The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the new coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The Department of Health (DOH), meanwhile, confirmed the first nCoV case in the country. She is a 38-year-old woman from Wuhan, China who arrived in the Philippines via Hongkong on January 21. She has been confined in a government hospital since January 25 after experiencing a mild cough; she is currently asymptomatic and under observation.
Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have joined global efforts to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV. The WHO, government agencies, universities and private groups started vaccine development research some weeks ago after scientists identified the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus and officials posted it publicly.
The rapid sharing of the genetic sequence data as well as critical epidemiological and clinical data is important. The quick and open access to needed data through the GISAID Initiative will help researchers from around the world understand how these viruses evolve and spread. Knowing these details will provide foundation for the development of a vaccine, a process which is complex, expensive and lengthy.
As we try to cope with the global outbreak of the nCoV infection and until a vaccine against nCoV is developed, one of our best defenses against the novel coronavirus is our immune system.
Viruses are simple microorganisms that are made up of an outer shell of protein, which carries genetic information (DNA or RNA) containing instructions to make new copies of the virus. A virus invades the cells of our body, taking over our cellular machinery to produce millions of copies of itself. The “viral clones” then spread the invasion throughout the body. When our immune system recognizes the viral attack, special antibody-producing cells called B-cells are stimulated to divide. The B-cells produce antibodies specific to the invading viruses. These antibodies attach to the viruses, “marking” them as invaders so that white blood cells can engulf and destroy them.
Of course, fighting off viral infections is possible only with a strong and healthy immune system. Here are some tips that can help you boost your immune system:
Don’t smoke. Smokers are more susceptible to infections such as pneumonia and influenza, have more severe and longer-lasting illnesses, and have lower levels of protective antioxidants (such as vitamin C) in the blood.
Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which have vitamins and minerals that help strengthen the immune system.
Exercise regularly. Exercise has been shown to result in positive changes in antibodies and white blood cells, as well as to slow down the release of stress hormones. Stress increases the chance of illness; lower stress hormones help protect against illness.
Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight, obesity in particular, decreases immunity leading to increased risk of bacterial and viral infection as well as decreased responsiveness to some vaccinations.
Drink alcohol moderately. Excessive alcohol intake can weaken the immune system and make the body more susceptible to infections.
Get adequate sleep. Studies show that people who don't get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as a common cold virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.
Make sure you and your family get vaccinated. Immunization helps your immune system make the right antibodies to protect you from disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
It is also important to be vigilant and calm, practice good hygiene, follow official advisory from the government, and consult your doctor for any health concerns. As a group representing the research medicines and vaccines sector, our Members will work with the scientific and public health communities in the development of interventions for the benefit of patients. It is our commitment to join the global efforts to develop vaccines and other science-based interventions against this novel coronavirus and help stop a global pandemic.
TEODORO B. PADILLA is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), representing the research-based medicines and vaccines sector in the country. For information about us, visit www.phap.org.ph .