Why COVID-19 and other infections are not “just a virus”

Unless you haven’t listened to any news for the past 8 weeks, you are well aware of the “challenge” the whole world has been confronting over what some do call “just a virus”; and you know that it has caused much critical illness and death, leading to “public” and private anxiety.

” In a very short period, health care and society have been severely challenged by yet another emerging virus. Preventing transmission and slowing the rate of new infections are the primary goals.

However, the concern of COVID-19 causing critical illness and death is at the core of public anxiety.”

JAMA, March 11, 2020 “Care for Critically Ill Patients with COVID-19”
“just a virus”

You’ve probably visited your doctor or your child’s doctor for an acute illness that started suddenly or over a few days. Likely the symptoms included some combination of

  • fever and/or chills
  • sore throat, runny nose, and/or sneezing
  • cough
  • joint and/or muscle aches
  • vomiting with or without diarrhea
  • rash
  • redness with or without drainage from the eyes
  • headache and a general miserable feeling
This illustration depicted a 3D computer-generated rendering of a whole influenza (flu) virus with a light grey surface membrane, set against a white background. The virus’ surface proteins, hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA), were depicted in light and dark blue, respectively. HA is a trimer, which is comprised of three subunits, while NA is a tetramer, which is comprised of four subunits, with a head region resembling a 4-leaf clover. CDC/ Douglas Jordan, public domain

And you were probably told that you or your child had “a virus”,or viral infection, followed by one or more of the following phrases-

  • there is no treatment but it will go away
  • the treatment will not cure it, but it will help the symptoms
  • it has to run it’s course
  • it resolves without treatment
  • you caught it from someone else
  • it is contagious
  • the symptoms will go away, but it stays in your body
  • you may get it again
  • you won’t get it again
  • there is a vaccine to prevent this
  • there is no vaccine to prevent this
This image depicted a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientist interacting with her Caliper LifeSciences’ Zephyr Molecular Biology Workstation, working with samples to be tested using a real-time PCR machine, known as a themocycler (see PHIL 22904), in order to identify the various types of poliovirus contained therein. The data from this analysis is stored in a computer, while the software further analyzes the data before being reviewed by a scientist. The themocycler can vary the temperature, which is important, for PCR requires multiple test rounds at different temperatures. In the instrument, viral RNA is copied into DNA and then the DNA is amplified. Specific probes bind to the DNA, in order to determine what type of polio present. One hundred ten labs around the world can run this assay, and can tell if an isolate contains polio, or not, and if so, what kind.CDC/ Holly Patrick, MS, MPH

And finally, you may have heard a phrase I hope you never hear, and I hope we doctors never use again-

“It’s JUST a virus.”

Why it’s never “just a virus”

The quote at the beginning of this post is from an article in the Journal of the AMA . Unless you haven’t listened to any news for the past 8 weeks, you are well aware of the “challenge” the whole world has been confronting over what some do call “just a virus”; and you know that it has caused much critical illness and death, leading to “public” and private anxiety.

But we shouldn’t have been surprised. Viruses have been around probably as long as humans have, we just didn’t know much about them until the past century or so. After all, viruses are made of genetic material DNA or RNA, like us and animals; when viral DNA/RNA invades our bodies and enters our cells, they start reproducing (replicating), causing disease. (This is a simplified explanation of what viruses do.)

Transmission electron microscopic image of an isolate from the first U.S. case of COVID-19, formerly known as 2019-nCoV. The spherical viral particles, colorized blue, contain cross-sections through the viral genome, seen as black dots.CDC/ Hannah A Bullock; Azaibi Tamin
How do doctors know it’s a virus?

Until fairly recently, viral infections were diagnosed by typical symptoms and characteristic physical exam findings, especially fever and rash, and many are still diagnosed that way. Then laboratory scientists developed tests for some viruses, which help confirm the diagnosis , important when a treatment is available. The tests can also be used to know if someone is or is not already immune to a disease, if a vaccine is available.

So what infections are caused by viruses?

Lots of them are, but fortunately most are not nearly as serious as the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, or the 2 previous coronavirus outbreaks, SARS and MERS. You’re probably quite familiar with some of them. Here’s what I think is an easy to understand way to categorize them.

