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COVID-19 Update #4

            A reminder postcard from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was sent to homes last week.  The most important part of the message can be summed up in two sentences.

“Even if you are young, or otherwise healthy, you are at risk, and your activities can increase the risk for others. It is critical that you do your part to slow the spread of the coronavirus.”

            For now, this remains a challenging message for many to comprehend.  Hopefully, an understanding that people with no symptoms can be infected and unknowingly infect others is beginning to sink in.  In case you missed the nationwide postcard advisory, here are the guidelines:

  • Listen and follow the directions of your state and local authorities.
  • If you feel sick, stay home. Do not go to work.
  • If your children are sick, keep them at home. Contact your medical provider.
  • If you are an older person, or have a serious underlying health condition, stay home and away from other people.
  • If someone in your household has tested positive, keep the entire household at home.
  • Work or study from home whenever possible.
  • Avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.
  • Avoid eating or drinking at bars and restaurants. Use pickup or delivery options.
  • Avoid discretionary travel, shopping trips, and social visits.
  • Do not visit nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance.
  • Always practice good hygiene by:

– Washing your hands, especially after touching any frequently used items are surface.

– Avoid touching your face.

– Sneeze or cough into a tissue, or the inside of your elbow.

– Disinfect frequently used items and surfaces as much as possible.

            For those that have drifted away from mainstream advice, be cautious about alternatives for protecting yourself. Most of the alternatives are unproven, and some can be dangerous.  Stories on social media run the gamut of miracle cures, advice from bogus authorities, and conspiracy theories.

            Curiously, what’s often missing from both the mainstream media and alternative news sources is a discussion about the existing body of medical evidence that validates lifestyle as one of the most important factors in protecting ourselves from diseases.  For viruses, our first line of defense is the body’s immune system. Unless a medication has been discovered that targets a specific virus, our body remains both the first and last line of defense.  You can learn more about this from Harvard professor Dr. Mark Hyman’s recent article, “How to Protect Yourself from Coronavirus: Supporting Your Immune System When You May Need It Most.”

            No doubt you have heard the maxim that the best time to plant a tree was last year.  Similarly, for boosting our immune system, last year was a better time to start, but better now than never. Unfortunately, these are not normal times, and some choices may be temporarily unavailable.  Stores may be temporarily out of the healthier foods, although locally, it seems that the healthier foods are in good supply.  I have yet to see a shortage of cabbage, potatoes, carrots, or any of a dozen other fresh fruits and vegetables that I usually buy.  Briefly, I noticed a shortage of Old Fashioned Rolled Oats and Flaxseed.  If you didn’t hear about that shortage, you may take it as another indication of how far America has strayed from an understanding of which foods are supportive of good health.

            While the search for a medication that can protect us from COVID-19 progresses, it’s important to remember that the virus that causes COVID-19 is only one of many viruses that we need to protect ourselves from. The list of viruses we have learned to control through public health measures and vaccinations, in particular, is remarkably long.  Today, few give much thought to viruses that cause measles, rubella, chickenpox/shingles, roseola, smallpox, hepatitis, etc. Aside from reminders about the need for vaccinations, few give these viruses a thought.  At one time, many of these viruses ravaged society on a scale that dwarfs what we face with COVID-19.

            A highly contagious disease like the coronavirus can sweep through communities like an uncontrolled forest fire that burns until there is nothing left to catch fire.  Fortunately, the wildfire we face is one that can be slowed to help support the most vulnerable.  For this to happen, we need only follow the guidelines on the previously mentioned postcard.

            For most, routine life has been disrupted.  Many services deemed nonessential are closed. Gyms, where you may have exercised, are closed.  Places, where you may have socialized, are closed, and for some, this lack of social connection will be depressing.  Hopefully, this will be a temporary disruption, and life will soon return to normal. For now, if short of ideas for creatively using time at home for homeschooling, meal planning, gardening, or staying fit, the Sunday edition of the eNewspaper version of the Huntsville Times is full of ideas, and for now is free for all to read at al.com/ReadHT.  The comics in the local paper can be a reprieve from boredom and stress.  As for random advice, no one beats Marilyn vos Savant’s column in the newspaper’s Parade supplement.  Enjoy your free subscription while it lasts.

            Extra time at home can be an opportunity to reflect on food habits and positive changes that can contribute to better health.  While last year would have been a better time for this endeavor, better now than next year.  If in need of ideas, I suggest reading through articles I’ve previously posted.  A walk back through the previous year’s archives will provide an abundance of suggestions.

            Given that it’s spring in Alabama, planting a few seeds is an excellent way to connect with the idea that plants can be good medicine.  Planting a few seeds and helping them grow helps raise awareness that plants are life-giving.  Indeed, almost everything we eat begins with a plant that began from a seed.  While a garden that provides food security is beyond what most can manage, planting a few seeds helps remind us of where food comes from and why we should give high regard to the farmers that grow our fruits and vegetables.  When local farmers markets open again, be sure to help recognize their contribution as a source of local food security by making a stop part of your weekly shopping.  Indeed, local farmers have been greatly underappreciated.  Most grocery stores buy produce that has been trucked in from great distances.  Having food security depend so heavily on distant sources of food is not a great long term plan.

