Q. Now that we are nearing the end of summer, I understand there may be concerns about rising Covid-19 cases. Can you give me updates on the situation and when we might expect to get the next covid vaccine? Also, what can we do to curtail any illness we may get in the meantime?
A. It has been a blissful number of months when we did not discuss Covid-19 in the Ask the Pharmacist columns. Now that we are closing in on the Fall season, we are being warned of another rise in Covid-19 cases which is already witnessed with the increase in hospitalizations due to Covid-19 and through the testing of waste water.
About 60% of this recent surge of Covid-19 is caused by the Omicron subvariant EG.5. The newest variant, BA.2.86, that was traversing Europe made its way to Canada last week. The debate remains whether we are entering another full Covid-19 wave or just seeing a moderate rise in cases. Regardless, it is thought that this wave or rise will be here for a few months. The good news is, it is predicted that most people will not get very sick with it although it is yet to be determined how the latest variant will impact us. Which brings us to the next question; When should I get my next Covid-19 booster?
The original bivalent vaccine that became available last Fall will most likely not be as effective against these new variants. Therefore, the thought is we should wait until the new boosters are available which will most likely be mid to late Fall. Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax are designing a Covid-19 vaccine that targets the XBB spike protein which would work well against the EG.5 variant. Waiting for the new vaccine might be the answer for the young and/or healthy individuals. The answer is not so clear, however, for the people that are at high risk of getting seriously ill. Waiting for the new booster increases their risk of illness now but getting the old booster will delay getting the new one. The original bivalent will provide some protection and possibly prevent you from having an acute infection. This decision might be best be made after a discussion with your health care provider to weigh the pros and cons.
For the rest of us, there is a strong chance you have some immunity from a prior Covid-19 infection and will likely have some immunity if you have kept up with your vaccines all along. Though our immunity will not prevent these latest infections, it will most likely help reduce the severity of them.
With the cooler weather, earlier sunsets and a new school year beginning, we will be finding ourselves participating in more indoor activities once again. This will also aid the spread of Covid-19 to higher levels. So, it looks like the surge of Covid-19 cases is going to come on much sooner than the availability of the newest vaccines. What can we do in the meantime?
- First off, stay home from work/school if you are sick, whether it is from Covid-19 or another communicable illness.
- Avoid others, if possible, that are ill
- Wear a mask if you have been in contact with someone sick
- Wash your hands thoroughly and often. Some of us might have gotten a little lax with the hand-washing of late
- To boost your immune system, eat a healthy diet full of the following;
– Vitamin C which protects the body from toxins that cause inflammation and can be found in citrus fruits and juices, red and green peppers, cooked broccoli, strawberries, brussel sprouts
– Vitamin B6 which helps produce white blood cells and T-cells to fight off virus and bacteria and can be found in chickpeas, beef, cold-water fish, chicken breasts, turkey, fortified cereals, potatoes, bananas
– Vitamin E which is one of the most effective nutrients for your immune function. You are best to get your vitamin E naturally through food and not take a supplement since it has been shown to be harmful in some cases. Rather, fill your diet with wheat germ oil, seeds, nuts, spinach, broccoli, kiwi, tomatoes.
– Zinc which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and helps your immune cells to work properly. You may find zinc in oysters, beef, blue crab, pumpkin seeds, turkey breast, cheddar cheese, shrimp, lentils, Greek yogourt
– Selenium helps to activate your immune system and can be found in brazil nuts, tuna, halibut, lean meats, cottage cheese, brown rice, eggs, oatmeal, lentils, nuts and seeds
– Increasing your water intake can boost your immune system and eat more hydrating foods like cucumbers, celery and watermelon.
– Reduce dehydrating beverages such as coffee, tea, soda
– Regular exercise can boost your immune system.
Despite all our best efforts, sometimes we still succumb to illness. If that happens, the best thing you can do is allow plenty of time for your body to rest and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. A saltwater gargle using 1.25ml – 2.5ml (¼-1/2 tsp) salt in 8 ounces of warm water can help soothe your sore throat. There are many lozenges and throat sprays on the market which can also provide some relief. Sucking on ice chips can help as well.
Nasal congestion and stuffiness is a common complaint and using a nasal saline drop or spray can be used to alleviate these symptoms. Some old-fashioned remedies that your grandma suggested still hold true today such as having a bowl of chicken noodle soup. Sipping on warm liquids such as a soup and teas can relieve both a sore throat and congestion. Adding honey to your tea is another ancient remedy which may help with your throat and reduce a cough. Humidifying the air though the use of a vaporizer or humidifier may also help to reduce congestion. Since the water is a great breeding ground for bacteria, be sure to change the water daily and clean the unit.
You may also opt to treat your sore throat, headache or general aches and pains with pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen depending on your medical profile. Check with your pharmacist or other health care practitioner for dosing and be sure to mention if you are also taking cough/cold medications as well since they may also include pain relievers. There are many cough/cold remedies available for self selection but it is important to note that they do not prevent nor shorten the number of days you will feel ill. They just might offer some temporary relief of some of your symptoms. However, depending on the ingredients within your selected cold remedy, it may wreak havoc with your blood pressure and heart rate and sleep.
Another remedy to ponder is echinacea but the data on it is varied. Some studies show no benefit to echinacea where others mention that it can not only reduce the severity but also shorten the duration of your symptoms. The trick to get the most benefit from echinacea is to begin taking it at the first sign of your symptoms and to continue taking it for 7 to 10 days. Though it is safe to take for most of us, the only downside is it does have many drug interactions so before you do opt to take echinacea for yourself, check with a health care practitioner to make sure it is safe for you to take.
Zinc is another supplement that has mixed reviews. There are some studies that report a reduced length of illness by one day, especially if it is started within the first 2 days of onset of symptoms.
Lastly, another product that might be considered is Cold-FX which is a patented formula of American ginseng. It is available as a Cold-FX Daily Support which is a supplement to take during the offending season to reduce your risk of getting sick. Another product in this line is Cold-FX First Signs and includes echinacea along with the ginseng and is to be taken at the first signs of illness.
Due to the few interactions with these supplements, before you decide to go ahead with any of them, check with your health care provider or pharmacist to make sure it is safe for you to take.
For more information on this or any other health topic, contact your pharmacist.