When we think, as Christians, about the current Corvid-19 pandemic, it is important to remember that viruses are a natural part of God’s creation, just as we are; and that they will only spread so far and infect only a proportion of people to the extent that they become seriously ill or die. At the same time, it is sensible to take precautions against spreading the infection to people who are most vulnerable. We are seeing and hearing much in the news about minimising the spread of infection, but relatively little about how to maximise our resilience to infection.
From my working life as an academic and teacher of biosciences, I know that two things we can do to optimise our immune response are to consume a healthy diet and to keep warm. The healthy diet will include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, sufficient protein to sustain increased production of immune system cells and immunoglobulins and sufficient energy to avoid any potential immunosuppressant effect of a stress response to inadequate caloric intake. We are already reading of reduced donations to foodbanks and need to consider carefully what can be done to ensure that those whose diet is restricted by poverty or infirmity can be provided with adequate nutrition.
Advising people with a fever to keep warm might seem counterintuitive, but a small increase in core temperature is the body’s best defence against infection because it will increase metabolic rate and activity in the immune system, without a concomitant increase in the resilience of virus particles. Many people take antipyretic analgesics, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to reduce the discomfort of viral illnesses but risk impairing their immune response by counteracting the fever. A more tactical approach, that I have found effective in previous viral infections, is to ‘sweat it out’. So long as the fever is not too severe, i.e. temperature as taken routinely does not exceed 38oC, wearing extra clothes to avoid feeling cold, and resting to minimise physical discomfort could aid recovery.
In the meantime, follow the guidelines given by the NHS and the department of health, regarding one’s own and others’ health, aiming to maximise outcomes and stay as well as possible.
These suggestions must, of course, be viewed in relation to the circumstances of each individual. What works for a robust 70-something who can afford to rest and recuperate at leisure will not be applicable to all.
Revd Prof Helen L Leathard
Trustee of the Guild of Health & St Raphael