The prevailing attitude about Covid is that it has now evolved into just another virus which causes a cold. Most people get a mild infection. Most people are not even testing since the symptoms are so mild and in many cases, mimic exactly seasonal allergy symptoms.It comes, and it goes, just like any other cold.
The problem with this attitude and approach is that it conveniently ignores a few basic facts which distinguish the SARS-Cov-2 virus from all other cold and flu viruses.
- It is spread by simply breathing. Sneezing and coughing spread it more, but just being around someone infected breathing quietly puts you at risk. No other cold or flu virus or other pathogen for that matter is spread that way. The same way you can smell smoke many yards away from a smoker, you can inhale viral particles.
- It is NOT seasonal. The flu is very predictable in terms of its time frame of occurrence and disappearance from our day to day lives. Mid fall to early spring. As soon as it gets warm, the flu goes away. Not SARS-2. It sticks around year round.
- It is very contagious, much more so than any other respiratory virus.
- It is also contagious much sooner after exposure than other viruses.
- It is also contagious for much longer. Even at 10 days, 15% of infected people can still spread it.
- The SARS-Cov-2 virus attaches, infects and manipulates just about every type of cell and organ system in the body. Not just the nose and lungs, but the heart, pancreas, brain bone marrow, skin… And it can impact those organs permanently. It has led to pancreatic insufficiency, resulting in diabetes. It has caused heart damage leading to arrhythmias and heart disease. It causes brain abnormalities such as fatigue, brain fog, alteration in various senses including smell, taste, pain perception and it has even caused skin rashes.
- It mutates at a rate significantly greater than any other virus we contend with annually. And although the mutations at this point seem to have become more innocuous, all it takes is one bad mutation and we are right back into the thick of things once again.
As far as numbers today go, there is no question that we are at the lowest point with respect to cases, hospitalizations and deaths since the first wave/surge of the pandemic over 3 years ago. Since all the reporting systems, both domestically and abroad, have been dismantled, it is difficult to get accurate numbers of actual cases. In addition, most people are not even testing anymore. The best estimates of the state of the pandemic is to use hospital records like ER visits, hospital admissions and deaths. All these measures are way down, but have plateaued. In the last month or so, the average number of deaths in the US has been as low as 700 but averages to about 1000/week. A significant improvement over that same number on a daily basis earlier in the pandemic, but still significant. It remains in the top 10 causes of death. The numbers still translate into about 50,000 deaths a year, a bad flu year, which averaged ~ 12,000-52,000 deaths/year between 2010-2020. Sadly, despite our wealth and potentially amazing healthcare system, compared with the worldwide numbers, we continue to lead when it comes to per capita Covid deaths. Despite only representing 4% of the world’s population we continue to have close to 25% of the daily worldwide deaths. We are simply a very unhealthy population. The single biggest health measure which increases the risks of getting Covid and dying from Covid is weight. 75% of Americans are overweight with more than half of those, 42% of all Americans, being obese. Only 4% of Japanese are obese. The explosion of interest in diabetes medications like Ozempic for weight loss has focused even more light on how rampant diabetes is in the US. 30% of the population takes metformin, the most commonly used diabetes medication. As many as 80% have disrupted insulin sensitivity, the first stages of what ultimately goes on to become diabetes.
Our office recently went “mask optional”, one of the last to do so in our area. It has been 2 weeks and although it was tough initially for me, after 3 years of wearing a mask almost continuously, I am now comfortable with seeing most patients without a mask. I still do depending on why they are coming in or their symptoms. If I am going to wear a mask, I make one that makes sense, an N95. I even went into the hospital yesterday for the first time without a mask! WEIRD!!!
BUT, I am healthy (I have some health issues but they are under very good control). I eat a whole foods plant-based diet (shown in many studies to lower Covid risks as compared with omnivorous and even vegetarian diets). I exercise routinely and I have been vaccinated. I recently got my second bivalent booster, my 6th covid vaccine overall. I have not had Covid, and I have tested both with swabs and blood work, routinely so I am confident in this.
Vaccination remains crucial to avoid the more serious illnesses and risks of deaths. Sadly only 40% of people have received even their first booster. It is approved for all over 65 and for those with certain immune compromising medical conditions. I admittedly had to exaggerate some of my legitimate issues to get approved for the booster this time around, but got it about a week ago with negligible side effects. I disagree with the CDCs recommendation to make this an annual shot. They will probably recommend it at the same time as the next flu vaccine this fall. Studies clearly show that by 6 months, there are virtually no antibodies left. There are plenty of T and B cells, the ones which orchestrate our immune response and make antibodies, but there is a delay in protection.
Are you better off having had any vaccines? Yes. But you are better protected if you get boosted. Are you protected if you have had Covid? Yes. But again, getting vaccinated helps. Plenty of people have had Covid multiple times so those natural antibodies also wane. There is a Covid outbreak today in China, but this is felt to be a consequence of their lockdown practices with few people getting Covid and their poor vaccination rates with a poorly functioning vaccine. Despite all that, they are a healthier population and their death rate is dwarfed by ours!
I am done with writing about Covid for now. I’ll resume if there are any major developments. Back to more lifestyle and nutrition writing. I like that better.
In the meantime, be smart and be safe. Not just for yourself, but for everyone else.
Enjoy the outdoors and the sunshine. Better to enjoy it with someone else.
Stay Safe and Be Well.