Covid-19 and Autoimmune Part I
In the last week, I have been flooded with questions about Covid-19 and autoimmunity. Many of you with active autoimmune conditions are worried about being at an increased risk of acquiring the virus and then developing complications.
I have to admit that when the story first came out, I wasn’t that concerned. But after spending some time on the research and discussing it with medical doctors, infectious disease specialists, virologists and epidemiologists, I have had a change of heart.
Covid-19 has become a valid concern, for a lot of reasons but probably the biggest concern is the stress it’s causing for all of us.
In this article I’ll do my best to give you the most up-to-date information regarding the expert’s opinions on the virus and autoimmunity, and what you can do to reduce your exposure over next the few months and likely years to follow.
I’ll also share how you can boost your immune system so that if you do get sick, you can reduce or eliminate the chances of complications.
My intention is to ease your mind and empower you to reclaim your health (and your sanity).
The truth is that the human body is incredibly resilient – especially to infections. We have been living with viruses (and they have been living in and on us) since the beginning of time!
Knowledge is POWER, so read on!
I’ve decided to answer the most common questions I’ve been receiving.
Q: What is Covid-19?
A: The name of the new coronavirus is “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease caused by it is called COVID-19. This novel virus was first detected in Wuhan, China in December of 2019. Coronaviruses belong to a well-known family of viruses at the root of mild illness such as the common cold and more severe illnesses such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).
Q: Is Covid-19 the same as the flu?
A: No. Influenza and COVID-19 can be transmitted in the same ways and both can present in the same ways, but they are very different.
Influenza and COVID-19 are similar in that they can both:
- Be mild or severe, but rarely fatal
- Be spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing or talking, and both can be spread before symptoms appear.
- Sometimes result in pneumonia
This is how they differ:
- The flu can be caused by a number of different strains of influenza
- COVID-19 is caused by one virus, the SARS-CoV-2
- COVID-19 might also be spread through the air when tiny droplets hang in the air even after the infected person leaves the room.
- Antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu, can address some flu symptoms and possibly shorten its duration.
- At this time our current antiviral medications will not do anything for Covid-19 symptoms
- A flu shot may prevent some of the dangerous types of flu or reduce the severity if it’s contracted (although the research does not substantiate this claim)[i]
- There is no COVID-19 vaccine at this time
Q: Will the flu shot be effective against Covid-19?
A: No. The flu shot is designed to target influenza virus, not the SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19. Additionally, a recent study published in the peer-reviewed medical journal, Vaccine, reveals that influenza vaccination may actually increase the risk of other respiratory viruses, specifically, coronavirus and human metapneumovirus.[ii] If you are considering the flu shot to protect yourself, I suggest bringing this study to your doctor’s attention!
Q: Are people with autoimmune disease at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19?
A: Unfortunately, no one knows because the virus is so new, and we don’t have any data. What we do know is that some people with autoimmunity are at a higher risk of contracting all types of infections. Your susceptibility to any type of infection depends on your condition, the state of your immune system, the stage of your illness, your stress levels, your state of mind, the medications you take and whether or not you have other underlying conditions.
Q: Are people with autoimmune disease at a higher risk of complications from Covid-19?
A: Again, no one knows for sure, but it’s likely that some individuals with certain autoimmune conditions may be at a higher risk for complications, co-infections and cytokine storm (sepsis). The risk depends on several factors including the specific condition, the stage of illness, stress levels, medications, and other underlying conditions. Basically, it depends on how sick you are!
Q: Who are at the highest risk of complications from Covid-19?
- Men and women over 65 (with underlying chronic health conditions)
- Adults with Type I and Type II diabetes, COPD, heart disease, high blood pressure. kidney disease, fatty liver disease, asthma and other respiratory diseases
- Adults with weakened immune systems due to cancer, HIV, AIDS and medicines such as steroids and chemotherapy
- Obese adults
- Pregnant women
Q: What autoimmune conditions have the highest risk of Covid-19 complications such as sepsis or cytokine storm?
The experts seem to think that certain autoimmune conditions have a higher risk than others, but at the time of this writing, there is no actual data.
I did find one case of a man who caught the virus and because he had an autoimmune condition he was allowed to get tested. The good news I that his symptoms resolved in a few days and it appears that he’s made a full recovery!
To be clear, autoimmune conditions do not cause infections – it’s typically the other way around as many infections can trigger autoimmunity in susceptible individuals.
Still, people with certain types of autoimmune diseases may be at higher risk of developing complications from some infections, which can include a cytokine storm or sepsis, (one of the deadly complications of Covid-19, and other viral and bacterial infections).
Cytokine storm or sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza and urinary tract infections. This is sometimes incorrectly called “blood poisoning” but it’s actually more of an autoimmune condition response to too much stress on the immune system.
After working with thousands of autoimmune patients, I have never found a particular “diagnosis” to be more vulnerable than another to infections. What’s important to understand is that autoimmunity is a complex condition of the immune system and there are always many variables such as length of illness, the degree of autonomic nervous system dysregulation, medications, stress levels, state of mind, toxins and other environmental issues.
