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COVID-19’s Vulnerable Hosts & Path Forward
Does COVID-19 have favorite human hosts that are its preferred place to infect, live, and thrive? If so, what will be the key to the prevention of future infection and recurrences of the sometimes deadly respiratory virus?
Control of such a highly contagious viral illness is unlikely, especially in the short term, as universal compliance with social distancing in our society appears to become more attenuated with time, partisan political ideas, and the degree of confusing information.
With time individuals with a growing desire to get out and return to more usual ways of life will increasingly ignore public health directives and more be influenced by the public discourse or by the personal need to get back to work or resume social activities. There will be less regard for the most susceptible people, the virus’s preferred hosts, by those least likely to be affected by the COVID-19. At the extreme, there may be the attitude toward the potential hosts or those who will be vulnerable victims to the infection, that they are more dispensable or deserving of their fate.
Solution & Prevention
The ultimate solution and prevention will come in a year or two when a vaccine is developed. Shorter-term help with the COVID-19 crisis will be with continuing success at whatever level possible with mitigation and social distancing strategies. The other steps will be with finding new treatments either with older or newer drugs, or the use of antibody-rich plasma infusions. Having adequate testing and related supplies will be critical to identify active infections and carriers of the virus, and to identify people that have developed immune protection with antibodies, and for contact tracing.
The break down in mitigation and social distancing strategies will happen as a result of several factors. For one, the younger part of the population may especially feel invulnerable. Those who closely follow the news may decide that there is little risk for themselves and that they are unlikely to be affected. Messaging by influential and prominent public figures may resonate with a segment of the population that favors personal, rebellious, or selfish motives that their own wellbeing is paramount over the life and safety of others, especially when limitations on their freedom is felt. The influence can take the form of stronger adherence to a political ideology that the survival of the economy or winning their party’s next election takes precedent over a potential high death rate of the vulnerable.
Rejection of Scientific Information
There are segments of the population that reject scientific information or intellectual understanding of the broader issues. The same groups are often drawn into blaming others or espousing conspiracy theories about who is responsible for the current crisis. Such groups become more robust supporters and adherents to a political leader or party, that avoids any responsibility for existing problems or a disaster, but blames others and promises to bring solutions and protection. The real risks and issues get ignored. The enemies become the well-educated, the liberals, the scientists, foreigners, emigrants, minorities, or people of the opposing political party.
The Story of Missteps and Salvation
In the past, I heard a story about a large corporation that had to hire a new lead person for there marketing and management department. As part of their corporate policies, any new hiree for such a critical and crucial position had to undergo a complete set of evaluations and testing by a leading and well respected recruiting firm, who did very sophisticated, scientific, and psychological examinations. The assessment was to uncover any potential psychological or psychiatric issues that might impair the hiree in his or her intended role. The organization also wants to avoid any risk or compromise to the company and its mission. The testing results came back to the human resources department. The hiring team, including *Bob, the CEO of the company, then reviewed the findings.
The report uncovered that the hiree had a fantastic ability to gain the trust and liking of people, was a natural salesman, and good at self-promotion. However, he had a record of a least one failed business, three failed marriages, and only lukewarm references. The extensive psychological testing, profiling, and interview and review by a psychologist and psychiatrist, specialized in organization development and human resource work, reported several red flags. The hiree fell in the highly probable range for having, in addition to other problems and issues, a narcissistic and antisocial personality disorder **(see descriptions below).
The recommendation to the hiring team, the CEO, and the company was against the hiring of the individual evaluated. However, the hiring team of the company and the CEO had some disdain for testing, science, and psychologists. They kind of liked the potential hiree’s business sense, charm with people, his ease at moving around potential roadblocks, and self-promotion bluster. It was felt that he would benefit their sales division with its declining marketing presence. They glanced at the report form HR, and all felt that their gut instincts and business sense, told them that he would be the hire they needed.
Within three months of the hire, there were several complaints about the new hiree’s inappropriate sexual advances with several employees, and his putting out misleading marketing information with fabricated stories. He was placed on administrative leave. While out, it was discovered that he had embezzled almost a half-million dollars from the company and that the company was now the target of several lawsuits for illegal business deals he had set up under the company’s name. The CEO reported that his gut instinct had progressed into an ulcer that sent him to the hospital for several days.
