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by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Saturday, April 11, 2020

This article discusses the latest news and developments regarding Coronavirus, or COVID-19, as well as the basic nature and pathophysiology of its infection and spread.  The search for a cure or an effective treatment for Coronavirus is also discussed.               

The mainstream media seems to have a great fascination with disasters – maybe it’s the viewing public who is so fascinated by them, and disaster coverage is great for ratings.  If you’re inclined to believe in conspiracy theories, you might say that the mainstream media wants to hold the masses in a perpetual state of fear and panic.  Whenever a big disaster happens, like Hurricane Katrina or 911, the media coverage of it is nonstop, 24/7; sure, there may be plenty of other important things happening in the world that should be covered, but everything seems to be shoved aside to focus exclusively on the big disaster.  That has long been one of my main beefs or complaints about the mainstream media, and maybe in the past, my disagreements with the media and its choice of coverage had more validity.  After all, if you didn’t live in New Orleans, you weren’t really affected by Hurricane Katrina; the same thing could also be said about 911:  If you didn’t live in New York, you could say that it didn’t directly affect you.  But now there is a new disaster, a new public health crisis, a global pandemic that could potentially affect just about everyone, and that is the novel Coronavirus, known medically as COVID-19.

This new or novel Coronavirus is a mutant strain that is biologically related to other varieties of Coronavirus, including the virus that caused SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome), another new virus that emerged from China, as well as some varieties of the common cold.  But this new Coronavirus has succeeded in mutating just enough to evade the body’s immune defenses, which is the main thing that has made it so deadly:  People have no previous immune defenses against it.  And in contrast to SARS, which seemed to only be transmissible when acute symptoms of the disease were manifesting, COVID-19 appears to be transmissible at any stage, even right after initial exposure, or even if you happen to be asymptomatic.  And this virus has gained great notoriety for its ability to quickly, and even stealthily, penetrate the body’s immune defenses; you may be feeling quite able to manage your symptoms one moment, and be in acute need of life support the next.  Although multiple organ systems may be affected by COVID-19, in most people, the virus mainly attacks the two core organs of what Greek Medicine calls the Vital Faculty: the lungs and respiratory tract, and finally the heart.

The elderly and infirm, as well as those who have other pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure, asthma or COPD, heart disease, diabetes, or other chronic diseases that compromise immunity, are generally most at risk from the life threatening complications of COVID-19, but no age demographic seems to be immune.  On one extreme, I have heard of elderly people who seemed to escape with only a mild case of it, while others, seemingly young and healthy, have fallen victim to it and joined the mortality statistics.  Perhaps, beyond the generalized demographics and associated risk factors, other subtler factors relating to individual constitutional makeup are at play as well in determining who has a special vulnerability to the ravages of the Coronavirus.  The bottom line is this novel Coronavirus is so new that not much is known about it, and all the evidence and facts are not yet in concerning the details of its pathogenic nature and behavior.  Evidence gathering is the core of the empirical approach to medicine, which has existed since the days of Aristotle and the Alexandrian school.  So, in addition to providing life saving treatment for those suffering from Coronavirus, it is just as important to study fully the various clinical manifestations of the virus, as well as the epidemiological extent of the problem, through widespread testing.

To learn all we can about this new Coronavirus, we need to shine the lamp of knowledge on it; otherwise, we are operating in the dark, trying to confront and deal with an invisible enemy that we know nothing about.  The first and most important component of this learning process is widespread testing.  Ideally, it would be best to test absolutely everyone, even those who are asymptomatic, because even they have the potential to be unwitting carriers of this virus.  Those in government who are afraid to test more thoroughly might fear that a resulting increase in the number of known cases might make them and their management of this public health crisis look bad.  But on the flip side of this Yin / Yang coin, an increase in the number of known cases relative to the reported mortalities from the virus would also reveal a lower mortality rate.  You might say that when it comes to this Coronavirus pandemic, knowledge exists in direct opposition to fear – the more we know, the less of the unknown there is to fear.   Ideally, widespread testing would reveal useful details on exactly how this novel virus spreads.

