My Common-Sense Guide to Viruses and Pandemics (for Moms)

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I recently spent a long day interviewing medical experts about the current global pandemic and what it could mean for us all individually and societally. When Hurricane Michael caused massive devastation several years ago, I wrote a post about emergency preparedness, but after my research and interviews today, I felt that this current situation deserves its own type of approach.

I’m going to share tips from experts and what my family is doing to stay healthy and prepare for potential social distancing scenarios or shortages of supplies. Nothing in this post is meant to be medical or health advice, and I’m not commenting on the severity of the virus. I am not a doctor or immunologist and I recommend reading articles like this one from Dr. Elisa Song for the medical implications.

Also, here’s a detailed podcast I recorded with recommendations from Dr. Elisa Song.

My Personal Take on Pandemics

On a personal level, I’m not too worried about anyone in my immediate family if any of us get the virus. There are no reported deaths in children under 9 and it exhibits with mild symptoms even in most adults (except elderly populations). That said, the biggest concern I heard today from researchers and doctors is that a quick spike in cases could overwhelm the medical system and lead to major healthcare and economic problems down the road. For this reason, they are strongly encouraging us all to take steps to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread if possible.

I’ve detailed many of these measures below but common recommendations from experts include:

  • Thorough and frequent hand washing (this is a great video on how to wash hands properly, for kids and maybe some adults too!)
  • Minimizing unnecessary social contact and avoiding large groups
  • Postponing non-essential travel (for now)
  • Monitoring for symptoms and avoiding going out in public if symptomatic

This post is simply to share what I’m doing and would love to hear your opinion in the comments. Please join the conversation in a respectful and helpful way.

Prepare for More Time at Home

The most recent reports indicate that many of us might be spending more time at home over the next few weeks and months. Schools and universities are closing. Offices are adjusting policies. Grocery stores are selling out of food and household supplies. Experts are recommending voluntary social distancing as much as possible. For now, these measures are voluntary, but it’s a great idea to be prepared with what we need at home either way.

Their reasoning? The more we can slow the spread of the virus and flatten the curve, the less serious it should be nation and worldwide and the more of a chance our healthcare system has of being able to handle it.

While the Instagram world is filled with jokes about people being more worried about being stuck at home with their kids for two weeks than the virus itself… being in our homes for long periods of time is a possibility at this point and one that we should all rationally prepare for.

We already homeschool, but since travel and activities may be canceled, we’ll be focusing on things we want to do but can’t always make time for, like:

I also have the Bored Jar and our Adventure Points system ready and waiting if needed!

Stock Up on Essentials (Without Stockpiling)

If you’ve been to any store, you’ve likely already noticed that a lot of common items are selling out. Hand sanitizer is not available anywhere and even the ingredients to make it are in limited supply. I’m sharing links to items I’ve ordered and also substitutes for times when basic items are not available.

What I’m Stocking:

Protect Our Home Environment

My house is still the hangout spot for all the neighborhood kids (who are all now home from school) so I’ve stocked up on healthy foods, but am also taking these measures to help slow or minimize potential spread:

  • Using Air Filters: I’ve been keeping our Air Doctor and Air Oasis machines running non-stop. Here’s my review of my favorite air filters.
  • Diffusing Essential Oils: I grabbed a couple extra diffusers and stocked up on Plant Therapy Essential Oils (Germ Fighter, Defender, ImmuneAid, RespirAid, Calming the Child, and others).
  • Extra Hand Washing: Experts agree that hand washing is one of the best steps we can take to stop the spread and minimize our chances of getting it. I stocked up on liquid castile soap and am making big batches of my homemade foaming hand soap with added Plant Therapy Germ Destroyer essential oil. I’m reminding everyone to wash their hands with warm water and soap for at least 30 seconds especially after being out in public places.
  • Hand Sanitizer: I’ve also made big batches of my homemade hand sanitizer recipe to keep on hand when we are out of the house. I don’t normally use hand sanitizer but do at times like this and just added a recipe to that post for an alcohol-based version that meets current recommendations. If you are searching for a pre-made hand sanitizer, my Wellnesse line has one that is based off of my DIY recipe.
  • Saline Nasal Irrigation: Another step I always take this time of year.

Focus on Our Immune Systems

Even when there isn’t a global pandemic, it’s a good idea to bolster our immune systems this time of year. These are good things to do during cold and flu season anyway.

