Aromatherapy and the SARS Virus

Is there a Simple Preventative?

What is SARS? SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is a highly contagious, pneumonia-like respiratory virus which is now known to be caused by a new variant of the coronavirus. Named for their distinctive crown-like appearance, coronaviruses have been known for some time to be a cause of upper-respiratory illnesses, including the common cold, and occasionally, pneumonia. These viruses are very common and appear throughout the world. In the past, most respiratory illnesses arising from coronaviruses have been relatively mild and self-limiting, with fatalities confined to persons already in poor health at the time of infection. In contrast, the new coronavirus which produces SARS has resulted in fatalities in previously healthy persons.

The first SARS cases were recognized in February, 2003 and as of April 16, 2003 there were over 3000 known cases worldwide, with about 159 fatalities. Mainland China and Hong Kong have reported the greatest number of cases, followed by Singapore, Canada, the United States and Vietnam. Cases have also been reported in France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Italy, Kuwait, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Thailand, South Africa, Malaysia, and the Philippines. To date, there have been no confirmed deaths from SARS in the US; otherwise, mortality rates vary from about 4% to 10% in other parts of the world. As of this writing, the mortality rate appears to have been highest in Canada.

How SARS is Spread: SARS, like other respiratory illnesses, appears to spread through contact with infected persons. The virus is aerosolized in droplets of fluid expelled when a victim sneezes or coughs and is then breathed in by others in the immediate area. The CDC reports that it is also possible that it can be spread more broadly through the air or by touching an object that has been contaminated. Epidemiologists with the World Health Organization have stated that there may be other means of environmental transmission as well. CDC and WHO have developed recommendations for healthcare workers in contact with SARS patients which include the use of N-95 respirators, eye protection, and disposable gowns and gloves, in addition to standard procedures for infectious illnesses (hand washing, etc.). Guidelines for SARS patients and their family members include face masks; frequently washing and disinfecting hands, clothing, bedding, and household surfaces; and, no sharing of food and items. As concerns about this illness have spread, the use of face masks has become common in public places in some countries. Many travel advisories have also been issued and travel to areas of China and Canada has drastically decreased.

Treatment of SARS: Although modern medical science has developed effective treatment for many bacterial infections, there are few effective antiviral drugs and none that are known to act specifically against SARS. At present, the mainstream medical approach for dealing with SARS has been to provide supportive treatment (which may include interventions such as draining fluid from the lungs); antibiotics to control secondary bacterial infections; steroids to help control some of the symptoms of SARS; and the use of existing antiviral agents in hopes that they may have some effect.

Aromatherapy and SARS: Although modern pharmacological science has produced many effective antibiotics for combating bacterial infections, it has been far less successful in developing useful antiviral agents, or “viricides”. Viruses are many hundreds of times smaller than bacteria and could not even be seen until the development of the electron microscope. Viruses are also harder to kill because they are not exactly alive in the first place. Unlike the bacterium, which is a living cell that has all the biological “machinery” for carrying out life processes, including reproduction, a virus is nothing more than a single or double strand of RNA or DNA wrapped in a coat of protein. The virus may lie dormantly in the air, soil, water, or fecal matter for some time before entering a host where it can immediately or eventually reproduce itself in a destructive way. The immune system rallies to fight off viruses just as it does bacteria or any foreign invader (such as a transplanted organ). In the case of viruses that produce the common cold, measles, or some forms of pneumonia, the immune system of a relatively healthy person is able to fight off the virus. In most cases, SARS patients are also able to overcome the virus and survive but in about 4 to 10% of cases the infection overwhelms the body’s defenses and the patient dies.

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