The Pathophysiology of COVID-19

The first step in halting or slowing down the spread of the Coronavirus is understanding how it is spread or transmitted.  The primary route of transmission of the virus is through the air, through droplets emitted by an infected person who coughs, sneezes, or even talks or breathes too loudly.  The general laws of social distancing dictate that staying a distance of at least six feet away from a person prevents such airborne transmission from taking place.  Secondarily, the virus can be spread via touched surfaces; the exact amount of time that the virus can survive on various surfaces is still under debate, but it is believed that it can survive the longest on plastic, metal or wood surfaces, and much shorter on cloth or paper surfaces.  The wearing of face masks is the best way of guarding against airborne transmission; wearing surgical gloves and the sanitizing of all touched surfaces are ways of preventing or lessening the possibility of surface transmission.  When you touch a surface contaminated by the virus and then put your hands up to your face or mouth, you give the virus access to your throat and respiratory tract.

The virus then travels down your trachea or windpipe to the bronchi, and then enters the lungs.  In the initial stages of infection, there is typically a high or prolonged fever, or fever and chills, with the level and characteristics of the fever and/or chills varying with the individual and the strength and robustness of the initial immune response he or she is able to mount against the virus – the stronger the initial immune response, the higher the fever as the body’s immune system fights against the virus.  The infection may start in the throat with a cough, then proceed to a fever, or fever and chills, and then the virus can enter the bronchi and the lungs, leading to deeper coughing and respiratory distress symptoms.  In the lungs, the COVID-19 virus provokes a strong inflammatory response, what is often called the cytokine storm.  A resulting cascade of events as the body’s immune system rushes in to quell the inflammatory storm often leads to the alveoli, which is where the vital exchange of gases takes place in the lungs, filling up with fluid.  As the lung pathology progresses, this filling up of fluid can get more and more acute and severe until the patient is literally heaving and struggling to breathe, a condition known as ARDS, or Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome.  When the patient is no longer able to breathe on his or her own, they are hooked up to a respirator or ventilator; when the respiratory pathology reaches this stage, about half of the patients who are put on ventilators die.  When the lungs fill up with fluid, you essentially drown from within.

To keep things in perspective, about 80 percent of people who get infected with COVID-19 only experience mild flu-like symptoms, or may even remain asymptomatic.  These people never need to be hospitalized.  The remainder enter into various stages of intensive care, until about six percent of them have to be put onto ventilators, or breathing machines, when the effort of breathing becomes too much for them to bear.  And of this six percent, about half, or three percent die, going into arrest or shutdown of their vital organs, chiefly the lungs and heart, and then secondarily the liver or kidneys, as they are deprived of the oxygen they need to perform their jobs.  Three percent may not sound like a big number, but if the virus infects millions, that three percent can be a huge sum.  And currently, due to a lack of widespread or adequate testing in the United States, as well as other countries, the full extent of the virus’ spread is as yet not fully known.  If even those who only develop mild flu like symptoms, as well as those who are totally asymptomatic, can spread Coronavirus, the epidemiological possibilities are staggering.

Again, this novel Coronavirus is so new that not much is yet known about it; there are many questions that still have to be answered, such as the following:  Do survivors acquire immunity to it, and if so, how long does this immunity last?  Can one easily become re-infected with the Coronavirus after overcoming an initial infection of it?  Does this new Coronavirus affect only humans, or can animals also carry it or be infected by it?  What are all the various pre-existing conditions that make a potential victim more vulnerable or susceptible to fatal complications of the Coronavirus?  Conversely, are there any kinds of sub-populations or other kinds of pre-existing conditions that somehow make the individual less vulnerable to fatal complications of a Coronavirus infection?  Doctors and medical researchers are learning more about COVID-19 every day, as more cases are treated and studied.

A Global Pandemic with Pesky Political Ramifications

The Coronavirus, as a virus, exists in the misty borderland between life and death; strictly speaking, it could only be called half alive, or not even that.  In Greek Medicine, there are Four Faculties of the human organism, which are also shared by all other animals, even down to single celled bacteria.  In viruses, only the Generative Faculty, or the reproductive system, is a function belonging to the virus proper; the virus hijacks all other life functions of the cell that it invades, turning it into a factory for reproducing itself.  And so, life has been made exceedingly simple, stripped down to its barest essentials, for the Coronavirus, as with all other viruses.  They exist solely to reproduce themselves, which they will do with ruthless efficiency, wherever, whenever, and however they are permitted to do so.  Contrast this ruthless simplicity and efficiency with the incredible complexity of the human being in body, mind and spirit, and the compounded complexity that arises when humans organize themselves into communities, societies and governments.  Ideally, a national or local government should be as bold, decisive and efficient as the virus itself in dedicating itself to the task of wiping the virus out.

