“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.
Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

Madame Marie Curie


Although not actually seen until the invention of the electron microscope in about 1935, viruses have been around since the beginning of time.  They are very small critters, smaller than bacteria, and consist of a core of DNA or RNA surrounded and protected by a protein covering.  They infect our bodies by entering and taking over our cells and causing a host of symptoms from the common cold to Ebola.

Viruses have been in the news lately with the identification of a deadly family of viruses called coronaviruses.  Coronaviruses have been responsible for several outbreaks around the world, including the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) pandemic of 2002-2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in South Korea in 2015.

All coronaviruses are not deadly.  Some can cause mild respiratory infections like the common cold.  The virus that has been in the news, however, is designated 2019 novel coronavirus.  Or 2019-nCoV if you want to be precise.  It has also been named Covid-19.

What makes Covid-19 a problem is that there is no immunity to it yet, either by vaccine or by having had it.

Coronaviruses are small, round objects that appear under the electron microscope to be studded with projections that resemble golf tees.  When they were first seen scientists thought the array of projections looked like a crown.  The word for crown in Latin is “corona”  so they were termed “coronaviruses.”  That may not be very original but it explains that unusual term.

At this time we don’t think this coronavirus was created as some doomsday weapon by a mad scientist in a laboratory. Viruses can change or mutate over time all on their own. Occasionally, a disease outbreak happens when a virus that is common in an animal such as a pig, bat or bird undergoes changes and passes to humans. That is thought to be the most likely explanation for how the new 2019 novel coronavirus came to be.

These viruses can be transmitted from one person to another through droplets expressed when an infected person sneezes, coughs or breathes.  Simple measures — such as washing your hands, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects, and avoiding touching your face, eyes and mouth — can greatly lower your risk of infection.

The incubation period for the coronavirus (the time between exposure and the development of symptoms) is somewhere between 10 days and two weeks.  During this incubation period the infected person has no symptoms and so can pass the virus on to you without either of you knowing.  The infection ultimately shows up as a respiratory infection with mild to severe flu-like symptoms but the exact symptoms vary depending on the type of coronavirus. 

In patients with cardiopulmonary disease or a weakened immune system, the viral infection can easily progress to a more severe lower-respiratory infection such as pneumonia or bronchitis.

The possibility of pneumonia brings up the question of the advisability of being inoculated with a vaccine that prevents pneumonia.  Most physicians recommend pneumonia vaccine for patients over 65 in any case but you should check with your doctor for your particular situation.

Basically, symptoms of infection with Covid-19 include cough, fever and shortness of breath.  Diagnosis may be difficult with only a physical exam because mild cases of the new coronavirus may appear similar to the flu or a bad cold. A laboratory test can confirm the diagnosis but that can take time and at this point is only being offered at a few centers..  A lot of the research being done now is geared to developing a more rapid test.

Right now there is no vaccine to protect against the coronavirus.  Avoidance is the best method of prevention.  Producing a vaccine takes months but at this point we think one of the vaccines for SARS may become useful.  Time will tell. 

Face masks are impressive, but most of the ones you see on the news don’t filter out the ultra-small viruses.  There is a very effective face mask that’s designated N95 but even that doesn’t work on men who have beards.  You can find N95 masks on line.  They are bulky and you won’t look like a TV doctor.   As of this writing, however, I don’t recommend everyone walk around wearing an N95 mask.

Right now there is no specific treatment for the virus. People who become sick from this coronavirus should have their symptoms treated with supportive measures by a physician.  For severe cases there are additional options for treatment including research drugs and therapeutics.

There is no specific drug or medication that can cure 2019-nCoV so the best step to take is to keep from getting it.  Believe it or not that comes down to the things you were told in fifth grade health class.  The Center for  Disease Control (and common sense) recommends:


  • Wash your hands frequently.  Not the “lick and a promise” my Mother warned me against, but an actual 20 second wash with an antibacterial soap.  If you can’t estimate 20 seconds, sing “Happy Birthday.”  To yourself.  That takes about 20 seconds.  Remember, you are not just shaking hands with one person, you are shaking hands with everyone whose hands they have shaken in the past hour or so.
  • If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. I keep one in my desk drawer and in the center console in my truck.
  • Hugs.  I love hugs but it’s a good idea to pass on hugging random people for the next few months.
  • Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue and throw the tissue away!!!
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home when you’re sick.
  • Clean surfaces and objects touched by other people with antibacterial wipes.  This includes telephones, cellphones and things laying around on your desk at work that you share.  Also supermarket carts.  This is a big tip that is often overlooked.  Viruses don’t live long on external surfaces but you can’t be too careful.
  • You don’t have to turn yourself into some kind of recluse or a germaphobe.  Just remember the good advice from that fifth grade health teacher.  (Mine was my baseball coach, Art Lustig.  He always had good advice.)

You also want to keep your body as strong as you possibly can so as to resist getting any virus.  That’s why it’s very important to get enough sleep, drink enough water, and take about 1000 mg of vitamin C daily.  You can get chewable vitamin C or you can find those small yellow packets of Vitamin C powder that are mixed with water.   I recommend you drink one every day.  I also recommend you take 5,000 units of Vitamin D daily.  I also like to take echinacea if I feel I've been particularly compromised.  That's good, but don't take it for more than two weeks at a time.

Stay tuned.  More developments are happening daily.


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