Staying Well During a Pandemic

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Pandemics are unpredictable and deadly, but society continues to prevail over fast-spreading disease using methods as modern as synthetic vaccinology and as old as shutting doors.

As the COVID-19 virus evolves, new treatments are being tested, individuals are learning to adapt, and lessons are being learned about what works and what doesn’t.

Some of what works now is almost identical to what helped during the deadly 1918 flu pandemic that killed at least 50 million people across the globe in two years, says Dr. Keith Lamy, at Austin family practice medicine clinic.

Communities that moved swiftly to mandate quarantines and prevent people from gathering in public had fewer deaths than places that didn’t.  People who wore masks were less likely to get sick.  And leaders who knew how to mobilize their communities to thwart the disease were able to slow the spread of infection more effectively than leaders who did not.

Sheltering in place also saves lives, and has been used for centuries, including during a series of great plagues throughout history that swept through cities and decimated populations.

Although much about the coronavirus remains unclear, science is moving swiftly to find solutions that will likely end the pandemic more quickly than during past global disease events.

As scientists work at breakneck speed to study coronavirus, they are learning what treatments can help, and what to focus on for possible relief in the future.

Existing anti-viral medications are being tried to see if they work, with some used in combination to target the virus and alleviate symptoms.

The FDA has approved emergency use of the anti-viral remdesivir for sick patients in hospitals.

The drug appears to hamper the ability of the coronavirus to reproduce and infect other parts of the body.  Initial studies indicate some hospitalized patients recover faster with the drug.

In May,  the Texas health department began distributing vials of the drug to hospitals to treat patients.

For more severely ill patients, doctors are turning for help to an inexpensive drug that is not an anti-viral.

The steroid dexamethasone reduced deaths by a third in patients who were receiving ventilation, and by a fifth in those receiving only oxygen treatment, according to scientists at the University of Oxford.

In Texas, doctors who use dexamethasone to treat COVID do so at their discretion, and physicians are not required to report it to the health department, according to a department spokeswoman.

Another promising treatment involves using plasma from recovered COVID patients, whose blood contains antibodies their bodies made to combat the virus and get well again.

Doctors give the plasma by transfusion to those who are fighting the disease.  In some cases the donor antibodies can assist recovery, by reducing the severity of the disease or shortening its length.

Convalescent plasma has been used for more than a century to treat many serious illnesses and is generally considered safe with few or no adverse side effects.

In March 2020, for example, Houston Methodist Hospital began transfusing plasma from recovered COVID patients into some critically ill patients, with 19 out of 25 patients improving.

In Austin, some hospitals are already using convalescent therapy to help their sickest COVID patients. 

Still, as the number of cases and hospitalizations increase in Texas, concern grows over whether hospitals will have the capacity to care for sick patients if the numbers rise too fast.

Although the virus can be deadly, or devastating enough to require hospitalization, the majority of people who get sick will be protected by their immune systems and make a full recovery.

Maintaining your strength and health during the pandemic is crucial, so be sure to eat fresh whole foods, exercise, stay positive, and get plenty of sleep.  You may also want to supplement your diet with immune boosting foods and supplements, such as fruits and vegetables, garlic, shiitake and other mushrooms, and green tea.

If you do need to visit the doctor for a medical issue not related to COVID, take adequate precautions, including wearing a mask.  Medical offices, including Dr. Lamy’s practice, are following guidelines advised by the CDC and municipality, including screening patients for COVID symptoms, wearing a mask, and using telehealth services when appropriate.

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