With all the stress of his now failing company and partially shut down due to COVID-19, his health further deteriorated. His mild obesity, hypertension, maturity-onset diabetes, some chronic obstructive airway disease, lack of a healthy diet, and a more sedentary lifestyle seemed to gang-up on him. Bob had generally ignored his doctors and healthcare experts and mostly focused his time at his desk, on the phone, putting out fires, or trying to do strategic planning for his company.
Bob loved to snack when he felt stressed. His main outlet was watching the news that supported his political views and party or old movies. Bob began to have a fever, headache, difficulty with taste and smell, chest pressure, and some difficulty breathing. He ended up in the emergency room because he ignored everyone's advice, including his doctor, to take some earlier on preventative steps with his first signs of illness.
Bob was diagnosed with COVID-19 respiratory infections and spent several days in the intensive care unit with oxygen. When he returned home, the scary experience had opened his eyes, and he became more tuned in to the truth of his current life and the realities around him. Bob decided to retire and devote more time to his family, the community, and learning about how to live a healthier lifestyle. He planned to follow better nutrition, do regular exercise, and just to be better tuned into and educated about healthy living. Now the opportunity was there to be more a part of the society around him, and he could become more spiritually attunement with life and nature.
Bob’s company recruited a new CEO with years of executive experience at a slightly smaller company that had grown and become very successful. The hiring team and new CEO immediately sought the help of the same prestigious recruiting firm, and this time paid close attention to their expert recommendations, interviews, and psychological profiles to fill the position of a new lead person for their management and marketing division. The new hiree was very personable, forward-thinking, analytical, and paid close attention to the details and advice of knowledge leaders in his field.
The company doubled its marketing presence and sales over the next year. An added benefit was that the new hiree with a triathlon athlete and inspired others in the company to be more in touch with their health and lifestyle. The story highlights the importance of giving credence and attention to truth and the reality of science and the facts at hand.
Bob, in this story, also demonstrated how a person could become a more susceptible host or an attractor for COVID-19 infections. His behavior, lifestyle, and a high degree of stress lowered his immunity. Other factors making Bob, a more vulnerable host, would be his working environment where he was in close contact with others, without social distancing and precautions as mask-wearing. Bob had several nutritional and health condition problems. He also was a "non-attender" to facts and science. The catastrophe in this situation was possibly preventable for the prior CEO, Bob, and the organization.
(*Bob is not an actual person, but a composite of people with similar stories encountered in the past, presented for educational purposes only. There is no intent to offend anyone, be political, or to satirize any real person in the government or business settings)
The initial hiree in the story above had difficulty with personality difficulties that may affect stress levels to both the person themself and others around them. The increased stress can be a factor in elevating stress levels that, in turn, can lower immunity.
**Personality disorders are the clinical diagnosis, according to the Merck Manual and DSM-5 classification of the American Psychiatric Association, used for classification, research, and treatment. Personality disorders, in general, are described as the representative characteristics of a person that are pervasive, enduring patterns of perceiving, reacting, and relating that cause significant distress or functional impairment.
**A narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by a pervading pattern of grandiosity, a need for praise, and a lack of empathy and difficulty regulating self-esteem. There is a constant need for admiration and association with particular people or institutions and tend to devalue other people so that they can maintain a sense of superiority.
**An antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for consequences and for the rights of others.
Science, Global Warming, & Skeptics
Facts, valid information, and research gathered by experts in the relevant area of science get buried or ignored as irrelevant. Years ago Al Gore, reviewed the science on global warming and warned about the rapidly approaching dangers and pending calamity for the planet. Various segments of the population, political groups, and significant business interests chose to ignore it, as it was seen as not relevant to their interests. The book written by Gore was meaningfully named “An Inconvenient Truths: The Crisis of Global Warming.” Today, even with the steady progression of climate change and global warming with devastating storms, droughts, and coastal flooding, the science is still getting ignored by significant segments of our national and international community.