  • Vitamin C: I stocked up on bulk ascorbic acid and food-based vitamin C capsules.
  • Vitamin D: In our podcast episode, Dr. Elisa Song explained that having good vitamin D levels is important for avoiding respiratory complications. It won’t keep us from getting sick but it has been shown to shorten duration and lessen severity. I keep these high-dose drops on hand and test our levels to make sure we are in safe range.
  • Genexa Remedies for Comfort: In case any of us get any of the things going around, I keep Genexa Cold Crush and Flu Fix on hand to lessen symptoms.
  • Bone Broth: Contains amino acids that are immune-supporting. I just stocked up on Kettle and Fire Broth since it is also non-perishable and great to have on hand.
  • Get More Sleep: Sleep deprivation can weaken the immune system. This time of year, it’s important to get enough high quality sleep. This post has some tips.

It’s important to remember that although concern is high, our bodies are equipped with an incredible system of defense, which we should support in any way we can.

Useful DIY Recipes as Items Become Unavailable

We’ve all read the stories about store shelves emptying out. If you’re looking for the following items, consider making them yourself as in most cases you can still get the ingredients.

Here are the recipes:

I’ll keep updating this post as other ideas come to me. Solidarity to all of the moms wondering and researching out there right now. We are in this together!

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Are you worried about everything going on? What steps are you taking? Share below! 

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

31 responses to “My Common-Sense Guide to Viruses and Pandemics (for Moms)”

  1. Christy Avatar
    Christy

    Hi, I am wondering how you are handling the pandemic and risks now, several months later as states are trying to ramp up again and facing spikes of infection rates? I have family that lives just down the street and everyone seems to have a different view. I’m cautious and do grocery pickups or use thrive market and wear masks on the rare occasion we do go out. I have a high risk type 1 diabetic teenager and I’m 5 months pregnant. My sister’s family scoffs at the mask-wearing masses and doesn’t avoid in-store interactions, etc. As this has evolved, who are you listening to for advice, insight & future guidance? To me, it seems like the real risk lies in the ability of non-symptomatic individuals to carry viral loads as high as those battling this thing in the ICU and therefore carry it unknowingly to the highest at-risk groups if caution is simply thrown to the wind. I think the natural-minded community is stepping back to humbly listen to the experiences and discoveries rather than jumping to conclusions at this unprecedented time but would love to know if you’ve gained any insights you could share. Thank you again for being a resource to others!

  2. Jenny Avatar

    Can you give a update on Games of Genius? Likes, dislikes, time spent on it?

    1. Katie Wells Avatar

      It is very short- under ten minutes a day. I’ve enjoyed doing it with my kids, and they are working on updates to the program that should make it even better.

  3. Kristen Avatar

    Thanks for the post! The kids have been home from school and I am working from home for the foreseeable future. I wasn’t too worried about it, but everyone else’s panic is now getting to me sometimes. Now I’m just praying it passes quickly because all Masses have been cancelled indefinitely. 🙁 Hoping things change before Holy Week/Easter.

  4. Rose ANEY Avatar
    Rose ANEY

    I would like to know if elderberry tea is good for allergies..I’m a senior and can’t get into my Gmail so could you please reply to me on here Thank you Rose

  5. Emily Avatar

    Any advice for pregnant women? I am in my third trimester and of course my health and the health of my baby is my top priority!!

  6. Lkndsey Avatar

    Thanks for this great post. Do you use the Same vitamin D drops for yourself and the kids?

      1. Kristen Avatar

        Just curious why you don’t take the D3+K2…I was under the impression they needed to be taken together?

  7. Douglas Avatar

    It sounds like you are getting your info from Fox news. COVID 19 is indeed an extremely contagious virus with more often than not, violently intense lower respiratory conditions. You may want to speak with some of the people who have legitimately survived the infection. It is important to stress that families should absolutely restrain from all social interactions for the foreseeable future. This is not a naturally occurring virus, there is no known treatment and no living organisms have an immunity to it. China has seen limited success with high dose vitamin C treatment and is currently running trials to determine if it can be instituted as a treatment.

    1. Katie Wells Avatar

      I’m definitely not watching any of the mainstream news sources but have read reports from the CDC and talked to local ER doctors in my area. I don’t think anything I said diminishes the potential severity of the virus, just explained that my immediate family is in a low risk group based on the data.

