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 

2019 women’s health update- new meds to control pain and prevent disease

In this post I review some new drugs that treat conditions exclusive to or common in women.

In a previous post I gave you updates about hormones, the heart, and HPV. Here is the link-

Women’s health update, part 1

In this post I’ll review some new drugs that treat conditions exclusive to or common in women.

I’m illustrating this post with covers of books written by women; I have reviewed all of these books on my blog, so I’ll include those links also. Please note these are affiliate links, so if you do happen to use them for a purchase you will help me fund this blog.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Relieving the pain of endometriosis

Women with endometriosis suffer infertility, excessive bleeding, painful periods and pelvic pain unrelated to periods. In endometriosis, uterine tissue grows outside the uterus. It can be difficult to diagnose, requiring invasive procedures to discover. Treatment depends on the goal, whether pregnancy, pain relief, or both. Short of surgery, hormonal therapy has been the mainstay of treatment.

A new hormonal drug released last year, elagolix, brand name Orilissa, is the first of its kind specifically developed and approved to treat “moderate to severe” endometriosis pain. It does not help with infertility. AbbVie, the pharmaceutical company which developed the drug, has priced it at $844 per month, or about $10000 per year, retail.( per Reuters report) Patients may pay less depending on insurance.

 

Stop bleeding fibroids

Researchers are studying elagolix and another hormonal drug ulipristal for treating uterine fibroids. Fibroids are growths within the uterine that can cause pain and excessive bleeding. Initial trials show both of these drugs can significantly decrease bleeding and pain. However, neither is currently FDA approved for treating fibroid.

Easing dyspareunia

After menopause many women develop atrophy of the vagina, making it thin, dry, and easily irritated, leading to painful sex, or dyspareunia. A new intravaginal medication, prasterone,brand name Intrarosa, can help relieve the discomfort. Studies show it may also help improve sexual desire and arousal, but it is not labeled for this.

Manufactured by AMAG Pharmaceuticals, it is for “moderate to severe” symptoms. Also known as DHEA, it is a steroid that transforms into estrogen in the vagina ,administered as a once daily vaginal insert at bedtime, applied with an applicator. According to goodrx.com,a 30 day supply costs about $213.

DHEA can be purchased as an over-the-counter, non-regulated product, whose effectiveness and safety are unknown. A one-month supply of 50 mg tablets may cost $5.

Other options for treating vaginal atrophy symptoms are oral or vaginal estrogen and/or vaginal lubricants.

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Prevention of migraine pain and disability

Migraine, although not exclusive to women,occurs much more frequently in them than men. For infrequent headaches,non opiate pain relievers are effective and recommended. But for severe, frequent, or persistent symptoms prevention is recommended to improve quality of life. Several oral meds are effective but two new injectable drugs show promise.

Botox, onabotulinumtoxin A, has been FDA approved for treating chronic migraine, meaning patients with frequent headaches and other migraine symptoms for at least 3 months.

Yes the same drug used to treat wrinkles,Botox, can prevent migraine

Manufactured by Allergan, a vial containing 200 units costs $1452, per goodrx.com. For migraine, the drug is injected in the upper facial muscles by a physician specifically trained in its use.

Another novel therapy uses the immune system to fight migraine. Monoclonal antibodies bind to a calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor which is responsible for transmitting migraine pain. The antibodies are produced in a laboratory but work like antibodies naturally produced by the body. They are being used to treat cancers and some forms of arthritis.

Three of these drugs are available

  • Erenumab-brand
  • Fremanezumab-Ajoovy
  • Galcanezumab-Emgality

 

They are administered as subcutaneous injections (under the skin) monthly. According to a Medscape, average cost is $600 per month.

You may want to review my previous post about non-drug ways to manage migraine.

Simple and effective ways to manage chronic pain

Preventing cervical cancer with the HPV vaccine

I mentioned this in my previous post about women’s health but it fits here also.

Infection with the HPV, human papillomavirus, causes genital warts and changes in the cervix called CIN which can lead to cervical cancer.

According to a review of clinical trials by Cochran, vaccination against this virus effectively prevents infection and thus fewer cases of CIN. Since a significant percentage of CIN progresses to cancer, we can expect fewer women will develop invasive cervical cancer, the 4th most common cancer in women worldwide.

The vaccine, Gardasail 9, originally approved for use in females ages 9 to 26 years,received FDA approval for use up to age 45 years.

Stopping shingles with the zoster vaccine

And speaking of vaccines, a new zoster (shingles) vaccine, Shingrix, prevents the painful rash much more effectively than the original vaccine Zostavax. It ranges in effectiveness from 91% to 97% at preventing shingles, depending on age. The first vaccine was 51% effective.

