Minnesota doctors and researchers are on the cutting edge leading the fight in the war against COVID-19. Doctors and researchers at the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic are searching for medications that help ease the effects of the virus, including a process of plasma transfer, while also working to develop a vaccine.
MSR’s regular health columnist and medical advisor Dr. Charles Crutchfield helped facilitate interviews with physicians engaged in combatting the pandemic: The interview with Dr. David Hamlar (DH), assistant professor of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Minnesota, appears below. Crutchfield himself will provide further information and updates in the next issue of the MSR.
MSR: Incredibly, Dr. Hamlar, despite the number of cases and deaths, there are some in our community calling the coronavirus a conspiracy or hoax. What do you say to them?
Dr. David Hamlar: This is no hoax!
MSR: Why has the CDC and others recommended people stay six feet apart?
DH: People who are within six feet of one another may spread the virus through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of those who are nearby or potentially be inhaled into the lungs. The droplets are airborne through aerosolization [producing a fine mist of minute particles].
MSR: How does one actually contract the virus?
DH: The COVID-19 virus can live in any living cell. It is transmitted primarily via the aero-digestive system, meaning airways and oral mucosa.
MSR: Has anything been found to be effective in fighting off the effects of the virus?
DH: Peridex or chlorhexidine has been found to decrease the viral load but not eliminate the virus itself.
MSR: There has been talk about anti-virals being effective in helping those who have contracted the virus to fight it off. Tell us more about that.
DH: Antivirals are the same medications initially utilized in HIV-positive patients who contracted AIDS. These seemed to lessen the symptoms if not reduce the viral load and increase the CD4-T cell count.
MSR: What makes the virus fatal?
DH: COVID-19 deaths are attributed to pulmonary or lung disease progression such as pneumonia. Cardiac events such as heart attacks have not been found to be part of the disease progression and death.
MSR: Why are pre-existing diseases a serious problem for people if they contract the virus?
DH: Pre-existing conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, diabetes, congestive heart failure, CHF, and autoimmune diseases limit the body’s ability to fight diseases.
MSR: There has been a lot of discussion in the medical community about a vaccine. How soon do you anticipate one being ready for use?
DH: With controlled protocol-based studies, the estimate for a safe vaccine is 9-12 months away.
MSR: There have been problems in the U.S. getting people tested for COVID-19, some reporting long waits for test results. It has been reported that Abbott Labs has come up with a test that can provide results in a matter of minutes. How are they able to do this?
DH: Abbott Labs can detect the COVID-19 virus through a technique called molecular point-of-care testing for COVID-19, which offers healthcare workers rapid results in more settings where people show up for care.
Molecular testing technologies help detect the presence of a virus by identifying a small section of the virus’ genome, then amplifying that portion until there’s enough for detection. This process can cut testing wait time from hours, if not days, to as little as five minutes for positive results and 13 minutes for negative results. They have been using this technique for influenza detection since 2014.
MSR: There has been some discussion around Vitamin C that it can help stave off the disease. What is your professional opinion about its effectiveness?
DH: Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, helping to reduce the damage caused by free radicals and thereby helping prevent the development of conditions like heart disease and cancer. Severe vitamin C deficiency is a serious condition, known for centuries as the sometimes fatal disease scurvy. It helps in wound healing. It is a part of a healthy diet. It is not a specific inhibitor of contracting COVID-19.
MSR: When do you expect the virus to peak? When do you think the country can get back to normal?
DH: I personally feel that this is a virus that will be with us for prolonged periods until a vaccine is found. If the virus mutates or recurs in different forms, then even vaccines will be limiting disease agents like with influenza.
Once we get control or flatten the curve, we can start to realize a “new normal.” I predict August.
MSR: Any advice to our readers on how to stay safe during this pandemic?
DH: Stay healthy. Eat right, get rest, don’t smoke, limit alcohol use, and do all of the things your mother told you to do but you neglected!