      1. Pat Avatar

        With all due respect, that comment about interacting with your small group of friends will be read by your very large readership and some will exercise common sense and others will not. A comment like that doesn’t help flatten the curve – it actively worsens things and means we’re all in quarantine longer. The latest reports are calling into question that the virus is only severe for elderly people. Every doctor I know in my personal life is more scared about this than they have ever been about anything.

        Please consider your social responsibility. And as a fellow catholic, please reconsider adopting the “don’t worry, it just affects the old people” attitude. Imagine being elderly and hearing over and over again that nobody was really too worried about this virus because it “just” is severe for elderly people. They matter too. You might not worry that your child will develop complications but are you worried about the moral implications of passing it along to someone who does die?

        I know you have to strike a balance by staying as neutral as possible on topics that have become (bafflingly) polarizing to maximize your readership but this is the time to step up and do better.

        No play dates. No matter how much you feel close to your neighbors. You’ve lost me as a reader.

        1. Katie Wells Avatar

          I’m interacting with a small group of friends in a closed off dead end neighborhood with no one having outside contact. I’ve consulted both doctors and a friend at the CDC about this. We aren’t going anywhere and the curve is already flattening in the US. The data still shows that this virus is mild in the vast majority of cases. Of course, it is horrible if anyone has serious complications or dies from this virus and I do take it seriously to not risk passing it on to anyone in those groups. That said, if we run the actual numbers… we have an average 1-5% chance of catching it in public even if we come into contact with it. I’ve even read that if someone in your home has it, the risk of catching it is only 10%. In the US, our total cases and per capita cases are actually much lower than places like Italy who have more strict quarantine right now. At the same time, the fear and panic are tanking the economy and this will have tremendous negative long term consequences. I agree that we all have an obligation to act responsibly, but I think the data points a different picture of what that looks like and I would argue that we also have a responsibility to evaluate the data and consider the long term ramifications and not just buy into the hysteria at face value. Some background data on this:

          The World Health Organization (“WHO”) released a study on how China responded to COVID-19. Currently, this study is one of the most exhaustive pieces published on how the virus spreads.

          The results of their research show that COVID-19 doesn’t spread as easily as we first thought or the media had us believe (remember people abandoned their dogs out of fear of getting infected). According to their report if you come in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 you have a 1–5% chance of catching it as well. The variability is large because the infection is based on the type of contact and how long.

          The majority of viral infections come from prolonged exposures in confined spaces with other infected individuals. Person-to-person and surface contact is by far the most common cause. From the WHO report, “When a cluster of several infected people occurred in China, it was most often (78–85%) caused by an infection within the family by droplets and other carriers of infection in close contact with an infected person.

          From the CDC’s study on transmission in China and Princess Cruise outbreak –

          A growing body of evidence indicates that COVID-19 transmission is facilitated in confined settings; for example, a large cluster (634 confirmed cases) of COVID-19 secondary infections occurred aboard a cruise ship in Japan, representing about one fifth of the persons aboard who were tested for the virus. This finding indicates the high transmissibility of COVID-19 in enclosed spaces

          Dr. Paul Auwaerter, the Clinical Director for the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine echoes this finding,

          “If you have a COVID-19 patient in your household, your risk of developing the infection is about 10%….If you were casually exposed to the virus in the workplace (e.g., you were not locked up in conference room for six hours with someone who was infected [like a hospital]), your chance of infection is about 0.5%”

          1. denise Avatar

            THANK YOU!!! That was well said. People are in such a panic that they are ready to cut their nose off to spite their face. I talked to my health care professionals and they said that there is way too much hype. What are we going to do when there is a real emergency? What is the fall out from this going to be? There are untold consequences that have more to do with hysteria and panic. I do believe that we need to get out and live! Sunlight and fresh air are great sanitizers.. Kids need to be out and about moving!

            Are we going to do this with every flu outbreak?

          2. Douglas Avatar
            Douglas

            Unfortunately, this blog has turned into a small dead end neighborhood. The northeast is about a week and a half ahead of the rest of the states. Take a look what has, and is happening there now; this is coming your way ready or not. You are not looking ahead to stem the spread but instead sitting around avoiding it. The last of your blogs I”ll sit through; I’m out.

