Emergence of Omicron Variant Adds Urgency to Vaccination and Mask Messaging. Anti-viral Sprays can Offer additional Protection
By Dr István Jankovic– international virologist and clinical microbiologist
With Covid infections running at around 141,000 per day and over 1,600 deaths per week in the UK combined with the threat of the new more infectious Omicron variant and a return of the flu, now is not the time to let down our guard, and families across the UK need to take sensible precautions to stay virus-free this winter. As the UK government revises its infection control policies in the light of the new variant, leading international virologist and clinical microbiologist, Dr István Jankovics offers some simple advice to help you stay safe this winter.
Vaccines first and foremost
The Covid vaccine programme is heralded as a great success and indeed it has played a huge part in keeping down morbidity (people who get seriously ill) and mortality rates as infection rates have soared while the Omicron variant adds a worrying unknown to the equation. So everyone who is eligible should get both doses of the vaccine and, when your turn comes, the booster third vaccine.
Professor James Kingsland an internationally renowned Primary Care physician, Clinical Professor and practicing medical practitioner for over 37 years commented: “We have to recognise that we will never achieve 100% vaccination uptake for a variety of reasons. Ineligibility for some age groups at present and contraindications for a small few, in addition to the ill informed choices some are making as well as the antivaxxers means that we will always get transmission which I am afraid we will just have to live with. So, although vaccines are the most important way to protect yourself they will not, on their own, eliminate the virus from society any time soon. Virus mutation will continue and the level of severity of the newly identified Omicron variant will take days to several weeks to fully understand. In addition it is not yet known how effective current vaccines will be against new mutations ,although there is good reason to suppose they will reduce the severity of symptoms of those infected.”
Don’t ignore the flu…it won’t ignore you
Another great unknown and potentially deadly threat on the horizon is influenza, which according to experts, could prove more virulent this winter after the recent decline brought about by the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. Seasonal mortality rates from flu, according to The UK Health Security Agency (formerly Public Health England) range from 20-25,000 people per year, roughly half the October 2021 death rate from Covid and yet this barely makes the news media. So, as well as getting your Covid vaccine, it’s wise to have the flu jab, especially if you are older or have other health conditions.
Lessons from the pandemic
We all became ‘experts’ in infection control during the pandemic so let’s not forget some of the valuable lessons we learned that helped millions of people to stay safe. Professor Kingsland added: “Covid 19 is now an endemic disease. It’s going to be with us for many years. Maybe it’s not about wearing a mask at all times but more about using the experience we gained in the early stages of the pandemic and wearing a face covering in crowded public places, on public transport and other enclosed spaces. And if you are going to a crowded venue, take your responsibility to others seriously and take a lateral flow test beforehand. Maintaining good hygiene and appropriate social distancing when possible should also not be forgotten. We live in uncertain times, and so we all have to use our recently acquired knowledge and judgment to stack the odds in our favour”
It’s never “take your virus to work day”
Another big positive from the pandemic was that it is no longer perceived as OK to ‘power through’ when you have cold symptoms. There’s no badge of honour to turn up for work with a cough or a temperature. A bit like finding out that it was good advice to wash your hands; you would think it was obvious. Now we know that having a ‘take your virus to work day’is potentially lethal for older colleagues or older relatives of Gen Z colleagues, for that matter. And that applies to going to the theatre or cinema too. If you feel unwell for any reason, stay away.
Additional layers of protection
We need to reinforce the messages about prevention, especially the value of everyone wearing a mask or face covering in crowded or poorly ventilated places, but you can add an additional layer of protection by using an antiviral mouth or nose spray such as ViroStop which is a certified safe herbal treatment which recent studies in which I was involved personally, show protection against the coronavirus as well as influenza and the common cold. A clinical study we published in September 2021 showed its efficacy in reducing viral shedding and reduction in symptoms of those infected. In-vitro studies gave strong evidence that the product could also have some significant effect in preventing Covid 19 infection in the first place. This was backed up by a study published in November 2021 where compelling evidence for ViroStop’s preventative effect was produced. Another benefit was that volunteers who took the spray developed antibodies to Covid at three times the rate of the control group, giving them ongoing resistance to the virus.
Professor Kingsland added: “These new anti-viral sprays on their own are not going to stop Covid in its tracks. That’s the job of the vaccine, but they can provide an additional barrier to viral infections including influenza. The key point is that these sprays are approved by the UK regulator as safe and there is an evidence base for its efficacy; so I ask the question why you wouldn’t add them to your anti-viral armoury?”
Double down on proven methods of infection control
Until the arrival of the new Omicron variant adherence to common-sense measures like handwashing and face coverings was starting to wane, even in crowded indoor spaces. However, there is now a renewed urgency to double down on these proven methods of infection control. So to reiterate; working from home where you can, social distancing, handwashing and good ventilation still make a difference. Recent new evidence reported in the British Medical Journal has shown that wearing a mask is particularly effective, reducing transmission by 53%.
But there are a number of other less obvious ways you can stay safe this winter such as taking vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D is essential for a healthy immune system, to allow your body to fight off infections. Staying fit and keep your weight under control, though easier said than done, was also proven to be beneficial in terms of fighting Covid as well as the well-known link between obesity and cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes and the less well-known link with some cancers.
Mitigate what we can’t eliminate
Even in the light of the new variant, it is unlikely that the UK government will ever revert to another lockdown, so we all need to play our part in keeping the spread of the infection at bay as well as protecting ourselves and our loved ones. The full impact of the pandemic, in terms of delayed or missed treatments is yet to be understood, let alone the damage done to our mental health. So now is not the time for complacency and some of the simple measures outlined above could help us manage the new reality that we are going to have to live with Covid and manage its worst effects in the same way as we mitigate the impact of influenza with vaccination and sensible preventative measures.
About the author:
Dr István Jankovics is a leading international virologist and clinical microbiologist from the Hungarian Complex Medical Centre Déli Clinic in Budapest.