In today’s political climate, a vocal portion of our population is choosing to get and believe the information they consume from more politically oriented news sources, or spokespersons for particular biased, self-serving, or self-promoting organizations, business, or political groups. Much of our population has been conditioned to be consumers and buyers of sales enticing and sometimes misleading marketing information. As a more secular and materialistic culture, people have more naturally become more vulnerable to marketing and the use of misinformation and deceptive advertising. Stories are spun to influence the behavior of targeted segments of our population. Conspiracy theories prop up commonly by entities that want to control the narrative to gain support or power for their personal or group agenda or movement. The threat gets defined, fear is instilled, and the promised solution, leader, or product is offered.
Threats to Health and Well-being
Facts and science have identified significant threats to the health and well-being of our community and nation for many years before the current crisis. Any or all of these issues might have been underlying host factors that contributed to a person becoming the preferred target for an infective virus to live and thrive. Having many vulnerable hosts or potential victims in a population may be the critical cause of the high rate of contagion, the severity of illness, and deaths from COVID-19.
The required degree of focus and targeting of resources for improvement or resolution of the already identified critical problems has often been ignored or pushed to the “back burner.” Other priorities or agendas have often led the efforts away from all these areas of critical need. Decisions become influenced by shifting public opinion, political and special interest groups, business, governmental agencies, and their leaders. There has also been the “non-attention” of the people not directly affected, who get more focused on the maintenance or protection of their self-interests.
Nutrition, Obesity, Smoking, & COVID-19
Obesity and smoking have been identified, for instance, as a significant risk for COVID-19 illness and the making of a more vulnerable host, with the more potential for severe disease and a higher death rate. Disease-related to poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyle, and obesity have already been related to increased vulnerability for significant illnesses and higher death rates. Now the same is being found valid for COVID-19.
According to a recent New York Times article, “Obesity Linked to Severe Coronavirus Disease, Especially for Younger Patients,” abdominal obesity, which is more prominent in men, can cause compression of the diaphragm, lungs, and chest capacity. Also, abdominal obesity can lead to an increase in inflammatory instigators, which may contribute to the worst COVID-19 outcomes. The NYU Langone study found that patients under the age of 60, with obesity, were twice as likely to be hospitalized and were at even higher risk of requiring critical care. The same adverse consequences were not prominent in patients over the age of 60.
Adverse Factors Create Host Vulnerabilities
Any adverse host behaviors, conditions, or practices, that in some way, as smoking compromises the lungs and respiratory system as smoking or vaping can make one more susceptible to respiratory viruses as COVID-19. Other possible related contributors could be higher amounts of air pollution or living near polluters as specific factories. Preexisting health conditions or adverse socio-economic influences have been linked to a higher potential for exposure, risk, or complication to many illnesses, but of particular interest now is to COVID-19.
Major adverse factors or underlying medical problems, or contributors to host vulnerability factors that need attention and remedy, would be:
Respiratory and chronic obstructive airway disease, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and immune deficiencies;
Opioid, drug, and alcohol substance use disorders;
Being a minority, as Black or Latino, and living in a less affluent or less privileged community;
Inadequate education and limited job opportunities in more impoverished areas where access to healthy food, medical care and opportunities for recreation and exercise are limited;
Nutrition illnesses related to a less active lifestyle as obesity, hypertension, and heart disease see Coronavirus Holistic Health Steps;
Global warming and climate change with increase catastrophic storms, flooding, and droughts;
More scarcity of food, related to issues like over-population, homelessness, and crowding into high-density living areas, ravages of war with the migrations of populations looking for safe haven;
Technological advances are outpacing our knowledge and management with more job loss related to increasing automation;
Absence of a robust public health care system and an adequate social safety net, especially for citizens living on the margins;
Inadequate presence of steady, compassionate leadership that consistently follows scientific guidance.
In the situation of COVID-19, the moving of people away from accurate science-based information has prevented a unified response from the public, as seen with social distancing and mitigation strategies to prevent the spread of coronavirus are. Also, the failure to mobilize a consolidated government response has likewise been hampered by not following the lead of scientists, as shown in the lack of an organized path to getting adequate attention and response to the identified contributors to people’s vulnerability to infection. Testing and supplies are lacking to get ahead of the current crisis is another example of not following the lead of the facts, science, and information.
Optimism or Wishful Thinking?
