Tips

Omicron: Should You Worry?


written by Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - Dec 24, 2021

Photo Credit: by Kaique Rocha, Pexels.com
Photo Credit: by Kaique Rocha, Pexels.com

We have now reached the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet in regards to the variant strains of the SARS-COV2 virus. A few letters have been skipped, but the virus is believed to have mutated at least 10 times.

What does it mean when a virus mutates? Viruses cannot survive without a host, meaning they need hosts (our cells) to be able to live. In order to do this, a virus must infect as many hosts as it can. If it kills off the host- it too cannot survive. To avoid this, it must mutate or change. Historically speaking, we know that when a virus mutates, it becomes weaker and more contagious–ensuring its viability and since its goal is to survive, infecting as many hosts as possible, despite its weaker form.

This seems to be what we are seeing now with the Omicron variant which was first identified in South Africa. In New York, hospitalizations for Covid infections are down by up to two-thirds less cases this month as compared to the same time last year. While this can be partially explained by vaccine rates, a weaker, mutated virus, along with natural immunity from prior infections are also playing a major role.

Some restrictions have been implemented as a result of the increasing number of infections including shutting down of some broadway shows, as well as holiday related performances such as the annual Rockettes Christmas show in New York City citing “increasing challenges from the pandemic.”

Are these restrictions warranted? It is too early to tell, but knowing how viruses behave when they mutate, I do not believe we will see mass hospitalizations similar to what we saw in the Spring of 2020. I do believe that similar to the influenza virus, SARS-COV2 is here to stay.

A few points to remember:

● Viruses will continue to mutate.

● People will continue to get infected.

● Certain people will always be at higher risk due to compromised immune systems.

Knowing that viruses like Corona and influenza are here to stay, how can we minimize our risk?

I believe the best way to minimize risk is by strengthening our immune system. Our immune system is largely housed in our gut. Its primary role is to protect us from intruders by releasing mediators that activate our B and T cells that help to fight off infections.

Keeping our immune system as healthy as possible involves several factors:

1- Eat a variety of plant based foods, AKA–eat the rainbow. The fibers present in these foods not only provide the indigestible fibers that help to increase levels of beneficial gut bacteria that help regulate our immune system, they also provide antioxidants to fight off the cell damaging free radicals that are released from these infections. You can read more about these two topics here:

5 Impressive Health Benefits of Antioxidants You Should Know

Is Gut Health the Cause of More Severe Covid Infections?

2- Spend time outdoors. Studies have repeatedly shown that people who spend time outdoors-including those who walk in nature for at least 30 minutes daily have stronger immune systems and have longer life spans than those who don’t. Spending time outdoors also ensures you are getting exposed to the sun and getting your vitamin D levels. While the sun is the best source of vitamin D, I recommend everyone check their levels and supplement when needed. Vitamin D plays a powerful role in the regulation of our immune system.

3- Don’t underestimate the role community and spending time with loved ones play on our overall health. “The Roseto effect” pertains to a town in Roseto, Pennsylvania that was studied in the 1950’s for its very low incidence of heart disease in that particular town and it was established that the factor contributing to this was the close knit families and community ties. You can create a “Roseto Effect” in your neighborhood too.

Taking a multivitamin and certain supplements like probiotics, vitamins C, D, zinc and magnesium can also help.

4- If you have any chronic medical problems or are very concerned about infection, you can upgrade to an N95 or K95 or KF94 mask.

Always consult your family physician or a healthcare professional if you have any symptoms.

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