The Real Danger of COVID-19 Is Misinformation

One of the biggest killers during any health crisis is a lack of clear communication.

Nothing puts that into clearer perspective more than Walter's story (name changed for privacy). Walter recently started to have panic attacks. The reason: He'd heard that cancer patients were more likely to die from the coronavirus/COVID-19. And the more he read, the more fearful and stressed he became.

He was terrified. He had survived cancer, but now he worried he might not survive this pandemic.

What Walter heard wasn't totally false... If you're currently on immunosuppressing treatment for cancer, you're at a much higher risk for complications and death from COVID-19. Some folks are now faced with the incredibly difficult decision: Do I go to the hospital for chemo and risk getting the virus or stay home and miss my cancer treatment?

But Walter was in remission. He panicked because the news report failed to explain that only folks currently in treatment were at high risk. At more than five years in remission, Walter was likely just fine (especially since he's under 60 and in good health otherwise).

That kind of failure to communicate drives me nuts. Walter's panic attacks could have spiraled to chest pains, which would have required medical care (taxing our already stressed medical facilities). Stress also lowers the immune system, which would leave Walter more vulnerable to infection, too.

Worse, feeling panicked and stressed over something we can't control means we're more likely to search out information to comfort us. Even latching on to ridiculous "at home" tests – like holding your breath for 10 seconds – is a way for us to try and bring a sense of control to our lives. (This is not a test for COVID-19, so don't do it.)

During this time of crisis, we tend to tune in to news sources and forget to view them critically.

Please, follow reputable sources. As I advised in Tuesday's issue, limit your news time to reduce your anxiety. And if you see anything that relates to your own health situation, please call or message your doctor. For example, if you're a current cancer patient or in remission, get real answers from your doctor instead of the Internet. Call your oncologist and ask about your risk and how to stay safe.

I thought I'd take today to dispel some of the rumors I've seen recently. If you have any other questions or if you've heard some claims you aren't sure of, please send them to us, here.

I heard ibuprofen will make COVID-19 worse – should I stop taking it?

We've heard a number of reports that ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ("NSAIDs") could make the coronavirus worse. Unfortunately, we're in a time where the virus and infections move more rapidly than sound scientific research.

The short answer is that we just don't know. If you have a fever or other pains that you want to take ibuprofen for, try to take acetaminophen (like Tylenol) instead. This still reduces fever but won't help with inflammation. It could be an overabundance of caution, but this is a time to be overly cautious.

If you're on ibuprofen or another NSAID (like aspirin or Celebrex) under doctor's orders, continue taking it. If you're exposed to the virus and want to know if you can switch to another medication, get confirmation from your doctor first.

We've heard similar rumors about angiotensin-converting enzyme ("ACE") inhibitors. These are common medications for folks with heart disease. A few reports from China claim that the virus gets into cells by attaching to ACE2 receptors. ACE2 is an enzyme that's critical for maintaining blood pressure. ACE inhibitors make the heart increase how much ACE2 it has. So theoretically, taking these heart meds might increase your risk of having severe cases of COVID-19.

Note that word: theoretically. We still don't have any proof or studies to back this up. Additionally, we've seen experimental models that show these same heart meds actually protect against other types of lung infections.

The real answer here is don't stop taking your heart medications. A joint statement from the American Heart Association, the Heart Failure Society of America, and the American College of Cardiology last week urged folks to keep taking medicines as directed. If your doctor tells you to stop, then do so.

Should I only use antibacterial soap?

Longtime readers know of my hatred for antibacterial soap. That's because these soaps lead to the development of superbugs – drug-resistant bacteria.

Soap of any kind will kill the coronavirus. That's because soap naturally breaks down lipids (oils), including the lipid membrane that surrounds the virus. Using soap and washing your hands for 20 seconds means you're physically killing any virus particles.

Will it disappear by summer?

With any luck, this virus will behave like a few other viruses and contagiousness will diminish in warmer weather. But keep in mind: This is still a guess.

COVID-19 is still a new virus and we're not entirely sure which (if any) of the other coronviruses it will act like. Some are quick to point out that SARS died out once summer came... But the reality is that SARS died out because of quick quarantine measures.

Another point that Marc Lipsitch, Director of Harvard's Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, makes is this: when a virus is new, it will spread even "out of season" because no one has immunity yet. He says this is typical with flu pandemics as well. So we can hope for lessened transmission, but we're foolish to think we can drop our precautions simply because the weather warms up.

Why did you recommend ordering food – won't it carry the virus?

Ordering delivery food won't get you sick. There's no study yet on how long the virus could live on surfaces like plastic bags or even food.

For best practice, only order from places you know well. And don't be shy – feel free to ask the folks there how they are protecting themselves and the food from the virus. They should have precautions in place like gloves and making any workers who feel ill stay home.

In fact, many small businesses will face many losses during this crisis. Supporting your favorite ones could make all the difference. I've already seen three restaurants in New York close for good because they lost too much money.

Drinking constantly will keep the virus from sticking to your throat.

This is complete nonsense. The only thing we can say is that staying hydrated will help your immune system. That's because hydration helps replenish your mucus membranes in your nose. But it's really just a first line of defense. Drinking water to "wash down" any virus particles in your throat is ridiculous.

In a similar vein, drinking hot water or taking hot baths will not kill the virus either.

The best way to fight this pandemic: Arm yourself with information. But as always, "trust but verify." Use reputable sources and if you feel overwhelmed or anxious, limit your news consumption. We'll keep you updated through our Health & Wealth Bulletin, so let your friends and family know they can sign up for more COVID-19 and stock market coverage right here.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
March 26, 2020