Dr Leila Masson's Blog

Corona Virus and your children’s health

Corona Virus and your children’s health

Social distancing

The best way of reducing the spread the virus is to stay away from other people. If you are unwell with a cold or cough you must absolutely isolate. But if you don’t have any symptoms you may still be infectious while still in the incubation period which lasts on average 5-10 days. If we all practice social distancing, and ideally social isolation, we can “flatten the curve” – which means we will slow down new infections, so hospitals can take care of the sick and have enough respirators for the critically ill. If we continue to mingle, more people will be infected at once and hospitals are going to run out of beds and respirators and will have to triage whom they can save, as they are now doing in Italy – intensive care beds are given to younger people who have a better chance of survival and older people are left to die.

Should you keep your children at home?

In my opinion, everyone who can stay home should and the sooner we do this the better. We are a couple of weeks behind Europe where schools are now closed – and many countries now regret that this was not done sooner. Children generally do not get a serious illness, but they can still transmit the virus to vulnerable, older people and those with pre-existing health conditions.

If your child has an immune or a lung disorder – such as asthma, PANS/PANDAS, immune deficiencies, cystic fibrosis, etc – they should stay home for their own protection.

There are many ways of keeping your children busy and engaged at home: read books, do craft projects; online learning is already used all over Australia and I expect schools to take this up soon; my son’s favourite academic pastime when he was younger was Khan Academy – it is free, excellent teaching in all subject areas, fun, and they even have a daily schedule for children 4-18 years old at the moment; you can take music lessons online or learn a new language; and here is a link to 30 cool virtual field trips.

What can you do to boost your children’s immune system (and yours)?
The 3 S’:

Sleep – Sugar – Stress

Sleep enough – your immune system works much more efficiently when you are rested: sleep deprivation affects your T cells which fight viral infections. If your children struggle with sleep you may want to try giving them chamomile tea, magnesium: pumpkin seeds and other nuts and seeds are high in magnesium, and so are vegetables and black beans - and you can give magnesium as a bath, cream, or supplements. I recommend using a calming bedtime routine, maybe try the Smiling Mind or another app with calming music, bedtime stories, or relaxation exercises.

Cut down on sugar: sugar directly reduces the ability of white blood cells to fight infection. A highly processed and sugary diet makes your body more acidic which also affects the immune system’s fighting power and makes it easier for a virus to enter into our cells. Increase vegetables in the diet to at least 5 servings (a serving is whatever fits into the scooped hand of a person, so a small hand means a smaller serving size); have 2 servings of fruit a day; at least one serving of legumes and one serving of nuts and seeds; eat mushrooms as they can boost the immune system and if you put them in the sunshine for an hour before you eat them they will produce vitamin D; drink plenty of water and no soft or fizzy drinks, no juice (unless freshly squeezed). An unprocessed, whole foods diet with mostly plants is the best way to boost your immune system.

Stress: it is hard not to be stressed in this uncertain situation with daily changes in what we are supposed to do or not do, watching the news about people dying, the fear of losing work, and for Australians of course the shocking closure of their favourite beaches. If you are stressed, your children will pick that up and be stressed as well. From many years of research in psycho-neuro-immunology we know that our immune systems fail in times of stress and that more people get sick. So what can we do to counteract the uncertainty, the bad news, the worry for our loved ones? Start by breathing – breathe deeply and slowly through the nose. Just concentrate on this for a minute or two and you will already feel calmer. Then think of what may help to calm you and your children down: playing your favourite music, dancing, mindfulness, yoga, drawing, cooking, reading, a walk in nature (as long as we are still allowed to do that). Find what works for you and do it, every day.

Supplements: Zinc, Vitamin D and C

Many people in Australia and New Zealand (and the USA as well) have low zinc stores in their bodies as our soils are depleted; food grown on soils low in zinc will be low in zinc. Zinc is essential to fight infection, so you really need a good level right now. If you have white spots on your fingernails (check your children’s too) that may be a sign of low zinc. To boost your zinc levels quickly, take a supplement – you can get powders, drops, tablets or capsules. You can check the maintenance and the tolerable upper level dose here.

Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, kills viruses, reduces the risk of viral infections and severe infections, and inflammation. Coronavirus infection causes overwhelming inflammation in the body. So get your vitamin D levels to optimal – at least above 80nmol/L, ideally around 100nmol/L. If you are lucky enough to be outdoors a lot you can get vitamin D from sunshine, otherwise get a supplement, especially in the winter, when the sun is at an angle at which it does not produce enough vitamin D in our skin.

Vitamin C is essential for the production and function of white blood cells – the cells needed to kill viruses; it also reduces inflammation and helps with tissue repair. Stress and infection use up vitamin C so you may have low stores right now. So do get plenty of vitamin C either from fresh vegetables and fruit (grapefruit is my fave) or take a supplement, liposomal is best. Check here for dosage recommendations.

If you or your children get sick:

What are the symptoms of Covid-19? The main symptoms are fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath. Most young people will have a mild illness, like a cold. The reason young people do not get very sick with this virus is because they have healthier lungs and have been exposed to less pollution over their lifetime compared to the elderly.

In a review of 2143 children with Covid19 infection in China 4% had no symptoms; half of the children had mild symptoms – fever fatigue, cough congestion, possibly nausea and diarrhoea; 39% were moderately sick with pneumonia but no obvious shortness of breath; and 6% got very sick with dire respiratory symptoms; one 14 year old boy died.

For some good news: another study looked at 4 babies born to mothers with corona infection and all 4 babies were healthy – the virus was not transmitted to them.


Older people, especially those with underlying health conditions or weak immune systems are at an increased risk of getting a serious illness and death. People over 80 years have a 20% chance of dying – that is why it is so important to protect them from getting infected.

The corona virus binds to the ACE 2 receptor which causes inflammation, making the lungs hard and unable to do their job of getting oxygen into the body and CO2 out of the body. This receptor is more expressed in people who take ACE inhibitor medications for high blood pressure; and it is less expressed in young children – making them less vulnerable to Covid-19.

In severe infection the aggressive immune response to the viral infection creates destructive inflammation in the lungs and other organs.

Inflammatory interleukins, histamine, and neutrophil invasion cause acute respiratory distress syndrome. The lung does not get filled with pus as in bacterial pneumonia, but gets inflamed and hardened, cannot produce surfactant, and the alveoli, small air sacs in the lung, collapse and oxygen cannot go into the blood, causing hypoxia (a low level of oxygen in the body). The oxidative stress from the infection puts an additional burden on the body and uses up antioxidants.

For the most up to date information on all things corona check out the Johns Hopkins website.


So what should you do and what should you not do if you or your child gets sick?

Stay well hydrated; do not drink alcohol as corona and alcohol do not mix well.

Rest

Eat extra antioxidants to reduce inflammation to protect your lung cells:

Food: Blueberries, beetroot, spinach, brussel sprouts, cumin seeds, ginger, cloves, turmeric, cinnamon

Keep taking your vitamin C, D, zinc.

Consider taking Quercetin, a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory found in fruits and vegetables inhibits corona virus infection by inhibiting an enzyme, stopping the virus from getting into cells, and reducing inflammation; researchers from Canada are doing a treatment trial with quercetin.

Astragalus, rhubarb, and licorice have all been found to have some effect against the virus by stopping the virus from getting into our cells or inhibiting enzymes the virus needs to multiply. However, people with high blood pressure should not take licorice.

Many of the world’s best virologists, epidemiologists and scientists are studying new treatments for corona and give us hope that an effective medication or combination will be found soon. In a small trial the combination of a well-known malaria medication (chloroquine) and the antibiotic azithromycin shortened the duration of the infection: all 20 patients were free of the virus within 5 days.

The Lancet published an article warning not to use steroids as this could worsen the illness by facilitating an invasion of the virus into lung tissue. The same was thought to be true for ibuprofen, but WHO has retracted their warning and now says there is no evidence that ibuprofen will make the Corona virus infection worse.

If you or a family member have trouble breathing, contact the Corona hot line 800 020 080, your GP, the nearest hospital, or if it is an emergency call 000.


Dr Leila Masson

Sydney based paediatrician specialised in nutritional and environmental medicine. Author of the handy 'Children's Health A to Z' guide for parents. Dr Masson lectures internationally on children's health.

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