We are doing what we can for Zika and Ebola viruses.
Immediate therapies are needed while waiting for viral specific vaccines and medications. We need to reframe our understanding of the human defense against these viruses.
Ebola, CHIKV and Zika were discovered in Africa 40 to 70 years ago.
The last Ebola outbreak involved more patients than in the previous 40 years combined. Two years ago, CHIKV appeared for the first time in the Americas affecting the entire Caribbean region in 18 months. A sharp rise in birth defects in Brazil may be linked to the first outbreak of Zika virus in the Americas.
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We do not have viral specific treatments or vaccines for these emerging diseases. None are likely in the next couple of years. There are non-specific approaches which are ready and able. The question is whether medical organizations are willing to deploy them.
Our human immune defense has the ability to engage infectious agents we have never encountered. When fully operational, this innate response is very powerful. Unfortunately, our innate response is rarely fully operational.
The difficulty boils down to two hormones. We can make the cholecalciferol hormone for a few hours per day, several months of the year. Cholecalciferol is the hormonal name for vitamin D3.
The ascorbate hormone is readily produced by most mammals, except humans. Ascorbate is the hormonal name for vitamin C. Mammals respond to infection by dramatically ramping up its production. Unable to produce it, human vitamin C stores rapidly deplete, impairing this innate response.
Vitamin D3 is long lasting and can be accurately measured. Vitamin C is demand driven and is short lived. Since vitamin C disappears in the urine during major infections, dipstick detection allows bedside monitoring at a cost of 22 cents with results in 33 seconds.
The emerging viral epidemics we encounter today will someday benefit from specific medications or vaccinations. In the meantime, deficiencies in vitamins D3 and C are pervasive and correctable, once detected. Our efforts to combat infections are incomplete without understanding the individual patient’s vitamin D3 and vitamin C status. Let’s do what we can do, now.
Dave McCarthy is a retired, career U.S. Air Force family physician and flight surgeon, trained as a National Medical Incident Commander (FEMA). He retired from private practice in 2012 in O’Fallon.