COVID-19 updates

By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.

As of now, February 2024, COVID-19 seems to have faded from view. However, the reality is not quite that clear.

Vaccination rates have decreased dramatically, including those people who are considered “vaccine fatigued,” meaning, “You mean, I need more vaccines? I’ve had so many already!”

It’s true and correct that some vaccines only require one dose, or a few at most, such as polio, mumps, tetanus and rabies. Those bacteria and viruses (tetanus is caused by a bacterial infection) mutate very slowly or perhaps not at all and don’t require much in the way of constant vaccinations.

The duration of protection of the tetanus vaccine, for example, is 10 years if one has not experienced a deep puncture wound, five years if one has.

The common cold is an example of a common viral illness for which we don’t have vaccines. In part, it’s because those illnesses tend to be relatively mild and also because there are so many types of viruses that cause colds.

Rhinoviruses cause between 10% and 40% of all colds; coronaviruses, about 20%; and respiratory syncytial virus and parainfluenza, about 30%. There are over 100 types of these viruses.

Antibiotics don’t help with these conditions, since they are caused by viruses and viruses are unaffected by medications used to treat bacterial infections.

Viruses are not alive in the same sense that bacteria are. Bacteria are single-celled, living organisms. Viruses contain RNA or DNA protected by a shell and can’t “live” outside of cells. They must inject themselves into a living cell and can use that cell’s organelles to reproduce.

Coronaviruses, on the other hand, seem to mutate at an astonishing rate. They are named “coronavirus” because under an electron microscope, they have a crown-like external structure, hence the “corona” name.

Coronaviruses have caused MERS, Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome; SARS, sudden acute respiratory syndrome; COVID-19; as well as some cases of the common cold.

Coronaviruses have been known since the 1960s, but have come into general knowledge since
COVID-19.

So, with that background, what is the current information? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are considering reducing the five-day quarantine recommendation, but have not yet done so.

If you have a fever, a cough or feel sick, please test. You can do a home test or go to a local urgent care center to get tested for COVID-19, RSV or influenza, depending on symptoms.

If positive, there are treatments for COVID-19 and the flu, if taken early. Common side effects of medication treatment for COVID-19 are diarrhea and metallic taste.

Vaccinations, not just boosters but newer vaccinations, are still recommended for everyone who does not have a medical reason to not be vaccinated.

The current vaccines appear to be roughly 50% effective against the new strains of COVID-19, which isn’t great, but clearly better than nothing.

What this means is that if you get infected with the COVID-19 virus, your symptoms may be much less than had you not gotten vaccinated. It could be much closer to a bad cold than pneumonia, high fever or severe fatigue.

Lastly, keep in mind that for most of us who are in the older age range, our immune systems are not as robust as when we were younger and it’s just good self-care to be fully immunized, to protect ourselves and those we care about. COVID-19 is less prevalent, but still alive and kicking. Stay safe.

Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas. He can be reached at akoenigsberg@mac.com.

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