          3. Alyssa Avatar

            And.l nOw Florida has another spike. … does your family wear masks? Dr Elisa song’s children even contracted Covid and one had to be hospitalized – I get the vibe you don’t take this seriously as well and it’s being down played

          4. Matthew Avatar

            Just for anyone reading this now or in the future, it’s important to note that the 10% figure turned out to be a significant underestimation and the risk was much higher in practice. Also while the initial infection in many people was mild, a significant number of younger, healthy people died, and long COVID affects about 1 in 10 non-elderly adults, and was much more likely to affect children, teenagers, and people in their twenties and early thirties than older adults. Young children are also at risk of multisystem inflammatory disease which causes multi-organ failure, even when they were asymptomatic with COVID-19.

    2. Ellen Avatar

      Personal insults are tasteless and unkind. There is no place for that here. There have been more deaths from the flu in my state so far than COVID19 and no media outlet seems to care about that. That fact is from our state department of health, not FOX. PENNSYLVANIA.

      1. Matthew Avatar

        Unfortunately all too many people thing flu and a common cold are one and the same, so they don’t see how serious real flu actually is. On the other hand, COVID-19 in its first few months claimed more lives than even a particularly bad flu season, in both the UK and the USA and the two are not comparable. That said, the lack of public care towards influenza is disgraceful and not only that, but plainly dangerous beyond the risks of flu itself: scientific advisors have been concerned for years about the risk of a serious flu pandemic like what we saw with COVID-19 and certainly in the UK, had been battling the government for years to fund pandemic prevention research, drills, and emergency planning which the government repeatedly failed to do. So when COVID-19 hit, the government had no idea what to do in a pandemic and we all know what has happened as a result.

  8. Katie Avatar

    Thank you for these tips! I am trying not to worry, but be prepared and pray. I have been using your Elderberry syrup recipe as immune support for my family all winter, but especially right now! We’ve also been trying to get outside every day. I hope the weather will start to get warmer where we are soon so we can be outside more!

  9. Eileen Avatar

    So many great tips, thanks so much for your calm and practical approach.

    I just want to add that regular movement (such as rebounding, walking or T-Tapp workouts) and moderate amounts of sunshine can help the immune system as well, manage stress, and help elevate mood.

    Also, steering clear of sugar has many short and long-term health benefits, too.

    And of course, laughter is a great thing for health, too! 🙂

  10. Danielle Avatar
    Danielle

    Are you staying home and not having guests over? Are you still going to parks?

  11. Julie M. Duke Avatar
    Julie M. Duke

    Not really worried but have recently read a couple of reports stating that elderberry should not be used for this virus, citing that the mechanism of action would create a kind of cytokine storm in the system, increasing inflammation in the lungs. I’m just wondering if you have spoken to any medical professionals regarding this? Thank you!

    1. Katie Wells Avatar

      Great question… I am focused more on Vitamin C and Vitmain D for now, but this is what Dr. Elisa Song says about it…

      While it’s true that some people have sadly died from influenza and other infections due to a “cytokine storm,” please remember that this is a RARE occurrence and that the media highlights the few and very sad cases of people who die from influenza (some due to cytokine storm, some not), and of course doesn’t highlight the 1000s of people who get influenza every year and do not die, including the many who have zero or very mild symptoms.

      While we don’t understand the exact pathophysiology of the cytokine storm, we know it’s NOT just a problem of immune system OVERREACTION, it’s also a problem of immune system UNDERREACTION. The parts of the immune system that create inflammation are in overdrive, and the parts of the immune system that are supposed to REGULATE and bring this inflammation back to equilibrium is not active enough. Remember – INFLAMMATION is NOT always bad.. Inflammation is our body’s normal response to infection and stress. We need inflammation to heal. But inflammation that goes unregulated is the REAL problem. The cytokine storm involves dysregulation between PRO-inflammatory cytokines, ANTI-inflammatory cytokines, and REGULATORY cytokines.

      And playing into this is a lack of antioxidants in most of our diets (think colorful fruits and vegetables), Vitamins A, C, E, and glutathione to mop up those free radicals that are produced when we’re sick with any infection. This is similar to what occurs in chronic inflammatory conditions and autoimmune illnesses, but not as dramatically as what has been coined the “cytokine storm.”

