Archive for September, 2020

Beating the Pandemic

September 21, 2020

Covid-19 has upended our lives and our society. It’s a pandemic that has affected people all over the world. I’ve heard many conspiracy theories about it. At times, it seems like more of a political issue than a health issue. I definitely feel that it could have been handled better. I believe that our attempts to contain the coronavirus have actually prolonged the pandemic. Consider the following equation:

E(V)-I=R   (This is not an official equation. As a health professional, this is how I see it and I believe most other health professionals would agree with the basic concept of it. I don’t know how to assign actual numbers to it. It’s simply to demonstrate the relationship between these concepts.)

In other words, exposure times virulence (or severity/contagiousness) minus the level of immunity equals the risk of getting sick. If you look at whether and how much you’re exposed to an antigen (virus) and how contagious it is, it’s an indication of how likely you are to get sick from it. Covid-19 is apparently a very severe and contagious virus. That’s why government and health officials have been putting so much emphasis on minimizing exposure through social distancing, wearing masks (another controversial issue), and so forth. However, there has been very little mention of the other part of the equation – that of immunity. Everyone is looking forward to a vaccine (yet another contested issue) to address the immunity issue. Even if you’re one of those who are anxiously awaiting it, it will take time to get the vaccine and get it distributed. Another possible solution that we’re looking forward to is called herd immunity. That’s when enough people in a community have sufficient immunity to a disease to make it unlikely that anyone will get sick from it and therefore spread it to others. Of course, we first have to build up immunity, which I don’t think is happening very much, which I will explain in a moment.

So, what’s wrong with focusing on limiting exposure? There a number of problems associated with focusing too much on exposure and not enough on immunity. First, we can never be perfect in preventing exposure. Some interaction is necessary. We need to eat, make a living, and so forth. When the pandemic first began and restrictions were being placed on social interaction, we thought it was going to be very short-term. I heard estimates from a few weeks to a few months. Now we’re several months into it with no end in sight. It’s like a wolf is at our door. So we retreated back into our home as we waited for the wolf to go away. Now it’s been so long that we’ve realized that the wolf isn’t going away. We’re at the point where we can no longer hide away in our house, even though it means facing the wolf. In this case, we can’t kill the wolf. So what’s left? We have to protect ourselves against the wolf. We have our own shield. It’s called immunity.

How do you build immunity? To create specific antibodies to a particular virus, it requires some degree of exposure. A vaccination is supposed to be a form of controlled exposure, which will then prompt your body to produce the appropriate antibodies. However, there are possible issues with vaccination, which I will not address here. For the most part, we build antibodies through simple, routine exposure. This creates a huge question for this coronavirus. Do we just go about our normal lives (without social distancing or masks) and hope that it doesn’t wipe us all out before we can build immunity? Government and health officials are obviously working to avoid that. It’s complicated. I believe that even the statistics that we’re getting are not reliable. From what I understand, it’s rare for an otherwise healthy person to die from COVID-19. People with serious health problems are definitely more at risk, but then that’s the case with any disease. The controversial question here is whether or not this coronavirus is the deadly killer disease that the media has made it out to be. Does it justify the fear that surrounds it? Perhaps not, although I can’t prove it. However, if we avoid exposure too much, we delay building specific immunity, which could prolong the pandemic.

Consider the simple hug. On the one hand, it’s the opposite of social distancing. Outside of coughing or sneezing in someone’s face, it could create one of the highest degrees of exposure. On the other hand, I believe that a hug can boost your immunity. Social distancing is isolating people and increasing stress. I believe that this is driving down immunity for many people. So, it’s not just that the immunity part of the equation is being largely ignored, but the efforts to minimize exposure may be actually hurting our immunity.

When the immunity is low, then when exposure is increased at all, the chances of getting sick go way up. In our area, now that the kids have returned to school and college classes are back in session, we’re seeing a huge increase in new positive cases of COVID-19. The knee-jerk reaction of many health and government officials is that we need to limit exposure more – that the social distancing and masks are not enough or that people aren’t following the guidelines. From their standpoint, to a certain extent, this may be true. However, when you look at it from the perspective that I’ve explained, I don’t think that this is the lack of social distancing, but rather the backlash of the social distancing that we’ve been doing. I believe that the social distancing, the fear, the general disruption of our lives and our economy have driven down our immunity. Without building our immunity, this wolf will never go away. I feel that the best approach is to get back to normal as soon as possible (the old normal, not the “new normal”).

I know that there are strong opinions about this both ways. If you’re pro-mask, pro-social distancing and so forth; if you’re convinced that this is a killer disease that requires every bit of avoidance that we can muster (no matter how long it takes or how much it affects our society), then I’m sure you will disagree with my position. I respect that. I would just like to ask you – have you stepped back, away from the fear, and examined the situation from both sides, or have you just taken the media’s word for everything? Think about it… That’s all I ask.