The Coronavirus has spread to the vast majority of countries on earth now, and the success that each of these countries has had in dealing with the public health crisis it poses has been in accordance with the degree of decisiveness, resolution and organization which its government has had in tackling the problem.  Unfortunately, in the United States, our federal government wasted a lot of precious time in the beginning denying, belittling, or otherwise covering up the problem in false optimism or “happy talk”, and now we are paying the price in the sheer number of confirmed cases, and also in the high number of fatalities we have experienced from the Coronavirus so far – over twelve thousand and counting.  Contrast this with other countries like South Korea, which immediately undertook a massive testing, isolation and treatment program; although both the US and South Korea experienced their first known case on about the same day, South Korea was able to come out on the other side with only two hundred-odd fatalities.  When dealing with a ruthlessly efficient enemy, hesitation and indecisiveness can cost many lives indeed.

People, and nations, can play the “blame game”, pass the buck or otherwise be vacillating and indecisive until they find the political will and consensus to tackle the problem head on, but in the meantime, the Coronavirus is an equal opportunity pathogen, infecting any body that is exposed to it.  To Coronavirus, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, black or white, liberal or conservative.  Geography and national boundaries also pose no barrier to the virus; in this mobile and cosmopolitan modern world, it will hitch a ride anywhere it pleases as the ultimate freeloader and parasite.  Calling it a Chinese virus, or labeling it with any other ethnic slur name, doesn’t matter in the least to COVID-19; it has absolutely no national or ethnic loyalties or affinities whatsoever.  The Coronavirus pandemic is indeed a global pandemic now, and no country on earth has had an easy time dealing with it as the whole world goes into lockdown mode.  My webmaster Cristi in Romania, as well as my best friend Sam, who could be called the godfather of this website, tell me that all of Romania is in lockdown mode.  But since they tackled the problem with more promptness, efficiency and resolve than the United States, their number of cases and confirmed fatalities is considerably lower than ours.  Cristi tells me that there are just 4,500 confirmed cases and 184 fatalities in Romania, a far cry from the United States, which now leads the world in its soaring epidemiological statistics.

There is yet another fundamental problem that is at the root of America’s slowness and reluctance to get organized and down to business in controlling this virus.  Americans cherish their freedom, or at least their interpretation of it as it exists in the popular imagination, and Americans are very individualistic.  The police state style management of the Coronavirus outbreak as it was handled in the People’s Republic of China could never be implemented in the US.  Even European countries like Italy, Spain and France have a higher degree of organization and cooperation than does the United States, since somehow family and social structure is much more tightly knit in these “old countries” than it is in the United States, which was shaped by the Wild West frontier.  This brings us to another inescapable reality – that epidemics, like the COVID-19 pandemic, afflict not just individual patients who fall victim to it, but whole nations and societies as well, and each country’s story in dealing with this pandemic is different and unique as the virus profoundly impacts each country that it enters, and its body politic.

The Elusive Quest for a Cure

At the outset, let me make one thing perfectly clear:  At this time, as of this writing, there is absolutely NO definitive cure for COVID-19, no “silver bullet” pill, no vaccine.  The best that can be done to treat those who have the virus is to offer supportive treatment, as needed, which is designed to prolong life so that a recovery may be possible.  Whether you’re using conventional treatments or complementary and alternative ones, the basic strategy is the same – supportive treatment designed to eliminate or ameliorate symptoms and/or prolong life, according to the particulars of the case at hand.  A vaccine is not likely to be ready for at least another year at the earliest.  Still, medical researchers and those on the front lines in this fight against Coronavirus are trying to learn all they can about the virus and its clinical manifestations, and are trying to be innovative and resourceful in finding new treatment options.  For example, I saw a segment on TV recently in which antibodies from those who had overcome or survived Coronavirus might be able to be used to help those who were still struggling with the disease – but no breakthroughs just yet.  So far, prevention is the best treatment strategy.