      Do I think that elderberry can trigger or make a cytokine storm more likely when you have influenza? I really don’t. The centuries of use of elderberry and data on its activity against the influenza virus, its immunoprotective and antioxidant effects leave me with very little concern that its “immunostimulatory effects” will cause your immune system to go haywire. Elderberry has been shown to increase BOTH PRO-inflammatory cytokines and ANTI-inflammatory cytokines, and REDUCE oxidative stress (oxidative stress = free radicals) and may help to REGULATE inflammatory disease like autoimmunity. There have not been case reports of elderberry-induced cytokine storms, and I have not stopped using elderberry for my kids or my patients, even with autoimmune disease. But as with anything, it’s always best to check with your naturopathic or functional medicine doctor!

      1. Matthew Avatar

        This is true for influenza and in the cases of cytokine storm, the likelihood that it was elderberry that tipped them over the edge is difficult to determine. Not impossible, but unless you have been told by a medical doctor not to use elderberry (most medical doctors, no matter how sceptical and questioning of the pros of elderberry, will only tell someone categorically NOT to take it if there is very genuine risk so please do talk to one, or to a pharmacist!) not really a reason to stop taking elderberry.

        COVID-19 is a different beast from influenza though and it’s worth remembering that in every interaction you have with it and its treatments and prevention. Cytokine storms and similar conditions are much more common with COVID-19 than with influenza, this is why it’s such a concern. If you get COVID-19 it’s probably best to stop taking the elderberry. However there’s no issue taking it preventatively! In fact, numerous high quality studies have shown that that is how elderberry is effective, and that once you’ve actually *got* a viral illness, the elderberry won’t actually add anything. Its protective effect builds up *before* you get ill.

        So in short, probably a good one to take in general but I would recommend stopping it temporarily *while* you have COVID-19 and let its protective effects do their thing without the small-but-not-as-small-as-flu risk of cytokine storm, while there is no robust evidence that it is categorically safe during infection.

  12. Molly Avatar

    Hi Katie…there is an article going around about how elderberry syrup can actually cause more harm than good when it comes to covid-19 but I’m thinking the research isn’t legitimate. What’s your take on elderberry syrup during the outbreak and for the remainder of this cold and flu season?

    1. Katie Wells Avatar

      I’d definitely ask your doctor or practitioner. I can see a case for avoiding it and sticking to Vitamin C and Vitamin D instead, but this is what one source I trust says… from Dr. Elisa Song:

      While it’s true that some people have sadly died from influenza and other infections due to a “cytokine storm,” please remember that this is a RARE occurrence and that the media highlights the few and very sad cases of people who die from influenza (some due to cytokine storm, some not), and of course doesn’t highlight the 1000s of people who get influenza every year and do not die, including the many who have zero or very mild symptoms.

      While we don’t understand the exact pathophysiology of the cytokine storm, we know it’s NOT just a problem of immune system OVERREACTION, it’s also a problem of immune system UNDERREACTION. The parts of the immune system that create inflammation are in overdrive, and the parts of the immune system that are supposed to REGULATE and bring this inflammation back to equilibrium is not active enough. Remember – INFLAMMATION is NOT always bad.. Inflammation is our body’s normal response to infection and stress. We need inflammation to heal. But inflammation that goes unregulated is the REAL problem. The cytokine storm involves dysregulation between PRO-inflammatory cytokines, ANTI-inflammatory cytokines, and REGULATORY cytokines.

      And playing into this is a lack of antioxidants in most of our diets (think colorful fruits and vegetables), Vitamins A, C, E, and glutathione to mop up those free radicals that are produced when we’re sick with any infection. This is similar to what occurs in chronic inflammatory conditions and autoimmune illnesses, but not as dramatically as what has been coined the “cytokine storm.”

      Do I think that elderberry can trigger or make a cytokine storm more likely when you have influenza? I really don’t. The centuries of use of elderberry and data on its activity against the influenza virus, its immunoprotective and antioxidant effects leave me with very little concern that its “immunostimulatory effects” will cause your immune system to go haywire. Elderberry has been shown to increase BOTH PRO-inflammatory cytokines and ANTI-inflammatory cytokines, and REDUCE oxidative stress (oxidative stress = free radicals) and may help to REGULATE inflammatory disease like autoimmunity. There have not been case reports of elderberry-induced cytokine storms, and I have not stopped using elderberry for my kids or my patients, even with autoimmune disease. But as with anything, it’s always best to check with your naturopathic or functional medicine doctor!

    2. Clau Stel Avatar
      Clau Stel

      I also read a couple weeks ago an article by the famous and highly educated Dr Jon Barron about elderberries and cytokine storm, very informative, please all should look at it.

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