Monday, March 16, 2020

Living With Viruses and Viral Pandemics

I have been getting a lot of questions from people who are concerned and frightened about the current COVID-19 pandemic. This is a serious situation and it is not surprising that people are afraid. I have some good resources available that combined can provide a lot of information that people who are interested should find helpful. I have been working the last couple of days to coordinate them so that I can provide something fairly comprehensive.

Before I get into that, I would like to say that the situation is serious but does not warrant the kind of panic that has been occurring in some areas. As potential pandemics go, it could be a lot worse if we were dealing with a much more deadly virus. The primary concern with COVID-19 is that is it extremely contagious compared to similar viruses that have shown up in the recent past and therefore much more difficult to control. The two major challenges are for high risk individuals—which is primarily people over 60 with pre-existing respiratory conditions and those who are immune-compromised for some reason—and slowing down the spread of the virus so that the number of people requiring hospitalization does not overwhelm our health care system and the people who need it can get the support that they require. Providing extra protection for high risk individuals and following the basic guidelines that are being recommended—hand washing, minimizing travel, social distancing, self-quarantining if you have symptoms or have been exposed to confirmed cases—are all very important. However, fear and anxiety are not helpful. One of the most important things that we can do is whatever works for us to calm down and change the story, because fear is contagious and one of the most powerful factors that has the potential to reduce our immune function and increase our susceptibility to the virus.

Unfortunately, we live in a world that is the perfect environment for the development of global pandemics. We are lucky that other potentially more serious pandemics such as SARS-CoV were a lot less contagious have been averted so far. However, unless we start thinking long-term, in the coming decades it is quite possible that this is going to become more common. Hopefully, we will learn on an individual and societal level how to live in better relationship and thereby reduce this potential in the future. We also need to understand that we are all in this together. Running to the store and clearing out various products is not in the spirit of cooperation, mutual respect and compassion. The only way we can move through this crisis in a good way is through cooperation—locally and globally.

Although this is a serious situation, we also need to put it in perspective. For example, in recent years the number of confirmed cases of influenza in Canada has been around 40,000. The actual number is probably much higher as this statistic only includes people for whom the diagnosis was confirmed. The flu results in about 12,200 hospitalizations annually and 3,500 deaths—and this is with widespread implementation of vaccination programs. Approximately 42% of Canadians over 18 years of age were vaccinated. With the various measures that have been put it place, hopefully the number of people infected with COVID-19 will be lower than that. Overall, the mortality rate that is about double that of the flu. However, assuming some degree of effectiveness of the flu vaccine, that means that in all likelihood the mortality rate of COVID-19 would be similar to influenza if there were no flu vaccine. Keep in mind that when people throw around statistics like this what we call "the flu" is actually caused by a number of different viruses. In any given year it is possible that more than one of these viruses could move through the population. Therefore in some years these statistics are based on more than one virus. Also, it is very clear that the mortality rate of this virus can be much higher than that in some areas depending on the population and the rapidness and degree to which measures to contain it are put into place.

Common purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Along with the other Echinacea species,
these North American herbs are probably the best known immune stimulating herbs in the world. 

Again, I am not attempting to downplay the seriousness of the current pandemic, only to put it in perspective. The degree of fear that is out there does not reflect the actual risk. This is not surprising because we are dealing with an unknown. We tend to be a lot more relaxed about things that we are familiar with. Yes, it is important that we do what we can to prevent the spread of this illness and to increase our capacity to deal with the virus if we get it, but all of these will work much better if we are able to deal with the pandemic in a calm manner. That is no consolation to the people who have been significantly affected by this, and, as we've seen, there are some regions where the affects of this virus have been far more deadly. My prayers go out to everyone who is suffering or has lost loved ones.

It is important to realize that there are no magic bullets and anyone who claims to have a "cure" is misguided or dishonest. Even the mad rush to produce a vaccine is unlikely to be successful. No one has ever been able to create a successful vaccine for a corona virus. They mutate too quickly for a vaccine to be effective. Assuming that a safe and effective vaccine could be produced, its value would be to temporarily slow down the spread of the current pandemic. The next time this virus comes around—and it probably will—the vaccine will probably be useless. That isn't to say that it wouldn't be beneficial to have another tool that might temporarily slow down the spread of the virus. However, by the time the vaccine goes through the rigorous testing necessary to ensure some degree of safety and efficacy and they are able to produce and distribute enough if it, it will almost certainly be too late. There is also a real risk that misguided politicians and the pharmaceutical industry looking for quick profits will rush a vaccine into use and not subject it to sufficient testing, thereby potentially putting the public at additional risk. It can take a year or more to put a new vaccine through the necessary testing and clinical trials to ensure that it is relatively safe and effective. I'm not suggesting that the numerous researchers who are working on this do not have the public interest in mind. There are many medical researchers who are working around the clock to play their part within their area of expertise. However, where there is a lot of fear and a potential for enormous profits there is also a potential for things to go sideways.