Zoster is a reactivation of the varicella virus that causes chickenpox. It causes a painful rash known as shingles;the pain may continue after the rash is gone. It can happen at any age, but symptoms tend to be worst in older persons.

exploring the HEART of health through books

Thanks for joining me to review new steps in women’s health and review some fine women authors. I hope you will follow the links to my reviews and read some or all of these books. When you do, I would love to know your reaction. I might use your comments in an update.

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.

                              Dr. Aletha 

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2019 Women’s health update- hormones, the heart, and HPV

results of the Nurses Health Study over 18 years shows no increase in incidence of these complications in women who used vaginal estrogen, suggesting this is a safe option for women who elect to use estrogen. (from the journal Menopause)

Multiple health issues impact women exclusively or differently than men, so new and updated information is important to share. The issues we women face vary with our age, stage of life and health status.

Let’s look at some medical news about women’s health issues, information I picked up recently from several medical journals I follow.

This is current, general medical information that helps a doctor and patient make decisions about what is right for her. Medical recommendations and practice changes as we learn new things.
If you deal with any of these issues , please discuss with your doctor before  taking any action.

I’m illustrating this post with photos of art featuring women. I’ll tell you more about the source at the end.

statue of a woman holding an infant

Human papillomavirus and cancer 

Infection with the human papillomavirus, HPV, can cause  genital warts and cervical cancer.

The percentage of young women with confirmed HPV (human papillomavirus) infection  in the United States fell significantly from 2006 to 2012. Women who had received the HPV vaccine showed the greatest decline in infection rates, compared to those who had not. Even one dose was effective, even though 2 or 3 are recommended.

A new study reported by the New England Journal of Medicine shows that women who become infected with the HPV strains 16 and 18 have a much higher risk of changes in their cervix called CIN-cervical intraepithelial neoplasia-which can be a precursor to cancer. These changes may not be picked up by a Papanicolaou (Pap) test.

Thus, protection against infection with HPV should also provide protection against cancers caused by HPV.

Human papillomavirus vaccine

Gardasil, a vaccine which targets the HPV has been available to females and males from 9 years old to 26 years old. Now the age has been extended through age 45 years for both genders.

Here is a link to detailed information about HPV vaccination from the National Cancer Institute.


Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines

statue of a pioneer woman with rifle and infant

Long-acting reversible contraception-LARC  

Two forms of long-acting reversible contraception are available to women in the United States.

Nexplanon, a contraceptive implant, slowly releases the hormone progestin and does not have estrogen. It can be used in women who cannot take estrogen, such as those with uterine fibroids or endometrial cancer.

Intrauterine devices, IUDs, containing copper only are appropriate for women with past or present breast cancer, ischemic heart disease, and women at risk for blood clots.

Use of LARCs accounts for 12% of all contraceptive use. Additional benefits include controlling excessive menstrual bleeding, potentially saving women from surgery.

Here is a link to Quick Fact about intrauterine devices and other forms of contraception from the Department of Health and Human Services

Intrauterine Device

statue of woman, holding infant, standing next to a child

Hormone therapy and prevention of heart disease

A 2015 Cochrane review of 40,410 postmenopausal women examined the use of oral hormone therapy (estrogen with or without progesterone) taken for at least six months, compared with placebo (no real drug), to determine the effect on death from any cause, and deaths caused by heart disease, stroke, and blood clot in a leg or lung.

The review found no benefits for preventing heart attack (fatal or nonfatal), or death due to any cause.

In women who took hormones they found

 
1 in 165 women had a stroke
1 in 118 women had a blood clot in the leg or lung
1 in 242 women had a blood clot in the lung

The women in this study were all older than 60 years old, so it is possible there might be benefit in younger women.

statue of woman with arm raised and holding an infant

Vaginal estrogen and heart health

While estrogen replacement after menopause is effective at controlling the undesirable effects of night sweats, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness, it potentially increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease-heart attacks and stroke, and some cancers-breast and uterine.

However, results of the Nurses Health Study over 18 years shows no increase in incidence of these complications in women who used vaginal estrogen, suggesting this is a safe option for women who elect to use estrogen. (from the journal Menopause)

The photos- a tribute to women

I took these photos during a recent visit to Woolaroc ,a museum and wildlife preserve located in the Osage Hills of Northeastern Oklahoma. Woolaroc was established in 1925 as the ranch retreat of oilman Frank Phillips. 

These statues displayed there were all models considered for a larger project now known as the Pioneer Woman Statue in Ponca City, Oklahoma.

What do you think? Would you have chosen one of the other statues for the final version?

More women’s health info

exploring the HEART of women’s health

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.

                              Dr. Aletha 

a statue of a woman holding a child, "CROSSING THE PRAIRIE"
“CROSSING THE PRAIRIE” by Glenna Goodacre, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
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This post contains affiliate links which, by paying a commission if used for a purchase, help me fund this blog and share the HEART of health around the world.