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Frank Bures:Tips to avoid catching COVID-19

Frank Bures:Tips to avoid catching COVID-19

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This strange world we are living in has so many new rules and regulations, it feels unreal. But it’s real, really real.

It has become a cat-and-mouse chase with the pandemic mouse virus and the human cat trying not to catch the mouse/virus. Thoughts and opinions proliferate about it at an exponential rate daily.

This COVID-19 virus is proving to be a bit more unique than originally guessed. It keeps changing its story based on all kinds of worldwide experiences. Some analogies to influenza and other viruses, even coronaviruses, have been made, which aren’t holding up.

So, as a disclaimer, what may be written in this space may be invalid in a few weeks or months as more data emerge.

The burning question is how do people get infected? The almost simple answer is by breathing in the viruses or putting them into our mouths, nostrils or eyes, which have no dead cell protective barrier like skin.

Once in your respiratory tract, the viruses bind via the viral spike protein to the cell receptor protein called AEC-2 found on so many cells. How many viral particles you are exposed to and how susceptible you are to them are unknowns.

The route of touching contaminated surfaces, be it metal or cardboard or whatever, has seemed less important in transmission than being in the way of the respiratory cloud emitted by those infected coughing, sneezing, speaking, laughing or singing (not all at once).

Whether some of the infected can emit more viruses than others is unsettled.

The physical part of the mystery is what contribution comes from the larger wet droplets that travel about 6 feet and fall to the ground, and the tiny, more dried-out droplets (the aerosol, or suspension of particulate matter in the air) that can float in air and travel much longer distances. These tend to accumulate more densely in closed, more poorly ventilated spaces.

The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control have not fully recognized a viral aerosol as hazardous except during intubation for a ventilator.

A letter written by an Australian scientist and signed by 239 other researchers is to be published in a journal very soon that says aerosols are vitally crucial to infection exposure. They suggest the two health agencies should recognize that.

It may not be as much as measles, tuberculosis or chickenpox, for which aerosols are main conveyors. Coronavirus knowledge is still evolving.

The same problem exists in comparing coronavirus to influenza virus infections. The latter stays pretty much a lung infection, which can cause death, and can predispose to bacterial pneumonias and more deaths. 

Coronavirus seems to be much more of a systemic disease capable of damaging lungs, heart, brain, pancreas, liver and blood vessels throughout your body. It causes blood clots, strokes, etc. The long-term residuals are much worse than any influenza.

An article from the June 28 Minneapolis Star Tribune bears citing. The title is a bit confusing: “Humming for your health.” Uh, sure, yeah — huh? One of the article’s main points is to hold your breath when near or passing other folks.

The reporter asked the question if it helps to hold your breath around mask-free strangers or in a public bathroom or elevator. A Mayo Clinic doc, Dr. Greg Poland, infectious disease specialist and director of Mayo’s vaccine research was quoted saying, “I’ve done about 750 national and international interviews, and no one has asked me that question.”

A University of Minnesota Medical School professor said, “Part of the risk of catching the virus is from what’s in the air when you inhale. Sure, why not? Makes sense.” Call it common sense science? Both said it was no substitute for mask wearing, distancing and hand washing.

The other idea is to breathe through you nose, which filters some of the air, espoused by a pioneer in studying a substance called nitric oxide.

Dr. Louis Ignarro is a pharmacologist, who graduated from the University of Minnesota. He was a co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize for his research with nitric oxide in dilating blood vessels.

Come to find out, nitric oxide has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. The eight paranasal sinuses around your nose produce nitric oxide, which percolates into it. It then gets into lungs if you nose breathe. And guess what? Humming increases nasal nitric oxide 15 fold. You don’t even have to know the words.

A couple quick remarks about mask wearing: It works.

Two COVID-positive hair stylists wore masks while cutting hair on 140 clients did not infect any of them.

In Japan, where mask wearing is nearly universal, the risk of infection and number of COVID deaths are exceptionally low.

Social distancing is equally important. These two actions are still the best ammunition we have against coronavirus, even though they aren’t the “silver bullet” we need. The Lone Ranger had those - and he wore a mask.

Addendum: After submitting my column and writing that what is written here may be different in weeks or months, it took one day for a change to come from the position of the World Health Organization about the infection risk from a coronavirus aerosol as cited by the to-be-published letter signed by 239 scientists. Instead of saying it is a rare event, they are conceding that the virus can be spread in closed spaces where the aerosols linger, and that asymptomatic carriers can spread the infection. What a difference a day makes.


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