Greetings, y’all! I have had several friends, loved ones and patients reach out recently to inquire into what practical things that I am doing to protect my family and myself from the novel corona virus. So, I decided to continue my series and share more tips with you. You can read the recipe for my immune-boosting, anti-viral jello, which is part one of this series, by clicking here.
For this edition, I am talking about masks! This question has come up a lot and I think there is a lot of confusion about the merits and limitations of wearing a mask to protect oneself.
The US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams made a tweet on February 29th, 2020 both critiquing the general public for buying masks as they are ineffective to protect them from catching the corona virus and also, stating that this hoarding behavior may prevent healthcare workers from access, which increases their risk and therefore, our collective risk.
For me, this was confusing. I felt like he was saying, “hey, masks don’t work!” AND, “hey, masks work and we need them for healthcare providers” all in the same tweet. I discussed this with some other healthcare practitioners and I have come to understand the tweet this way:
- If you are sick and you are walking around without a mask because they are sold out everywhere, you pose the greatest risk to everyone (mask wearing or not). If I cough and spray my viral particles all over surfaces because I do not have a mask to contain the respiratory droplets, I am contaminating whole surfaces. We do not yet know exactly how long the corona virus can live on surfaces, so this is the biggest threat to the collective. We must save and prioritize masks for the sick for everyone’s benefit.
- Healthcare workers are on the front lines of dealing with the corona virus. They are knowingly exposing themselves to infected environments. They need maximum access to personal protective equipment. If they cannot access this equipment because everything is sold out, this also poses a much greater risk to the general public. Can you imagine if a huge percentage of our healthcare force is out sick, with the corona virus? Good luck getting critical care if there is a staff shortage. So, saving masks for healthcare workers is also for everyone’s benefit.
What I dislike about the Surgeon General’s tweet is, for me, it conveys a message that masks are pointless in protecting you. If that were in fact true, then healthcare workers would not be wearing them. Clearly, they offer some protective benefit. I personally prefer a more detailed explanation of why hoarding them is actually harmful for everyone, which I have attempted to provide above. So really, folks, please do not steal and hoard masks. This will literally increase your own, and our collective risk.
As an eight time Burning Man attendee, I have used many different bandanas and devices to keep dust out of my nose and mouth. You likely have some fabric at home that you could use to cover your nose and mouth. Please note, I have no clue if there is any research substantiating that this is effective in preventing you from catching the corona virus. But what I am doing, as a trained natural health provider, is the following:
- I am limiting my exposure to other people. I am pregnant with my first child and am being extra conservative because we do not yet know the effect of this strain of corona virus on pregnant people or fetuses/ new infants.
- I am using a cloth bandana when I must interact with the public.
- I am applying a light layer of carrier oil onto my bandana and applying a light layer of antimicrobial essential oils to that bandana (I limit my use of essential oils to maximum 5 drops of essential oils).
- I am also using an essential oil diffuser throughout my home to aerosolize small antimicrobial particles throughout my house.
- Obviously, I am following all the other public health guidelines, such as washing ones hands, etc.
Why the essential oils? Essential oils are some of best antimicrobial parts of plants. Supposedly, during the time of the plague, robbers and thieves would wear elaborate masks and use herbal tinctures, infused vinegars and other aromatic plants to avoid catching the plague, enabling them to rob the homes of plague casualties. Wikipedia offers some additional information about what herbs and spices were reportedly used. In 2009, researchers from the University of Georgia looked at the effect of essential oils to protect poultry from avian infectious bronchitis, a type of corona virus. The researchers exposed chickens to a variety of different experiments, but in summary, they involved exposing the chickens to different essential oil applications (intranasal, through sprays and in drinking water) and exposing them to the corona virus. In short, the birds that received intranasal and spray applications fared better than untreated animals or animals that only got the oils through their drinking water. Additionally, animals were more protected if they were exposed to the oils either before or shortly after their exposure to the corona virus; there was less effect when the animals were exposed to the virus many hours before they were exposed to the oils.
For me, I interpret these results to suggest that essential oils may have some protective effect against the novel corona virus. Do I know this to be 100% true? Of course not! This is a novel virus and it will take a lot more time to collect research to know what is or is not effective. But when I think about the potential harm of using some essential oil diffusers in my house and breathing in yummy essential oils while I walk around the city, I feel pretty good with these action steps to protect me and my family.
A note on essential oils: Essential oils are basically pharmaceutical grade plant medicine. I have heard of many essential oil companies promoting the consumption of essential oils. I think this is highly irresponsible. It takes 22 pounds of rose petals to make 5mL of rose essential oil! There is no way someone could consume that volume of physical plant material. Please respect essential oils as highly concentrated. This is why I always put a carrier oil onto my bandana before applying the essential oil. This will make my mask more oily, but this will protect my skin better from getting burned by the essential oils. And overall, I do not recommend eating essential oils. I also advised limiting the amount you apply directly to your skin and do not ever apply them to your skin without using a diluting carrier oil.
One note: this blog article represents my opinions and interpretations. I have referenced one published scientific research article about essential oil use in chickens and the preventative effect on a chicken form of corona virus (PMID: 20096315), so this portion is not “my opinion”. But my strategy for putting essential oils on masks while in public and using a diffuser is my opinion. Please take that for what it’s worth and use your own judgment to decide what is best for you.
At Nutima Integrative Medicine, our practitioners are here to answer any questions or concerns you may have right now about your health (whether it’s corona virus related or not). We are offering telemedicine visits from the comfort of your home. Please call 206.542.4325 to schedule an appointment.