Statistically though, the autoimmune conditions that have higher risk of infectious complications are the following:
- Type I and Type II Diabetes
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Mixed connective tissue disease
Q: Do immunosuppressive medications put me at a higher risk for infection?
A: It’s common knowledge that immunosuppressive drugs increase your risk of all types of infection. After all, these drugs suppress your immune system!
We don’t yet have the data on immunosuppressive, biologics and immunomodulators and Covid-19, but we do know that many of the medications used to treat autoimmune disease and inflammatory arthritis (Remicade, Enbrel and Cimzia, the JAK-inhibitors, and corticosteroids including prednisone) increase the risk of developing more severe viral infection.
If you take immunosuppressive drugs, immunomodulators or biologics it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor about your risk for ALL infections.
Whatever you do, please, DO NOT stop taking your medications! Please discuss your options and risk factors with your doctor. Stopping these drugs can have serious side effects and complications that far out way any risks for Covid-19.
Q: I have Hashimoto’s, do I need to worry about increased risk of Covid-19?
A: There is zero evidence that people with Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease are at a higher risk for contracting Covid-19. If you read that you are at a higher risk on Internet or on Facebook, it’s likely that someone is trying to sell you something. Beware!!
Q: I have an active autoimmune condition, what can I do to protect myself?
- Be a Team Player! Please take this seriously and follow your state and county guidelines for prevention. China has already “stopped Covid-19 in it’s tracks” by following sensible infection control. Don’t panic and follow procedures for reducing the risk of spread, such as proper hand-washing, covering your nose when sneezing, coughing into your elbow, and working from home where possible. Check in with the CDC guidelines for prevention.
- Don’t Circle the Drama Drain! This is a scary time and a lot of people are freaking out. Don’t join them in the fear factor. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can suppress your immune system (this is why glucocorticoid drugs work so well). Be mindful of how much time you spend watching the news, social media and Internet sites covering the story. Remember, “If it bleeds, it leads”, and this story has gone viral (pun intended). Limit your news time to 10-minute check ins in the AM and PM. It’s good to know what’s going on but it’s not good for you or your immune system to be stressed out!
- Reclaim your Power! What many people feel right now is a sense of powerlessness. Take this time as an opportunity to focus on the only things you do have control over: Your thoughts, feelings, emotions and reactions. It may take some time, but it’s incredibly liberating (and good for your immune system) to sit still and become mindful of what you’re giving your power to. You need all your energy to heal your autoimmune condition, so stop giving it away to things that you can’t control.
- Spend time Outside! Get outside and move your body. Spending time in nature is incredibly immune boosting. Take the dog for a walk, ride your bike, go for a hike or a run. I’ve been hiking every day and it really boosts my mood and helps me feel calm centered.
- Get Vitamin D3! Vitamin D3 plays a major role in our immune response, defending against infections and bacteria by activating and arming killer T-cells. It reduces inflammation throughout the system and modulates the expression of important genes. Most people with autoimmune conditions are grossly deficient. It’s impossible to get enough vitamin D3 through your diet. The body makes vitamin D3 mostly from our exposure to sunlight. Getting more sun can improve your health and improve your mood at the same time. Try to get 15-30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure two to four times a week. Vitamin D3 supplementation is inexpensive and well worth it for significant health benefits. I recommend getting tested, so you know how much you need. It’s safe to start with at 2000 IU per day but research and my experience shows most people need twice that amount to raise their levels.
- Sweat! Raising body temperature helps fight infections and fungus; our body develops a fever for that same purpose. I have noticed that many autoimmune patients commonly have below-average body temperatures, which in turn creates an environment where infections can thrive. Try a far-infra-red sauna or a detoxifying bath.
- Keep your Nose Clean! My clients (and I) have had success staving off the flu and colds by combining a saline solution such as NeilMed Sinus Rinse with one drop of grapefruit seed extract (GSE). You can make your own saline solution and use a neti pot as well. Caution: Never use more than one drop of GSE and always combine it with the saline solution – otherwise it can really burn! Another effective sinus remedy is to inhale the essential oils of concentrated organic thyme, clove and cinnamon leaf extracts. You simply add a few drops of each to a bowl of steaming hot water, cover your head with a towel, and breathe in deeply for a few minutes. Believe me, this very effective! Make sure you use only high-quality organic concentrates.
- Reverse Your Autoimmune Condition! The ultimate empowering action you can take against ANY infection is to reclaim your health and begin the journey to autoimmune recovery. There has never been a better time to get healthy! My team and I are here to help. Let’s get on a call to see if you’re a candidate for the Total Recovery Program!
- Join Our Online Community! While businesses and schools have closed and communities are recommending limiting group activities, it’s still important to have social interaction. If you haven’t already, join us in the Autoimmune Total Recovery Facebook Group!
I will be writing more in the days to come. Look for Part 2 of this article where I’ll be sharing some nutritional and lifestyle strategies for reducing stress, and boosting your immune system!
With so much love,
Michelle Corey FMP