            If you can’t find a sunny spot for a yard garden or potted patio plant, then you can sprout seeds in a jar or grow a tray of microgreens.  While this is hardly a plan for food security, it can be a nice source of essential phytonutrients. As a bonus, you get homegrown nutritious food that takes only days to harvest rather than weeks.

            For many, the world was a lonely place before COVID-19 and even more so now.  Fortunately, staying at home doesn’t mean we have to close off our lives from others. It just means we have to get more creative in how we nurture our relationships.  There are many ways we can connect and communicate. Last I heard the postal service still sends those old fashioned letters.  I know of no one that doesn’t get a lift from a personal letter. The options are many for staying connected. Email, phone calls, and video chat are just the beginning.  If puzzled by the options available, just ask your grandkids.

            However events unfold in the days ahead, I want you to know that I am here for you.  To navigate the days ahead, we need only remember to keep loving, caring, and looking out for those who are most vulnerable.  While there may be some things beyond our control, we always have a choice in how we respond.  My response will be to do the best that I can to help you.

            Nancy Neighbors, MD

Stay Informed!

            Being well informed is the key to navigating the weeks ahead.  In the articles and web links below, you will find an abundance of timely information.

How to Protect Yourself from Coronavirus: Supporting Your Immune System When You May Need It Most  In this article, Dr. Hyman discusses what we know so far about COVID-19, testing and treatments, and how you can help “flatten the curve.” He also shares coronavirus prevention tips on how to protect yourself and your loved ones, emphasizing the power of food to help you optimize your health.

Coronavirus Tips from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention – This is an official government source of information. You will find tips, facts, and the latest official information. You’ll also find information for individuals, communities, and healthcare professionals on what’s being done and what the latest science says you should do.

COVID-19 Disease Tracker – See the latest statistics on the spread of COVID-19 from the CDC, WHO, and John Hopkins University, all compiled in one place by data infrastructure company, Enigma. All information is updated in real-time.  The COVID-19 tracker at John Hopkins University has been my preferred site for viewing worldwide statistics.  Much of what you hear in the news about how the response in America compares with other regions and countries comes from these tracking websites.

Food Documentaries to Watch at Home  While quarantined with little else to do, why not fill your thoughts with ideas about better nutrition. Documentaries have a way of grabbing our attention, which for those with a Twinkie or PopTart in their hand as they read this may be just what they need.

When will it be safe

to discontinue home isolation?

            As of March 16, 2020 CDC updated its guidance for determining the appropriateness of ending isolation. Options now include both a test-based strategy and a time-since-illness-onset and time-since-recovery (non-test-based) strategy.

            A test-based strategy is contingent on the availability of testing supplies and laboratory capacity as well as access to testing. For jurisdictions that choose to use a test-based strategy, the recommended protocol has been simplified so that only one swab is needed at every sampling.

            In the absence of testing supplies, use the following non-test-based strategy.

            Persons with COVID-19 who have symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue home isolation under the following conditions:

  • At least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and
  • At least seven days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

            As more experience with the virus is gained, these guidelines may change. Anecdotal reports suggest that some may continue to shed the virus for more than a week after recovery.

COVID-19 ‘Infodemic’

Researchers Step Up to Stop Misinformation

            A recent YouTube video seemed authoritative enough.  A man identified as Dr. Dan Lee Dimke presents what he describes as the Achilles heel of the coronavirus – exposure to high temperatures. Citing scientific studies, he claims that ending the virus is “remarkably easy” and only requires a few days of 20-minute sessions in a sauna. No sauna? No problem. Simply spray water onto your face and aim the hot air from a blow dryer up your nose for 5 minutes twice a day.  Unfortunately, it’s not true.

            The Internet is currently rife with all types of COVID-19 misinformation – some of it well-intentioned and some insidious. On the well-intentioned side, people often post or share information regarding potential remedies or preventive measures they believe will kill the virus or curb its spread.  Conspiracy theories regarding COVID-19 are also rampant.  For those who might not know which sources to trust and which to suspect, covid19misinfo.org uses publicly available datasets of fact-checked claims to identify and summarize current claims about the disease and gives them “truthfulness ratings.”

            Also consider using the following resources to inoculate yourself against misinformation.

            Snopes’ Collection of Debunked Claims

            Factcheck.org

            WHO Myth Busters

            Doubt It

            Flatten the Curve Digest

            You also need to be aware of potential scams concerning COVID-19. The FCC has received reports of scam and hoax text message campaigns and scam robocalls offering free home testing kits, promoting bogus cures, selling health insurance, and preying on virus-related fears. Do not answer any text, email, or phone messages asking for your personal or financial information. Also, beware of pop-up COVID-19 dashboards. Bad guys are delivering malware through these as well.  Find more information at https://www.fcc.gov/covid-scams .

How Soap Annihilates the Coronavirus

            With real soap, you’re not just washing viruses down the drain. Soap destroys the coronavirus. 

