Just days into our social distancing from the dreaded SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID19 disease that it creates, the world sits on edge as we watch what has been unfolding in Italy.
As of March 19th, 2020 the death toll in Italy has soared to 2978, which is the highest death toll in Europe from the disease.
As the Italian government considers putting the country under extreme lockdown, even banning outdoor exercise, we are hearing warnings that we need to be more stringent with our social distancing measures and/or self-isolation to avoid a similar fate to that of Italy.
But is that the only thing that we can do?
Why are so many dying in Italy and for what cause?
The cases of COVID19 in the United States has reached 9415 with approximately 150 deaths.
There is reason to believe that COVID19 will become endemic to the world population much like the seasonal flu or common cold. After all, the common cold is caused by a coronavirus (which is the same family COVID19 belongs to) up to 35% of the time, and greater than 80% of all adults have been affected with the common cold.
Does this mean that we are all doomed to get COVID19 and suffer severe consequences like permanent lung damage?
Images of overwhelmed hospital workers collapsing from exhaustion and frustration, unfortunate souls attached to ventilators, countries on lockdown, where you risk fines or imprisonment for being outside: is this our future as so many suggest?
Only time will tell.
While COVID19 may be a serious threat to our health, I believe that there are other factors in play when it comes to contracting the illness and the severity of the course of illness.
Let's take a look at Italy to see what exactly is going on there.
As mentioned above, Italy has had the highest amount of deaths in Europe from COVID19 so far. Most of these deaths have been due to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) caused by COVID19 .
The Lancet, a respected medical journal, plainly states that the people who dies from ARDS due to SARS-CoV-2 would not have died otherwise.
But is this true?
The vast majority of those who died from COVID19 in Italy had comorbidities. The Italian government even released a study saying that over 99% of fatalities had underlying health issues .
Among the top 3 causes were high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
In fact, almost half of the fatalities (48%) had 3 or more illnesses!
There is also the age factor that comes into play when examining Italy's fatalities.
Italy has one of the oldest populations in Europe with 23% of it's population over the age of 65. In comparison, the US only has 16% of the population over the age of 65.
Just like other diseases, age plays a huge factor to our susceptibility.
It is interesting to note that China, where the virus originated and there has been the biggest number of deaths to death, has extensive air pollution.
In fact, in December of 2019, air pollution levels reached hazardous proportions in Beijing alone.
Air pollution, unsurprisingly, has been linked to acute lower respiratory infections due to viral illnesses, especially in children .
So it seems that the unfortunate combination of underlying illness, an aging population, and rampant air pollution is making COVID19 much more deadly in Italy.
But what about the United States?
Do we have the potential to see exponential deaths from COVID19 like Italy?
Let's start with the collective health of the country.
When it comes to disease, we don't fair well.
According to the CDC, 6 in 10 adults have a chronic disease and 4 in 10 adults have 2 or more .
The biggest chronic health challenges we face are heart disease and stroke, cancer, and diabetes. Our lack of regular movement, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and alcohol consumption contribute to our overall national poor health.
According to a 2013 study done by the Mayo Clinic, nearly 70% of Americans are on a prescription drug and over 50% are taking 2 or more .
This clearly shows how sick we are as a country and being sick increases the likelihood of a COVID19 infection.
Let's talk age of our population.
It's an apparent fact that the older you get, the harder your body has to work to stay healthy. As we age so does our immune system and the ability for our bodies to absorb nutrients optimally decreases.
The number of adults 65 and older in the United States is estimated at over 46 million. If these same adults have co-morbidities, which is highly likely, then it could be catastrophic for those who contract a COVID19 infection.
But what about air pollution?
Fortunately we're blessed to have good air quality throughout the majority of the United States. With many regulations and laws put in place to curb air pollution, our air quality measures up to the WHO target for the majority of the country.
So where does this leave us?
According to numbers from Johns Hopkins, there have been approximately 222,642 global coronavirus cases with more than 9115 deaths.
If we assume the death rate stays the same and apply it only to the number of adults 65 and older in our country, it could be catastrophic for the United States.
Now these numbers can still change drastically since this is still an ongoing situation. The true death rate may be higher if a greater number of those infected began to die or it may be lower if more testing confirms that there are many more asymptomatic or mild cases than previously thought.
So can the United States have a tragedy like Italy on it's hand just waiting to explode?
That's very possible especially if you don't keep your immune system strong and healthy. A thriving immune system is very powerful piece of the puzzle at play here. Think of the 103 year old grandmother who recovered from a COVID19 infection in just 6 days due to no underlying health conditions aside from mild bronchitis.
Whether a vaccine or more powerful antivirals are effective or not, our first line of defense should be always our immune systems. We are surrounded by millions of viruses and bacteria everyday and it's our immune system's job to protect and keep us safe.
How do you keep your immune system strong especially amidst this COVID19 pandemic?
Proper hygiene, vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, a healthy diet filled with colorful fruits and vegetables, regular movement, good quality sleep, and reducing stress like fearful emotions.
For more information, see this post CORVID19: What Can You Do About It?
As we face COVID19, let's keep ourselves as safe and healthy as possible.
I'm Dr. Candace Mathers, a naturopathic physician, helping you repair, restore, and renew your health and life to new heights! I'm a Christian, a mother, and lover of the outdoors. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for fun challenges, community, and tips on getting healthy naturally!