Hydroxychloroquine, also known as Plaquenil, an antimalarial drug that has also been used to treat Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis, has been put forth as a possible effective treatment for Coronavirus, but so far, the evidence of its efficacy is rather scanty and anecdotal, with troubling side effects that may make it contraindicated for many patients.  It still retains the status of an unproven remedy.  “What have you got to lose?” say some of its advocates, but to this medical professionals reply, “You could lose your life.”  In other words, if you forego conventional lifesaving medical treatment in favor of this unproven drug, it could cost you your life.  The problem with these unproven drugs or remedies, say medical professionals, is that they offer false hope.  But what if these experimental drugs were used, where indicated and appropriate, not as an alternative to, but in addition to conventional supportive and life saving treatment?  If an antimalarial drug with troubling side effects is being considered as a potential treatment, what about taking a closer look at antimalarial herbs, like the Chinese herb Qing Hao, or Sweet Wormwood, which doesn’t have any troubling side effects?

I recently received an email in my inbox to this site in which the author was touting an herbal essential oil remedy, which he called an anointing oil to protect against the Coronavirus.  I immediately recognized the recipe he was offering as something called Thieves’ Oil, which is promoted by some in the herbal community as a natural antimicrobial that is so strong that it was used to anoint the bodies of thieves who, protected by it, went about robbing the corpses of victims of the Bubonic Plague in the Middle Ages.  The only problem was that Clove Oil, one of its ingredients, has as its primary constituent Eugenol, which certain individuals, like myself, have an adverse immunological reaction to.  I tried some Thieves’ Oil in the past, but found the Cloves / Eugenol in it too hard to take.  I have also heard stories about other unproven natural remedies that were floating around out there, some even being promoted by unscrupulous hucksters and televangelists.  And please don’t consider my mentioning of Thieves’ Oil here as a tacit endorsement of it as a promising treatment for Coronavirus; I am NOT making that claim.

Nevertheless, I am a firm believer in the value of medicinal herbs in aiding in the fight against Coronavirus, if even just in the capacity of bolstering one’s immunity, or immune resistance.  Certain herbs have antiviral properties; in other words, they boost the body’s natural immune resistance to viruses.  Perhaps the best known of these antiviral herbs is Echinacea root, which has literally been flying off the shelves in health food stores recently, but there are also others.  In the fight against Coronavirus, every advantage you can obtain helps.  Because herbs are generally milder in nature than pharmaceutical drugs, they can be taken intensively, even in relatively large doses, to boost one’s immunity in fighting off the virus.  Once again, I am not claiming that any herb is a specific or sure fire cure for Coronavirus, but that’s not to say that it cannot aid in the fight, if used sensibly and appropriately, in conjunction with conventional medical treatment where needed, and not as an alternative to it. Even immune boosting nutrients, like vitamin C and D3, can be valuable aids in the fight.  There is also the possibility that complementary and alternative modalities like nutritional supplements and medicinal herbs can be used in conjunction with conventional treatment in an integrative medical approach.

Once again, I am reiterating that, so far, there is NO specific cure for COVID-19 or Coronavirus, whether it be conventional or alternative, synthetic or natural.  Only actual clinical experience will tell which remedies, natural or pharmaceutical, are useful in treating Coronavirus, as well as when, where and how they are best used, and how effective and reliable they can be in treating this viral infection and reversing its course.  Since Coronavirus can send its victims into acute, life threatening situations quite quickly, there will always be a place for modern medicine in its treatment, since crisis intervention is one of modern medicine’s greatest strengths.  And this is how it is likely to be for the foreseeable future, until a definitive cure or vaccine is found.  At the moment, prevention is the best remedy, if you could call it that; as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  It’s much better to deny Coronavirus access to your body in the first place than to try to get rid of it and undo the damage it has done after it has entered.  The same could also be said regarding any infectious and potentially lethal pathogen.

If you liked what you have read here, or if you have any questions, comments or feedback regarding what I have written, please address your inquiries to my email address, below:

DISCLAIMER:  The information in this article is for educational purposes only, for general health maintenance and prevention, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical disease or condition. The reader assumes all personal responsibility and liability for the application of the information contained in this article, and is advised to seek the services of a physician or licensed healthcare practitioner should his or her symptoms or condition persist or worsen.