As an M.D. I’ve learnt to rely on drugs, vaccines and increasingly costly lab tests. This month however, it’s been increasingly stressful going to my clinic daily and dealing not only with patients’ illnesses but also their anxieties over Covid-19. I have reminded myself of my earlier days as a respiratory physician, before I specialised in Light/ Integrative Medicine. I’m not overly concerned about my safety – doctors have dealt with infectious disease for millennia – however, reassuring and the positivity required to uplift the community is undoubtedly hard work.
The Coronavirus epidemic has brought me back to my earlier days, where I worked at a Tuberculosis ward in Hong Kong in the 80s. Tuberculosis, a third world disease in a first world country, which in it’s heyday of the 18th Century, was responsible for one third of deaths in Europe.
Tuberculosis had so much in common with coronavirus in that they are both very infective respiratory droplet-spread infectious diseases which destroy the lungs quickly through inflammation and cytokine (immune) storms. It was also zoonotic, spreading from Africa through cows and goats, and probably reaching to shores in South America through seals carrying it afar.
I remember clearly working in the TB ward, with no A/C and in very hot and humid temperatures ranging from 30 degrees Celsius, where patients approximately 100lbs men who had been homeless or opium addicts (rare in those days but present) often had ‘multi drug resistant’ tuberculosis. As with this new epidemic, there was no drug treatment if the nurses or I got infected. However, we kept our immune systems strong and resilient and fortunately, we didn’t get infected.
History in a Crisis – Lessons Learned
Looking back, I do feel we learn from history. As we know, it repeats itself and this pandemic, has occurred previously in another shape or form. However, as time passes, we tend to forget our lessons learned. I truly believe that we, ‘stand on the shoulders of those who go before us’, but to do so and benefit from our heritage, we need to drop our proud concepts that not only are we the best version of mankind, but also the most superior species in the Universe! With our rational and logical mindset, we should look back to our historical roots and truths, to learn how to navigate this pandemic and keep ourselves in the best frame of mind.
From my previous medical experiences, I now observe three things. Firstly, even with limited means of transportation 300 years ago, TB was spread through trade routes across continents. Modern society is now homogenous, so what happened in China or Hong Kong in February should be good warning for the World to be prepared, as no country is isolated. As we know, this virus knows no borders or boundaries.
In New York in the mid 19th century, there were three times the number of deaths in Blacks as Whites. We are seeing this disproportioned ratio of colored people affected today. Actually, infectious disease does discriminate. More can be said about this – overcrowding for obvious reasons, and poverty as poor nutrition leads to poor immune systems.
Public Health Success in Infectious Disease
The third and positive thing here is that although we have been conditioned into only having hope for the ‘magic bullets’ of drugs and vaccines (sadly, this may be some time away with Covid-19) there are other solutions. History shows that in the case of TB, 90% of the infection and death rate was reduced, prior to the widespread adoption of the BCG vaccine after 1930.
Success was achieved not only through drugs or through x-rays but also through simple public health measures. Specifically in the 17th and 18th Centuries, ideas of nutrition, hygiene, sanitation and reducing overcrowding were new. As therapy, patients were sent to isolated hospitals – Sanatoria in the Swiss mountains with clean air, good food, rest and relative distancing.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, ‘King Of Heliotherapy’ Dr Auguste Rollier cured 80% of his infectious TB patients through sunlight exposure in addition to these other measures. Their immune systems responded to this treatment very well and most improved. During this time, the risk of contracting TB dropped from 330 cases per 100,000 in 1856, to 33 per 100,000 in 1950 — a 90% drop!
Boosting Our Immune System
Now modern science tells us that the Vitamin D from sunlight improves healing rates in TB, due to the dampening of immune over-reactivity. We now know now, more than ever before, the incredible healing effects of sunlight components such as U.V. and Infrared Light.
In the 17-20th Century days of contagion, disease was reduced by hygiene, sanitation and reducing overcrowding. The modern equivalent now is of course hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing.
This is certainly positive news as we are far from finding a vaccine with no drug treatments available as yet. It is empowering to know, that even though this is the case, there is something we can all do now to stop the spread of the virus and take better care of ourselves and our families. We are in this together and together, we will overcome this virus and look back at these times in the near future, as lessons learned.