That being said, where the medical pundits and media have been doing a serious disservice to the public and potentially contributing to the spread of the virus has been in that some of them have been denying that there are means of improving our body defenses and potential resistance to the virus outside of the paradigm of Western 'scientific' medicine. Partly this is a reaction to the unscrupulous people who through ignorance and/or a desire to profit from the current pandemic have been claiming to have all sorts of "cures" for this virus. Unfortunately, there really is a lot of garbage information out there and it can be very difficult to navigate through it and identify what makes sense and what doesn't. However, what the so-called 'experts' forget is that their concern that various 'natural' treatments have not been subjected to repeatable high quality clinical trials also applies to a significant proportion of mainstream medical treatments (for more information see my previous post Homeopathy Under Attack). Also, directly or indirectly, all modern medical drugs and practices have their roots in traditional healing systems and practices. As modern people we tend to look upon people who lived two-, three-, four- or ten thousand years ago as if they were primitive and had limited reasoning capacity. The truth is, although they hadn't yet developed the technologies that we take for granted, they were not very different from us. They were also much more aware and attuned to the world that they lived in. Traditional peoples do not practice things unless they work. This is a necessity. Their survival depends on it. We have many natural healing traditions throughout the world that are based on the cumulative wisdom of thousands of years of observation and practice, and more recently augmented by many of the discoveries of modern medical science. They provide a wealth of information and experience from which we can benefit during this pandemic—if we are able to discriminate between the good information from the not so good, and always keep in mind that what works for some people might not work as well for others and nobody has all of the answers.

Although there is no "cure" for this virus, in addition to the public health recommendations and measures that are being implemented, there are many things that we can do to improve our overall health and the functioning of our body defenses in order to help reduce the frequency, severity and spread of this illness—but there are no guarantees! We can only do what we can and hope for the best. Implementing these recommendations in the short-term will certainly help, but we must never forget that health is a way of life. It's much better to live in a good way—in good relationship with our body and the world that we live in—than to try to catch up in a crisis situation. This pandemic is therefore an excellent opportunity for learning.

To provide some helpful guidance I have coordinated a number of resources. The more of them that you utilize, the more complete will be your understanding of how you can help to protect yourself and your family during this pandemic and into the future. I realize that, unfortunately, some of these recommendations include herbs and supplements, or eating organic foods which are more expensive and not everyone can afford them. Do the best you can. Most of these are simple lifestyle recommendations that anyone can implement.

Elecampane (Inula helenium) is another effective immune stimulating herb from the Aster family.
It is also an excellent herb for lung conditions. It aids expectoration and reduces lung inflammation.

Introduction to the Online Lecture Series

This is a lecture that I released free to the public in December 2012. It provides some general background health information that creates a context for the other lectures. It focuses on how we relate to life and the world—which is the foundation of healing! This content is important for all of the lectures. I did it as a stand-alone lecture so that I wouldn't have to repeat the content in every lecture.

You can access the Introductory Lecture here.

Immune Support & the Natural Treatment of Colds and Flu

This was the first of the online lectures that was also released in December 2012. Although the content concerns colds and flu, all of the information is also applicable to COVID-19. The lecture also has a supplementary handout that provides some additional information on putting together herbal formulations for respiratory viral infections. Although this is a stand-alone lecture, I feel that you will get even more out of it if you watch the Introductory Lecture first.

Keep in mind that, although the general principles can be applied anywhere, I can only recommend herbs that I personally use and have experience with. I have also limited it to those that are more readily available and easy to use. The herbs that I use are mostly limited to plants that grow or can be grown in the region where I live. Many of these are available in most countries, but not all of them. If you live in a region where some of these herbs are not available it will be necessary to substitute herbs from your region in accordance with the principles presented in the lecture.

Given the need for good information at this time, yesterday I opened up this lecture so that it is now free to anyone who wants to view it on YouTube. You can access the Colds and Flu lecture here.

Surviving and Thriving in a World Full of Viruses

Periodically the editor of Vitality Magazine will call me up in response to some global health concern and ask me to write an article about it. In November 2001 I was asked to write about herbs that can help us in the event of a global viral pandemic. This was in response to some kind of novel flu epidemic that was occurring at that time. Then again in November 2014 I was asked to update the original article when there was a lot of concern about an Ebola epidemic.

Instead of writing an article from scratch, I have taken the 2014 version of this article and updated and expanded it in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. If you'd rather read an article than watch a video this might be more to your liking. However, the article and the video are not exactly the same and each touches upon some things that are not covered in the other. For the most complete perspective I strongly recommend that you watch the video (preferably the introduction as well) and read the article.

Also, since I first published this post on March 16, I have updated this article seven times, the last update being April 5. If you downloaded the article previous to that you might want to download the latest version as it has some new content. The most recent version is V8.

You can access the Surviving and Thriving article here.

I hope that you find these resources helpful. I feel that you will get the greatest benefit if you watch the Introductory Lecture video, then watch the Colds and Flu video (the supplementary handout mostly relates to the last part of the video) and then read the Surviving and Thriving article; or you could read the article first and then watch the videos.

As disrupting as this pandemic is—and potentially tragic for some people—it is also an opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities. Mother Earth is also getting a much needed break from the onslaught of human activity. There are lots of stories circulating about how quickly air and water quality is improving in some regions at this time. The healing capacity of the Earth is inspiring and humbling. Nevertheless, the amount of change that is necessary to help bring our individual and collective lives back into good relationship is enormous—but if we all do our best to play our part it is not beyond what is possible.

Stay calm and be well—and if you get some down time due to the various disruptions that are occurring, try to spend more time in Nature. It will help you to get some needed peace and perspective.