This illustration provides a 3-dimensional (3D) graphical representation of a tightly packed, icosahedral, poliovirus particle that consists of 60-copies each of capsid polypeptides, designated as pink VP1 (viral protein1), green VP2, purple VP3, and though not shown here, VP4. This particle was composed of units of four capsid polypeptides, which interact in groups of five, resulting in a viral particle that has, what is referred to as 5-fold (pentameric), and 12-fold symmetry. Note the deep canyon on the capsid’s surface surrounding the apex of each pentamer of the virus. The canyon, together with the pentamer apex, is used as the site for capsid binding to cellular receptors.CDC/ Sarah Poser

categories of viral infections

This is how they behave without previous vaccination or treatment (when available) .This is not an exhaustive list, just some of the most common. These all spread person to person.

Short duration, followed by life-long immunity
  • measles
  • mumps
  • rubella
  • polio
  • hepatitis A
Short duration, followed by short-lived immunity
  • RSV- respiratory syncytial virus
  • influenza
  • rhinovirus (common cold)
  • coronavirus
Persistent infection, life-long carrier of virus, virus inactive at times, not always passed to other people
  • HSV-herpes simplex virus
  • VZ-varicella/zoster (chicken pox-shingles)
Persistent infection, life-long carrier of virus, virus always active and can be passed to other people
  • HIV/AIDS-human immunodeficiency virus
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • HPV-human papilloma virus
Viruses that spread from animals to humans
  • Avian influenza
  • Rabies
  • West Nile virus
Viruses that spread from animals to humans-and sometimes then to other humans
  • yellow fever
  • coronavirus
  • Ebola
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to assist public health partners in responding to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak first identified in Wuhan, China.
How serious are viral infections?

How serious a viral infection is depends on how you want to define “serious”. Even a “mild” illness can be a major problem if it’s you or your family that is sick. With a mild illness, you still may feel too sick to work or go to school, which you should not do anyway, so not to transmit it to other people.

The above classification is quite simplified, a framework for looking at infections that you’ve probably heard of. They range from the common cold, with no risk of death, to HIV/AIDS and rabies, which are always fatal without treatment.

People with the short duration infections usually recover but some carry risk of progressing into life threatening respiratory events, due to RSV, influenza, and now the coronaviruses. Polio frequently left its victims paralyzed for life and measles can cause permanent deafness.

The herpes virus and VZ virus cause recurrent outbreaks of painful skin sores. . Hepatitis B and C viruses can lead to chronic liver disease and liver cancer. HPV causes benign warts but also cancer of the cervix.

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. In this view, the protein particles E, S, and M, also located on the outer surface of the particle, have all been labeled as well. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS
“the challenge of emerging virus”

I hope that we all learn from this pandemic. I hope both physicians and patients take viral infections more seriously and appreciate the complexity and challenge they represent. We share something important with them-DNA, the genetic material that creates health as well as disease. Viruses aren’t static; like us they change and adapt.

We have vaccines that can dramatically reduce our risk of getting several of these diseases and I hope more people will use them. We have a few drugs which combat these diseases; fortunately some have been life saving, like those for HIV/AIDs.

Healthy lifestyles offer protection against infections of all kinds but we frequently overlook their value. You may be tired of hearing them but they include

  • hand washing- often and thoroughly
  • cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces
  • water and sanitation facilities
  • safe food handling and cooking practices
  • wise sexual practices
  • staying home when sick
  • limiting contact with animals and preventing insect bites
  • immunization

sharing the HEART of health

For this post I reviewed sections of the textbook Fenner and White’s Medical Virology, Fifth Edition , made available online free at ScienceDirect.com specifically to help medical professionals navigate the COVID-19 challenge.

You might want to check out some less technical references at these links.

Overview of Viral Infections

Viral Infection

Except for the cover photo, the pictures in the post are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, and are in the public domain.

I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Thanks so much.

                              Dr. Aletha 

October Timely Topic- INFLUENZA

In this part of the world the influenza season is starting, even though influenza can occur year round. Once again, the majority of physicians and other health professionals recommend vaccination as the most effective way to lower one’s risk of getting influenza. No matter how many people would like to believe otherwise, for most people the risk of influenza is greater than the risk of the influenza vaccine.