Wellbeing and prosperity, the light at the end of the tunnel, will reemerge, with the wish that people will wake up and be more aware of the essential issues and the present opportunity for growth and change. There is the hope also that the COVID-19 experience will bring a resurgence in interest in healthy lifestyle nutrition, exercise, environmental, and spiritual attunement. (see COVID-19 Wake Up Call)
Thank you for your interest and review of this article. You are welcome to make comments below.
Ron Parks MD
If you or a loved one needs help or guidance about any mental, emotional, physical, or related spiritual health issues, consultation is available directly with Dr. Parks by telephone or telemedicine services like Skype or VSee. To schedule a session or if you need a question answered, fill in the contact form at https://parksmd.com/scheduling/. Hopefully, I will be able to correspond with you directly about questions or address them in a future article or in my periodic newsletters. see the post on Expert Mentoring
**The above is for informational and educational purposes only, not as medical or mental health advice. It is the reader’s responsibility to direct personal medical or mental health questions to their primary care provider and specialty physicians. The information and statements contained in this material are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or to replace the recommendations or advice given to you by your primary or direct care providers.
Your reliance on any information provided by Dr. Parks is solely at your discretion. You are advised not to disregard medical advice from your primary or direct care providers, or delay seeking medical advice or treatment because of information contained in this article. Management of severe mental or physical health problems should remain under the care and guidance of your primary care physicians, specialist, or psychiatrists.
Lead-in photo for the article: ©Andrii Yalanskyi/123rf.com -- Focusing on real problem & solutions
References & Links
Merck Manual --- https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/personality-disorders/overview-of-personality-disorders
DSM-5 classification of the American Psychiatric Association --- https://amzn.to/2Vpj6Du
Narcissistic Personality Disorder --- https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/personality-disorders/narcissistic-personality-disorder-npd
An antisocial personality disorder ---https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/personality-disorders/antisocial-personality-disorder-aspd
An Inconvenient Truths: The Crisis of Global Warming --- https://amzn.to/3eE63pC-
Obesity Linked to Severe Coronavirus Disease, Especially for Younger Patients --- https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciaa415/5818333
The NYU Langone study ---https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciaa415/5818333
Smoking and Vaping compromises the lungs --- https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200325/covid-19-likely-worse-for-vapers-smokers#1
Smoking or vaping can make one more susceptible to respiratory viruses as COVID-19 --- https://www.massgeneral.org/children/vaping/smoking-vaping-and-covid-19
How does coronavirus kill? Clinicians trace a ferocious rampage through the body, from brain to toes ---https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/04/how-does-coronavirus-kill-clinicians-trace-ferocious-rampage-through-body-brain-toes
Preparing for the Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19
By Michael Rossoff, L.Ac., Macrobiotic Counselor & Acupuncturist ... http://www.michaelrossoff.com/preparing-for-the-coronavirus.html
‘Sadness’ and Disbelief From a World Missing American Leadership --- https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/23/world/europe/coronavirus-american-exceptionalism.html?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_NN_p_20200424&instance_id=17910&nl=morning-briefing®i_id=125736997§ion=topNews&segment_id=25875&te=1&user_id=b0b1bc916ed96aa57abcc5aa00f927e0
SARS-COV-2 TRANSMISSION WON'T NECESSARILY BE REDUCED THIS SUMMER --- https://advances.massgeneral.org/research-and-innovation/article.aspx?id=1178&utm_medium=email&utm_source=marketo-providers&utm_campaign=FY20-neurosciencesadvances-25apr2020-covid19&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWmpRd1lqRTJPVEV6TkdWbSIsInQiOiJVUitBbUc3dDJrMW5TRjRqclFldDdnVVQ0U2htQmwyZlZjTW9UTGtlSFBEMldxRWZwczA3SnB1UmVIUlJCNDVpQnhYOXB0eHVRaEhISzNnSU82N29mTXg3TDVIV2xkaEFka1NPcHpIRFdhRlRvTGFkMUlVSVlXb0NkRExTRzhTR2t6VUlQcHJ6Q0dFNFRMQ2FPZkwxNlNrQklhN1FTa2I3TU10M0srYWhqYVU9In0%3D