Heart Talk - April 2020
COVID-19: “Every Storm Runs Out of Rain”
Heart-healthy and Stroke-free Living with Eric A. Goulder, MD, FACC
Paradoxically, as COVID-19 dominates the headlines The Guardian reports, “Never before have some many journalists cast around for silver linings. Never before has so much optimism been published — and read.” Reports of good news emerging from the pandemic (some accurate and some not) are circulating on social media, and people are finding inspiration in song and poetry, including Maya Angelou’s famous line, “Every storm runs out of rain.”
What kind of progress is being made on the scientific and medical fronts? What are the most encouraging, positive and hopeful developments around the world as we battle this invisible enemy? Here’s a look at some bright spots, great and small, and how the worst of the times is bringing out the best in people:
• Most people who get COVID-19 will recover. The CDC estimates that in many affected areas, about 99 percent of people with the virus survive and some have no symptoms at all. That 1 percent overall death rate is far lower than that of MERS (about 34 percent), SARS (about 11 percent) or Ebola (90 percent), but higher than seasonal influenza (0.1 percent), reports Harvard Health. Globally, more than 150,000 patients are reported to have recovered.
• A 103-year-old grandmother in China, a 102-year-old woman and a 101-year-old Italian man have reportedly made full recoveries from the new coronavirus. Doctors have nicknamed the Italian woman, Italica Grondona, “Highlander — the Immortal,” and say that she offers hope for all of the elderly facing the epidemic. The three centenarians were born around the time of the Spanish flu pandemic that ravaged the world in 1918.
• The first potential COVID-19 vaccine is now being tested on volunteers in Seattle. Scientists at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute have started giving healthy volunteers the first doses of a potential coronavirus in an early-stage safety study with 45 participants. They will receive two doses of the experimental shot, given one month apart. One participant, Jennifer Haller, 43, a mom of two teens, told PBS, “This is an amazing opportunity for me to do something.” A safety study of another potential vaccine, made by Inovio Pharmaceuticals, is expected to start in the U.S. and Asia next month — and dozens of other research teams around the world are also racing to develop COVID-19 vaccines.
• Antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients may help protect people at risk. Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York are investigating if a century-old blood-derived treatment called plasmapheresis, which uses blood plasma or serum from people who have recovered from the virus, can help boost the immunity of newly infected patients or those at high risk. The idea is to see if antibodies in the plasma neutralize SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. “Deployment of this option requires no research or development [and] could be deployed in a few weeks since it relies on standard blood-banking practices,” wrote Hopkins immunologist Auturo Casadevall, MD, PhD in an article in Journal of Clinical Investigation. On March 24, Mount Sinai announced plans to use the treatment in critically ill patients. This technique has reportedly been used successfully in China, which states that some patients improved within 24 hours, with decreased inflammation and viral loads and higher levels of oxygen in their blood, according to a news release from Mount Sinai.
• Acts of kindness — and community spirit — are flourishing! In the UK, more than 500,000 people have volunteered to help that country’s National Health Service in its battle against COVID-19, twice the government’s recruitment target. In the US, volunteers in many towns and cities are sewing and donating face masks for healthcare workers at hospitals and many businesses are providing supplies for home crafters who want to join this effort. In North Carolina, one local group has started using 3-D printing to make plastic face shields.
• Charities are stepping up with emergency grants related to COVID-19. Programs for children undergoing treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center used to include visitors from the Houston Ballet for bedside dance classes, the Houston Symphony for a program in collaboration with the hospital’s music therapist and a bedside theater program called Books Alive, all of which had to be canceled due to infection control concerns. To help young patients feel better without volunteers at bedside, the Texas-based Alice Kleberg Reynolds Foundation has arranged for the children to receive special age-appropriate arts and crafts kits to brighten their spirits.
• The pandemic has decreased air pollution dramatically. Some reports estimate that China’s quarantine has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by more than 100 metric tons — and large decreases have also been seen over other quarantined areas around the world. Paul Monks, former chair of the UK government’s science advisory committee on air quality, says this could have some health benefits. “It seems entirely probable that a reduction in air pollution will be beneficial to people in susceptible categories [for COVID-19], for example some asthma sufferers,” he told The Guardian. “It could reduce the spread of disease. A high level of air pollution exacerbates viral uptake because it inflames and lowers immunity.”
• Healthcare workers are being applauded globally. People around the world are going to their doorsteps and windows to clap for the health heroes on the frontlines of fighting the invisible enemy in our midst — and to shout or sing their encouragement and gratitude. We join them in saluting every researcher and medical provider who is working to combat COVID-19!
• Our message about a homemade saline solution that could help abate COVID-19 is being adopted by patients. New science suggests that using a salt-water gargle and nasal wash daily is likely to help curtail the spread of the virus. This simple technique, described in our blog post, has been shown to reduce the rate of other respiratory infections by activating one of the body’s natural defenses. As of March 22, 2020, the BaleDoneen Method recommends that everyone in the USA do this hypertonic saline nasal irrigation and gargle until the CDC no longer considers COVID-19 a serious threat in this country. For those with symptoms or a confirmed case of the new coronavirus, we recommend repeating the usage up to every two hours during the first few days.
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