This post is not very “timely” as October is halfway through. My husband and I have been dealing with some health challenges of our own as well as getting ready for a wedding. However, the topic is no less timely.

(This post has affiliate links; I hope they help you find information and inspiration and help me fund this blog by the commission they will generate. )

a woman taking her temperature
This photograph depicted a woman who was using a modern, battery-powered oral thermometer, in order to measure her body temperature. In order to return an accurate reading, this particular type of thermometer needed to be placed beneath the user’s tongue, for a set amount of time, beeping when the ambient, sublingual temperature was reached. Photo credit-James Gathany, CDC, public domain

Influenza

In this part of the world the influenza season is starting, even though influenza can occur year round. Once again, the majority of physicians and other health professionals recommend vaccination as the most effective way to lower one’s risk of getting influenza. No matter how many people would like to believe otherwise, for most people the risk of influenza is greater than the risk of the influenza vaccine.

I recommend you read Dr. Gretchen LaSalle‘s thorough review

FLU VACCINE 101

Managing influenza and other winter illness

Most of the winter respiratory illnesses are not influenza, but can still make us feel miserable. Most of the time most of us recover uneventfully, but these diseases can cause more severe disease in certain people, like infants, elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. Here are some previous posts with info you need to know about keeping you and your family well and safe.

6 tips to cope during a flu epidemic

a man taking his temperature
Photo credit Lauren Bishop-CDC/ National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID)

How you can cope with winter illness

6 smart facts about antibiotic use
graphic created by the Centers for Disease Control, http://www.cdc.gov

And here is how to know when to seek emergency medical help.

When should you call 911?

Hand hygiene saves lives. a sign reading "please wash your hands"
One of the most effective ways to prevent and stop the spread of infectious disease.

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Thanks so much.

Dear friends, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit. 

3 John 2 , NLT

Stay well this winter, or what ever season you are enjoying now.

                              Dr. Aletha 

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How you can cope with winter illness

Don’t panic over colds/flu, hints to get you through

Where I live we recently had our first freeze of the winter. It gets dark earlier now since we “fell back” to standard time. And we’ve already had our first reported cases of influenza, which I reviewed in a previous post.

Chances are you or someone close to you will have a respiratory illness this winter , illnesses we frequently just lump into the category of “colds and flu”.  This usually means illnesses with some combination of these symptoms-

  • Sneezing, stuffy  or runny nose,
  • coughing
  • sore throat, hoarseness
  • ear pain, fullness
  • fever,
  • body aches, fatigue, 
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea 
  • headache.

We call these by various names but they have much in common, including symptoms and treatment. Let’s talk about what you can do to cope when they hit your family.

diagram of the nose and sinuses
Winter illnesses commonly affect the nose, throat, sinuses, ears and lungs.

Don’t panic.

Most otherwise healthy people recover from common respiratory illnesses. You may be miserable for several days, and need several weeks to feel back to normal, but you won’t suffer any permanent harm.

Fever ,especially in children, alarms parents. Don’t ignore it but don’t panic either. Reading this post should help you keep calm about fever .

a woman taking her temperature
This photograph depicted a woman who was using a modern, battery-powered oral thermometer, in order to measure her body temperature. In order to return an accurate reading, this particular type of thermometer needed to be placed beneath the user’s tongue, for a set amount of time, beeping when the ambient, sublingual temperature was reached. Photo credit-James Gathany, CDC, public domain

Some  people are at risk of developing  severe symptoms and serious complications from respiratory illnesses, so seek medical help sooner, rather than later. These include

  • Infants, especially under one month old
  • Elderly,  now a relative term, advanced age, especially combined with chronic disease
  • Those with chronic lung disease, like asthma, COPD, emphysema, cystic fibrosis
  • People on drugs that suppress the immune system
  • Other chronic diseases – diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease, cancer 

If you are not sure if you fit into one of these categories, ask your doctor.

Check here for tips on

the difference between a cold (acute rhino-sinusitis) and flu (influenza)

rhinoceros
“Rhino” obviously means NOSE.

What you need to know about influenza. 

Stay home.

This is when you shouldn’t share- germs that is. These illnesses spread person to person, so minimize contact.

