30 mg daily can set you up for a copper deficiency, so I don’t recommend exceeding that amount unless you’re also taking copper (at 2 mg daily). Make sure you take it with food, too—it can otherwise make you nauseous.
Immune Support Herbs
Quite a few common Western herbs have properties that support immune function, but here are some of those that are best known.
- Echinacea. This is probably the best known immune support herb. This study testifies to its efficacy in preventing colds and flus, and this study implies that the reason is macrophage and NK cell activation. This should be a short-term treatment either during active illness or during a few weeks of higher susceptibility. Dose: 500-800 mg daily for a few weeks, or 500-700 mg every 2-4 hours for a few days during acute illness.
- Elderberry. This study shows that elderberry is effective specifically against the influenza virus by stimulating antiviral properties and immune responses. This study shows that elderberry shortens flu-like symptoms by up to four days. Dose: 150-200 mg.
- Oregano. This essential oil is antimicrobial and also stimulates the immune system at the same time. This should be a short-term treatment either during active illness or during a few weeks of higher susceptibility. This one is contraindicated in pregnancy. Dose: 200-250 mg of extract.
- Mushroom extracts. Particularly shiitake and maitake are high in beta glucans, which stimulate a wide variety of immune responses.
Other Immune Support Supplements
Last but not least, these immune boosters don’t fit neatly into either of the above categories.
- Colostrum. Colostrum is the milk produced by mammals in late pregnancy and in the first several days after giving birth, and it has a high concentration of antibodies, antioxidants, and other immune system components. It is an extract of milk, though most patients with a milk allergy tolerate it fine, since it doesn’t contain lactose, and contains less than 1% casein. Dose: 500-2000 mg daily.
- Probiotics. The good bacteria in our guts provide our body’s first line of defense against foreign invaders. As such, they provide a wide variety of immune responses including activation of macrophages, natural killer (NK) cells, T-cells, and release of cytokines (chemical messengers of the immune system). Dose: 20 billion organisms daily, and a 50/50 ratio of bifidobacillus to lactobacillus.
- Colloidal silver. This study shows that colloidal silver has broad spectrum antimicrobial properties. It’s a natural antibiotic! Adult dose: 1 tsp (20 ppm); 1/4 to 1/2 that dose for children.
- Bee Propolis. This study shows that propolis is effective especially against gram positive bacteria. Dose:the safe dose is 1.4 mg/kg body weight per day, 70 mg/day.
While the number of cases of 2019-nCoV is much higher than either of the other coronavirus outbreaks, and all fatalities are tragic, it is still only at 3.42%. Unnecessary fear isn’t healthy either! But it does make sense to be vigilant, and to collectively keep ourselves as healthy as we can possibly be.