Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Keep Calm and Carry On Coronavirus Tips

Photo: Alexandra Koch from Pixabay

As a wellness and beauty writer, I was waiting to see how many press releases would come through my email inbox — especially on the beauty side — crafted around the coronavirus. Sometimes the products being promoted can be a bit of a stretch. Thankfully the pitches haven't been too absurd. Online is a different story. At times like this, companies and individuals often start hawking unproven cures and giving bad advice. 

Speaking of emails, some of the hoopla and the rush to hoard surgical masks, zinc lozenges and hand sanitizer might have been caused, in part, by an email that has gone viral (no pun intended). The email, written by virologist and pathologist James Robb, MD FCAP, was not a hoax, according to Snopes. Dr. Robb recommended some precautionary measures to take regarding COVID-19. One had to do with the use of surgical masks, but to keep people from touching their mouths and noses. Some medical professionals have said that if you aren’t sick, it’s unnecessary (and not very useful) for protection from COVID-19. Since originally writing this post, I have seen conflicting information about this. While I still believe that we shouldn't hoard the actual medical masks used and much needed right now by medical professionals, I have changed my mind about the use of masks by the general public. After reading this commentary in the Washington Post, even a simple DIY mask can help flatten the curve, especially since so many people are not heeding the advice to stay home and stay a safe distance from others. Also take the time to watch this You Tube video How to Significantly Slow Coronavirus?

Continue to take precautions, but don't let panic inspire you to make poor decisions and do needless and costly things, that not only negatively affect you, but others. 

Should you make your own hand sanitizer?

Photo: Adriano Gadini from Pixabay

The mad dash to purchase hand sanitizers, which have been flying off the shelves in some stores, has sparked unscrupulous online sellers to jackup the price. 

Do an online search for hand sanitizers, and you'll notice several articles on making homemade versions. If you decide to make your own hand sanitizer, Dr. Ahmed Abdullah, a board-certified plastic surgeon and the founder of Lexli International, a line of aloe vera skin care, suggests mixing one part aloe vera gel and two parts isopropyl alcohol.

You’ve probably also seen articles warning against making your own hand sanitizer. This concern has to do with adding the correct ratio of alcohol, which should be 60% alcohol to be effective. This high percentage of alcohol could be harmful and drying to the skin, leading to cracks and making hands more susceptible to germs. This recipe from Popular Science has simplified a version by the World Health Organization. Just note that hand sanitizer is only for when soap and water is not available. Hopefully you won't need much of it.

After washing your hands or using hand sanitizer, be sure to use moisturizer. One of my favorite moisturizing ingredients is shea butter, found in Juara Coconut Illipe Hand & Nail Balm and Nubian Heritage Raw Shea Butter Hand Cream.  

And what about those zinc lozenges?

The aforementioned email advised people to stock up on zinc lozenges. “Zinc will inhibit the replication of many viruses, including coronaviruses,” Dr. Robb told Snopes. “I expect COVID-19 [the disease caused by the novel coronavirus] will be inhibited similarly, but I have no direct experimental support for this claim. I must add, however, that using zinc lozenges as directed by the manufacturer is no guarantee against being infected by the virus, even if it inhibits the viral replication in the nasopharynx.”

The mineral zinc does help keep the immune system strong. Zinc lozenges have been recommended to combat the common cold because viruses can thrive and multiply in the nasal passage and throat. Zinc may stop viruses from settling inside the mucous membranes of the nose and throat, and keep the virus from multiplying.  

You’re supposed to take zinc lozenges within 24 hours of the symptoms of a cold. This seems to reduce the duration of a cold. It doesn’t prevent it.

But zinc lozenges should be a short-term solution. You don’t want to overdo it with zinc. Too much of it can actually suppress the immune system. For some people the use of zinc, even zinc lozenges, causes side effects from a bad taste in the mouth that might linger for a few days, nausea, loss of appetite, upset stomach, stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and headaches. It may also interfere with certain medications that are taken by mouth. Long term use can also lower good HDL cholesterol and cause a copper deficiency. 

If you are considering zinc supplements, don’t use them without being under the supervision of a doctor and zinc nasal sprays are not advised since they have been linked to the loss of smell, possibly permanent. 

Zinc is found in red meat, poultry and oysters, fortified cereals, whole grains, beans and nuts. So you can get zinc and other vitamins and nutrients from a well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables to help keep your immune system strong.