Keep your kids home from school and stay home from work, at least the first few days, when you are  the most contagious. When  there is widespread illness in your community, avoid crowds and public gatherings.

Resting, getting extra sleep, drinking fluids and staying warm and dry  make staying at home therapeutic.

Wash hands.

Speaking of person to person contact, the best way to avoid getting or giving germs is to wash your hands often, but especially after being with others ,using a restroom,  and before cooking or eating. Cleaning household surfaces helps too, as well as clothing and linens. Don’t forget to clean your cell phone, tablets, and keyboards too. 

Hand hygiene saves lives.
a common sight now in public restrooms

Use medication wisely.

Some of these illnesses have a specific medication that clear it faster- strep throat, influenza, pneumonia. The others will “run their course” and meds are used to help relieve symptoms.

Many people assume that any illness with fever, sore throat and cough will improve with an antibiotic. The fact is, most will not. Antibiotics only treat infections caused by bacteria, and most of these are caused by viruses. To learn more read about

How to navigate the antibiotic highway 

These illnesses cause the greatest overuse of antibiotics, contribute to the cost of health care, and the development of antibiotic resistance. Please do not insist on an antibiotic if the doctor says you don’t need it; if offered an antibiotic, ask why.

6 smart facts about antibiotic use

Does nasal drainage and congestion need treatment with an antibiotic?

Maybe not. Learn how to sort out sinusitis.

WebMD offers this advice on choosing non-prescription cold remedies

 Be patient

The “24 hour virus” is for the most part a myth. Expect to be ill anywhere from 3 to 10 days; some symptoms, especially cough, can linger for weeks. If you are a smoker, this is a great time to quit. 

But if after 7-10 days you are getting progressively worse, instead of better, something more may be going on, so it’s wise to seek professional medical help.

 

 

I would love for you to share this  information (but not our germs) on your social media pages.

And follow Watercress Words for more information, instruction, and inspiration to help you explore the HEART of HEALTH .

 

My favorite home remedy for a cold is a warm cup of tea,

it always makes me feel better.

White House China teacup

Please help support this blog by purchasing at these affiliate links and visiting the advertisers on this page.  Thanks.



Free Samples with every order

How to cope with winter illness

What to do when colds or flu strike you and your family

Where I live we recently had our first freeze of the winter. It gets dark earlier now since we “fell back” to standard time. And we’ve already had our first reported cases of influenza, which I reviewed in a previous post.

Chances are you or someone close to you will have a respiratory illness this winter , illnesses we frequently just lump into the category of “colds and flu”.  This usually means illnesses with some combination of these symptoms-

  • Sneezing, stuffy  or runny nose,
  • coughing
  • sore throat, hoarseness
  • ear pain, fullness
  • fever,
  • body aches, fatigue, 
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea 
  • headache.

We call these by various names but they have much in common, including symptoms and treatment. Let’s talk about what you can do to cope when they hit your family.

diagram of the nose and sinuses
Winter illnesses commonly affect the nose, throat, sinuses, ears and lungs.

Don’t panic.

Most otherwise healthy people recover from common respiratory illnesses. You may be miserable for several days, and need several weeks to feel back to normal, but you won’t suffer any permanent harm.

Fever ,especially in children, alarms parents. Don’t ignore it but don’t panic either. Reading this post should help you keep calm about fever .

a woman taking her temperature
This photograph depicted a woman who was using a modern, battery-powered oral thermometer, in order to measure her body temperature. In order to return an accurate reading, this particular type of thermometer needed to be placed beneath the user’s tongue, for a set amount of time, beeping when the ambient, sublingual temperature was reached. Photo credit-James Gathany, CDC, public domain

Some  people are at risk of developing  severe symptoms and serious complications from respiratory illnesses, so seek medical help sooner, rather than later. These include

  • Infants, especially under one month old
  • Elderly,  now a relative term, advanced age, especially combined with chronic disease
  • Those with chronic lung disease, like asthma, COPD, emphysema, cystic fibrosis
  • People on drugs that suppress the immune system
  • Other chronic diseases – diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease, cancer 

If you are not sure if you fit into one of these categories, ask your doctor.

Check here for tips on

the difference between a cold (acute rhino-sinusitis) and flu (influenza)

rhinoceros
“Rhino” obviously means NOSE.

