COVID-19 has become a topic at the forefront of our minds. In addition to the general concern over the expansive spread and impact of the disease, many people worry about their risk. Although individuals belonging to certain groups do have an increased likelihood of catching COVID-19 and experiencing complications, it is important to note that certain precautions can be taken to help limit these risks.
To best enact these practices, we must first have a strong understanding of the condition itself, define who is at risk, and identify risk-limiting strategies.
What is COVID-19?
Many commonly refer to COVID-19 as simply coronavirus. However, it is important to note that coronavirus refers to a broader family of viruses capable of infecting humans and animals.
COVID-19 is a more specific term describing severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2, which is a novel coronavirus not previously seen in humans.
The first reported case of COVID-19 developed in China in late 2019. On March 11th of 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO), declared COVID-19 a pandemic, with over 118,000 cases seen in 114 countries and nearly 4,300 deaths. Just two weeks later on March 25th, reported cases of COVID-19 had reached over 450,000 and deaths attributed to the disease surpassed 20,000. Experts believe that the dramatic increase in such a short period is due primarily to how the disease spreads.
How is COVID-19 Spread?
The CDC has identified multiple ways in which COVID-19 may be spread through populations. The primary method of COVID-19 transmission is through respiratory droplets produced when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. When these particulates are released, they may enter the mouth or nose of nearby individuals or be inhaled into the lungs. Studies suggest that the virus-carrying droplets may remain airborne and infectious for up to three hours.
COVID-19 may also be transmitted via contact with surfaces. When infected individuals touch an object, they can deposit infected droplets that may remain active for upwards of 72 hours. Individuals who touch a surface carrying an infectious droplet and subsequently touch their eyes, nose, or mouth, can become infected.
How to Reduce Spread and Protect Yourself From COVID-19
Taking appropriate precautionary actions is important to slow the spread of COVID-19.
To reduce the airborne transmission of COVID-19, the CDC recommends that people maintain a minimum distance of six feet between each other. However, recent findings from a Chinese study released on March 10, 2020, suggests that COVID-19 may be spread over distances as far as 4.5 meters, approximately 15 feet. As such, it may be pertinent to maintain a distance greater than the CDC recommended six feet whenever possible.
The best method to limit contact-based transmission is to regularly and diligently wash one’s hands. Hand washing should be done any time contact is made with frequently touched surfaces including tables, light switches, desks, phones, toilets, etc. Additionally, commonly used surfaces and objects should be disinfected daily.
Social distancing is also highly recommended. Social distancing involves limiting contact with others by avoiding locations with large numbers of people such as malls, movie theaters, places of worship, live events, public transport, and restaurants. Many states have already enacted orders in support of social distancing practices such as closing schools, allowing restaurants to only provide takeout services, and closing non-essential retail locations. You can practice social distancing by staying home as much as possible, avoiding non-essential travel, and if possible, working from home.
How to Identify COVID-19
Being able to recognize COVID-19 in yourself or others, and subsequently limiting contact, is an important part of reducing spread. Individuals with COVID-19 are most contagious when they are presenting symptoms. The CDC has stated that symptoms of COVID-19 tend to develop two to 14 days after exposure. Additionally, they warn that the disease may still be spread even if an infected person does not present symptoms.
The predominant symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Other symptoms that may accompany COVID-19 include:
- Aches and pains
- Coughing up or expelling mucus
- Flu-like fatigue
- Sore throat
When to Seek out Treatment
The CDC’s current guidelines recommend that individuals should only contact their healthcare provider for treatment under the following conditions:
- You have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and suspect you have recently been exposed to COVID-19
- You have developed symptoms and have been in close contact with an individual who is known to have COVID-19
- You have recently traveled to an area or community that is experiencing an ongoing or extensive spread of COVID-19
At present, there are no antivirals available that have proven to be effective at treating COVID-19. As such, treatment is focused primarily on symptom management. However, trials for a potential vaccine are in progress. According to a statement made by Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, in March of 2020, a vaccine for COVID-19 will likely not be widely available to the public for at least a year and a half.
Who Is At Risk for COVID-19?
Due to the novel nature of the COVID-19, our bodies do not currently have any defense against this particular virus. Therefore, everyone is at risk of contracting COVID-19. However, some individuals are considered high risk meaning they have a greater likelihood of both acquiring the infection and experiencing serious complications.
Current data suggests that people 50 years or older are the population most at-risk. Those with chronic health conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and lung disease are also considered high risk regardless of age. Immunocompromised individuals and pregnant women also have a higher risk of complications relating to COVID-19.
Does my Thyroid Condition Place me at High Risk?
Those with a thyroid condition, especially autoimmune thyroid disease, may also have a higher risk for COVID-19 complications. It stands to reason that, because autoimmune disorders alter the body’s immune response, patients with autoimmune disorders may not properly react to viruses such as COVID-19. Some experts argue that if the immune system is already in a state of dysregulation, it could be more susceptible to various infections including viral strains like COVID-19. Furthermore, it is often the case that patients with autoimmune thyroid disease receive treatment with immunosuppressant medications. This can increase an individual’s susceptibility to viruses such as COVID-19.
According to the British Thyroid Association, “there is currently no reason to believe that people with thyroid problems (autoimmune or otherwise) are at any excess risk from coronavirus.” However, some experts argue that, because COVID-19 is a new virus, it is not yet clear if the immune dysregulation caused by autoimmune disease does or does not influence the risk of COVID-19 complications. Because there is a lack of specific data and research regarding the influence of autoimmune disease on COVID-19, those with an autoimmune thyroid condition such as Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis should certainly take additional precautions to protect themselves.
Proactive Measures to Bolster Your Defenses Against COVID-19
There are several ways to help protect yourself from COVID-19. In addition to the precautionary measures mentioned above, you can actively support immune function through appropriate lifestyle improvements and supplementation.
- Regularly getting quality sleep is essential for proper immune function. Therefore, to best protect yourself from infection, it is important to make sleep a priority. Plan to get eight to nine hours of good quality sleep every night.
- Diet also has a great deal of influence on immune function. Focus on eating quality nutrient-dense foods while avoiding highly processed and sugary substances.
- Stress can dramatically impede immune function. Therefore, do your best to eliminate sources of anxiety and engage in stress-relieving activities such as yoga, meditation, or relaxing hobbies.
Keep COVID-19 at Bay by Employing Appropriate Prevention Practices
During this time of uncertainty, you must make your health a priority by responding properly to COVID-19. Some populations, such as the elderly and individuals with a chronic illness, have been identified as having a higher risk for COVID-19 complications. Currently, there is some disagreement as to the increased risk of those with a thyroid condition and/or autoimmune disorders. Regardless, the best course of action is to engage in effective COVID-19 prevention practices including frequently washing your hands, social distancing, lifestyle improvements, and appropriate supplementation.
Resources1. CDC. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Frequently Asked Questions.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention.