Updated: Jan 11
Coronavirus cures: The bogus and the promising
Putting on my doctor’s hat for a moment, I wanted to take a quick look at where we are in the quest to find something to either cure or treat Covid-19, which is the present illness called by Coronavirus. By the way, the Influenza virus is in a completely different family from Coronavirus, even though the symptoms caused are similar.
During a time of widespread affliction and uncertainty, you can rely on human beings to come up with all kinds of conspiracy and unproved theories. While it’s a normal human tendency, it can cause harm to desperate and susceptible people who tend to latch onto anything they hear. We can pretty much dispose of some of the bogus claims floating around.
Let’s first examine what a Coronavirus looks like:
It’s called coronavirus because the spiky clubs on the surface kind of look like a low-budget crown. Corona is Latin for “crown” or “wreath. It’s called an RNA (ribonucleic acid) virus because that’s the genetic material inside the envelope. The spike glycoprotein (circled in red) is a kind of “sugary” protein that fits right onto the cells inside our bodies, especially the cells inside our respiratory tract (breathing passages and lungs). The cells in our respiratory tract also have those glycoproteins that are kind of the mirror image of the ones on the virus. So it’s like a lock and key. When the virus grabs onto the cell, it unlocks the cell and the virus goes inside the cell. Once it’s there, the RNA in the virus hijacks the cell and uses the cell to replicate, that is, make copies of itself. At a certain point, the copies break out of the cells and go on a rampage, entering other cells and overwhelming them.
But don’t think one virus infects one human cell, because a human cell in our breathing passages is about 100 times larger than the Coronavirus, so there’s plenty of room for a whole gang of viruses to settle on one cell. Now imagine the millions of cells in our breathing passages and think of the hundreds of millions of Coronavirus replicating–we end up with millions of millions of viruses having a party like a bunch of drunk teenagers.
Now that we know that, let’s examine some of the myths about “curing” Covid-19, which is the present disease caused by this new (“novel”) Coronavirus.
BOGUS TREATMENTS FOR CORONAVIRUS
Wash the virus away by drinking lots of water
When you drink water, where does it go? To your stomach. Where is the virus? In your breathing passages. If you were to supposedly “wash out” the virus with water, you would have to suck a bunch of water into your lungs, which would make you choke. Your own body will not allow you to suck water into your lungs. That’s called drowning.
Drink warm or hot water
The virus is quite comfortable with warm water because it’s comfortable in your warm body. The temperature that would kill the virus will also burn your mouth. Also, the water you’re drinking is flowing on top or over your cells. The virus is firmly fixed inside like passengers in a plane or customers in a Starbucks. You can spray the outside of the plane or the Starbucks as much as you like–it won’t get the people out.
Vinegar and lemon with water
Adding the vinegar or lemon does nothing for the same reasons above. Use the vinegar and lemon in your salad dressing (still won’t kill the virus, though).
Eat as many onions as you like, it won’t touch the Coronavirus–but you will smell of onions, which could be good in one way because it will make people keep their physical distance from you.
Gargle with bleach
You could damage your throat with that. Meanwhile, the virus will still be having a good time inside you.
PROMISING TREATMENTS FOR CORONAVIRUS/COVID-19
Chloroquine (Aralen) was long used to treat malaria, and hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) is used for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Experimentally, it appear to inhibit the Coronavirus from attaching to primate cells (as explained above). However, despite what President Trump says, this medication is not, repeat, not, licensed for treatment of Coronavirus. There have been no organized trials of this medication for the treatment of Coronavirus. Furthermore, the side effects of chloroquine are no joke, and after what Trump said in his news conference, there are now reports of chloroquine poisoning in Nigeria.
A new study suggests the combo of hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin (Zithromax) could be effective.
2. Interferon alpha 2B
Interferon (IFN) is produced normally in the human body. It is a kind of “messenger” protein that gives a heads-up to our immune cells (the white blood cells) that a bad dude is invading and they should attack him. There are several types of IFN.
It appears that Coronavirus depletes our natural interferon and injection of IFN alpha 2b into the body seems to strike back at the virus. The product has been in the news because Cuba has been producing it for decades in cooperation with China. Not much mention has been made of it in the USA, and there are obvious political reasons. The US is unlikely to recommend a Cuban product, let alone try it out. Like many antivirals, IFN alpha 2b, must be used early in the infection or as a preventative measure. There are unconfirmed stories of health providers using it in China both for patients and for themselves. Ireland is considering using Cuba’s IFN alpha 2b. Schering-Plough, a US company, produces IFN alpha 2b, but unlike authoritarian countries like China and Cuba, the massive cost of the product in the US might be an obstacle to widespread use in patients, given our health insurance complexities.
Remdesivir is one of the most promising prospects, and it is being tested in five Covid-19 clinical trials that have been set up at breakneck speed. Through a compassionate use program, it’s been administered to some patients, including the first case in the United States. The first trial results are expected next month, though some analysts have raised concerns about the prospects based on data emerging from a small number of patients. High hopes that Remdesivir would work against Ebola didn’t come to fruition.
There are almost too many vaccine trials to count, both here in the US and all over the world. The issue, of course, is the time it takes to produce an effective one. Even though companies are attacking the problem with as much speed as possible, the vaccine will be too late to have a positive effect on the present pandemic. But should Covid-19 become endemic like the flu, that is, become a permanent world disease, a vaccine could be a lifesaver in the future.
Finally, let’s not forget physical distancing (I prefer that term to “social distancing”) which is more a preventative measure than a treatment itself. This novel Coronavirus is incredibly contagious, so it’s best to stay away from other people as much as possible, in addition to the other measures of hand washing and use of hand sanitizers. By the way, if you can’t find manufactured hand sanitizer, as a stopgap measure you can use rubbing alcohol (70% or more) and put it in a small spray bottle. Spray and rub!