Should you burn sage?  

Believe it or not, I spotted an article that suggested burning sage (called smudging) would help purify and remove bacteria in the home, and that this would be beneficial for ridding the home of the coronavirus as well. That sparked my interest since I plan on smudging as part of my spring cleaning. Sage has been used for centuries to purify the air and to release negative energy. Unfortunately, even its ability to remove bacteria has not been scientifically proven. Some sites had inaccurately reported that burning sage could reduce airborne bacteria. The scientific evidence to which these sites referred was a 2007 study, that actually found that traditional Hindu medicine called havan samagri—not sage— could rid a room of airborne bacteria by 94% within one hour and kept it bacteria-free for 24 hours.

Havan samagri is used in sacred fire rituals such as Yagna and Homa as a spiritual offering or to to cleanse and energize the space. But before running off to purchase havan samagri, which uses specific dried herbs, roots and leaves, it is not known what the effect the smoke can have on humans. What I’ve noticed from images, is that these ceremonies tend to be done in outdoor spaces. Smoke can be an irritant and have a negative effect on health, notably in those with asthma and other upper respiratory issues. 

I’ve got nothing against the burning of sage. Many of my yoga and meditation teachers use it to smudge the room before class, but it’s not going to prevent you from getting the coronavirus if you happen to get exposed. Unlike bacteria, viruses need a living host (people, animals, plants) to multiply.

But here’s what you can do to help protect yourself from the coronavirus, the flu and colds:

Photo: Purple Shorts from Pixabay

Wash your hands. Right now, this is the most important thing you can do. Wet hands with warm water. Apply soap, work into a lather and rub hands together for at least 20 seconds, cleaning the palms, wrists, back of hands, between fingers and under the fingernails. Before preparing food, be sure to scrub under the nails with a nail brush. Rinse hands throughly. 

After using public restrooms, wash hands thoroughly and then dry hands with a clean paper towel. Turn off the faucet with a paper towel. When on the go, I usually have a couple of paper towel sheets with me, since some bathrooms only have air dryers, and I like to use tissue or paper towels to open the bathroom door.

Wash hands after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing (or use hand sanitizer if no soap and water is available.) Also wash hands after using the bathroom, before preparing and cooking food, and before eating a meal.

Clean frequently touched surfaces such as tables, backs of chairs, countertops, light switches and  doorknobs — and don’t forget the smartphone, laptop and remote control. (This is especially important for families with kids and the elderly.) Visit the CDC site for more tips on getting your household ready for COVID-19 and home cleaning.

Cough or sneeze into a tissue and then throw it away. If you don’t have tissue, sneeze into the crook of your elbow (covering your mouth and nose), but do not cover your mouth with your hands. After you sneeze, if you are near a sink wash your hands, if not, use hand sanitizer. 

Don’t put handbags and backpacks on the floor while out and about.

Remove shoes worn outdoors before entering your apartment or house. (This, and the above tip, has more to do with nasty germs in general than the coronavirus.)

Use your knuckles to press elevator buttons, flip on light-switches, etc. Some doors can be opened with a push from your elbow or the side of your body, but if you can only access it from a doorknob or handle, see tip below. You can also use disposable gloves.

Try not to touch eyes, nose and mouth, especially after touching door knobs, elevator buttons, light-switches, and gym equipment. 

Avoid shaking hands. By now people, even in a business setting, should be aware of why one would be loathed to shake hands. People are suggesting everything from fist bumps to bumping elbows. (Wouldn’t a nod and a smile or a "hello" be a better greeting?)

Stay home when you’re sick (except to get medical care, if needed.)

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

If possible, avoid crowded areas particularly if you have a weakened immune system or underlying medical condition that puts you more at risk for catching the virus. If you are  in good health but are concerned about exposure, try to avoid packed trains and buses. If possible, walk or ride a bike to work. Avoid large gatherings, especially those in enclosed spaces. This is not always possible, so when you have to be around a lot of people, follow the tips above. 

To stay healthy, don’t smoke (this is a good time to try to stop the habit), eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of fluids, drink alcohol in moderation, manage stress and get adequate sleep.

Try not to get overwhelmed by the news. Too much anxiety, stress and worry can trigger fight-or-flight hormones and chemicals that can suppress the effectiveness of your immune system.

For more information about COVID-19, tips and updates, visit

This article is for educational and entertainment purposes only. For medical advice, consult a medical professional.