            Think of the coronavirus as a nano-sized grease ball.  As it happens, grease balls, no matter the size, are what soap loves to annihilate.  Learn from a chemistry professor how this works.  Click here for the lesson.  Now, see how much fun homeschooling can be!

Let’s Get Cooking with Three Tasty Recipes

Corn and Black Bean Cakes

            For a fun, family-friendly meal, you can’t go wrong with a batch of savory pancakes. This recipe uses black beans and frozen corn and tastes great served with salad, salsa, and tofu-sour cream.

Potato Pancakes

These baked-not-fried, potato, and zucchini pancakes are deliciously crispy. Top with applesauce, salsa, guacamole, or hummus.

Banana Pancakes

These banana pancakes are so easy to make. They’re wonderful served with banana slices, frozen blueberries, and a little maple syrup or applesauce.

Your Grocery Shortlist

(Quarantine Must-Haves)

            If heading to the grocery store during the COVID-19 pandemic, a little planning can make a big difference in what you will bring home.  First, there’s no need to hoard. Just look for the essentials that will meet your need for a week or two.  Here is what I consider the essentials.

  • Beans top the list.  Canned beans are ok, but dried beans offer better value.  Beans are the ultimate staple food: They offer nutrients, satiety, a long shelf life, and virtually endless uses.
  • Lentils can add nutrition to many different dishes, from soups, to salads, to stews, to wraps, to nachos. Brown and green lentils are versatile and can be cooked to a firm texture or simmered longer into a soft purée.  French green (or Puy) lentils are ideal for salads and soups, as they hold their shape.  Black (or beluga) lentils are best for salads and stews.  Red lentils cook up softer, making them perfect for Indian-style dishes.  Be sure to store lentils in airtight containers in a cool, dark, dry place.
  • Whole Grains – Rice and quinoa are popular choices, but there are many more grains that will work just as well and can be used interchangeably in recipes.  For other whole grains, you may have to shop in specialty stores.
  • Tubers (Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes) – Buy what you can use in the next two months and store in a cool, dark, dry place.  Common varieties include Yukon Gold, Russet, fingerling, and sweet potatoes.  Each has a unique flavor, and all offer starchy satisfaction.
  • Onions have a long shelf life. Whole, unpeeled onions will stay good for about a month when stored in a cool, dry, dark place. Peeled or sliced onions will stay good for about a week when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Garlic like onions is helpful in savory dishes.  Stored in a cool, dry, dark place, whole heads of garlic can last up to six months!)
  • Fresh Vegetables and Fruits – Each fruit and vegetable has a different characteristic.  Most will keep for two weeks if refrigerated.  Tomatoes are best when not refrigerated.  If needed, you can freeze fresh produce.  Most fruits and peppers can go straight into the freezer (once sliced and placed in freezer bags.) Other fresh produce, such as squash, tomatoes and leafy greens, benefit from a quick blanching first.
  • Canned Tomatoes (and tomato sauce and paste) can enhance many dishes from pasta to Buddha bowls and more. They’re also budget-friendly.
  • Frozen Vegetables and Fruits are as nutritious to their fresh counterparts.  Frozen fruit also makes the base for delicious and healthy ‘ice creams’. Try one of the frozen medleys, or mix and match a few favorite fruits.
  • Oats are technically whole grains, but they deserve a category all their own. Oatmeal offers a nourishing base that you can customize dozens of ways from sweet to savory.  For a boost of nutrition, add a couple of tablespoons of ground flaxseeds or ground chia seeds.
  • Fresh Apples – In a crisper drawer, apples stay good for a month or longer. For easy snacking, slice one or two apples at a time, sprinkle with lemon juice (to prevent browning), and store them in an airtight container in the fridge. Buy a mix of varieties—red and green, sweet and tart—to keep things interesting.
  • Bananas add versatility to plant-based dishes. Mashed, they can be used as an egg substitute; sliced, they make a delicious topping for waffles, oatmeal, and pancakes; and when frozen, they can be blended for a delicious dairy-free ice cream or used to make banana bread or muffins. When you have bananas getting brown before you can eat them, take a moment to peel and transfer them to a freezer-safe container for future use.
  • Citrus can be zested, juiced, or sliced.  Citrus fruits can also be used to bring a fresh, tangy flavor to any dish. Lemons, limes, and oranges all last around two to four weeks if stored in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
  • Use Nuts and Seeds to sprinkle over sweet and savory dishes to add a satisfying crunch. Seeds and nuts and their butters are relatively high-fat and calorie-dense, so keep that in mind if you’re watching your weight.
  • Whole Grain Bread freezes well and are quite convenient if presliced. Wholegrain Pita bread is also great for quick and easy handheld meals.
  • Condiments and Spices – You certainly want the basics like salt, black pepper, vinegar, and mustard.  Beyond that, be creative and stock up on the ones you like the most.

Click here for more news about changes in healthcare.

By Nancy Neighbors, MD

... Dr. Neighbors provides a blend of traditional family medicine and evidence-based lifestyle medicine in Huntsville, Alabama. When indicated, lifestyle change is recommended as the first line of therapy.

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