What you need to know about influenza. 

Stay home.

This is when you shouldn’t share- germs that is. These illnesses spread person to person, so minimize contact.

Keep your kids home from school and stay home from work, at least the first few days, when you are  the most contagious. When  there is widespread illness in your community, avoid crowds and public gatherings.

Resting, getting extra sleep, drinking fluids and staying warm and dry  make staying at home therapeutic.

Wash hands.

Speaking of person to person contact, the best way to avoid getting or giving germs is to wash your hands often, but especially after being with others ,using a restroom,  and before cooking or eating. Cleaning household surfaces helps too, as well as clothing and linens.

Hand hygiene saves lives.
a common sight now in public restrooms

Use medication wisely.

Some of these illnesses have a specific medication that clear it faster- strep throat, influenza, pneumonia. The others will “run their course” and meds are used to help relieve symptoms.

Many people assume that any illness with fever, sore throat and cough will improve with an antibiotic. The fact is, most will not. Antibiotics only treat infections caused by bacteria, and most of these are caused by viruses. To learn more read about

How to navigate the antibiotic highway 

These illnesses cause the greatest overuse of antibiotics, contribute to the cost of health care, and the development of antibiotic resistance. Please do not insist on an antibiotic if the doctor says you don’t need it; if offered an antibiotic, ask why.

6 smart facts about antibiotic use

Does nasal drainage and congestion need treatment with an antibiotic?

Maybe not. Learn how to sort out sinusitis.

WebMD offers this advice on choosing non-prescription cold remedies

 Be patient

The “24 hour virus” is for the most part a myth. Expect to be ill anywhere from 3 to 10 days; some symptoms, especially cough, can linger for weeks. If you are a smoker, this is a great time to quit. 

But if after 7-10 days you are getting progressively worse, instead of better, something more may be going on, so it’s wise to seek professional medical help.

Please help your friends by sharing this information (but not our germs) on your social media pages.

And follow this blog for more information, instruction, and inspiration to help you explore the HEART of HEALTH 

 

My favorite home remedy for a cold is a warm cup of tea,

it always makes me feel better.

White House China teacup

You can help support this blog by purchasing at these affiliate links. Thanks.



Free Samples with every order

Fever- Keep calm and …

Fever- act on the facts not the fallacies; learn how here
#fever#seizures

I don’t know where the “keep calm” slogan originated, but it certainly applies in the case of fever.  Many people consider fever a bona fide emergency, especially in children.

But fever is just a symptom, usually due to a benign (minor) illness that is self-limited (will go away on its own). In less common circumstances, it is due to a serious or even life threatening disease.

a woman taking her temperature
This photograph depicted a woman who was using a modern, battery-powered oral thermometer, in order to measure her body temperature. In order to return an accurate reading, this particular type of thermometer needed to be placed beneath the user’s tongue, for a set amount of time, beeping when the ambient, sublingual temperature was reached. Photo credit-James Gathany, CDC, public domain

5 truths about fevers in children” explains that, and most of the content applies just as well to adults as children. One difference is that febrile seizures do not occur in adults.

A febrile seizure is one for which there is no other cause – the fever caused the seizure.

So if an older child, adolescent or adult with a fever has a seizure, that seizure must be due to something else; for example, meningitis, an infection of the brain lining, can cause fever and seizures; in that case the seizure is due to the infection, not the fever. In this case, the seizure is the emergency, not the fever.

other posts to help you identify serious illness

Have a sick child? Here’s when to call the doctor

Symptoms for which evaluation should not be delayed if severe, persistent or worsening include

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fainting, passing out
  • Hives, swelling, rash (due to an allergic reaction) 
  • Lethargy or unexplained sleepiness
  • Severe pain
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea if persistent or profuse 
  • Burns
  • Bleeding, uncontrolled 
  • Fever

Call 911, it’s an emergency! or is it?

An emergent medical condition is one that

  • Threatens life
  • Threatens one or more limbs
  • Threatens vision/hearing/speech/mental function/ function of any major internal organ or organ system
  • Has the potential, if not treated promptly, to cause death or long term and/or permanent harm.

exploring the HEART of health

I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Thanks so much.

                              Dr. Aletha 

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