Stone Age Doc’s Pandemic Perspective #4
Humor isn’t just for laughs
For the past couple of weeks I have been sending humorous cartoons, videos and jokes to several dozen people on my contact list almost every day. In a way I feel like I am imposing but I have a particular strategy in mind: I want to help you strengthen your immune system. If that sounds like a stretch, I assure you that it is not.
The medical community has known for decades that laughter is linked to better health and we’re beginning to get some specifics. Academic studies from institutions like the Mayo Clinic, Indiana State University and Rush University show that several minutes of day of laughter results in lowered stress hormones, raised endorphin levels, decreased blood pressure, reduced perception of pain and enhanced immunity. This last factor has been narrowed further – increasing specific cells of the immune system that target, for example, influenza viruses.
I’m blessed with family and friends that shower me with funny stuff every day and I try to send the best ones and to avoid duplication. Keep them coming – I can always use more material.
Are we overlooking something that can help in the COVID-19 fight? (Thanks to fellow pediatrician Dr. John Garretson who brought this to my attention.)
Nearly 100 years ago two French microbiologists developed a vaccine that helped to prevent tuberculosis (TB). Called Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) after its discoverers, it has been protecting children from tuberculosis ever since. Moreover, it protects them from other infections as well although that aspect has not been extensively studied.
Vaccination against tuberculosis with BCG has been dropped by many developed countries and it was never used here in the U.S. because the likelihood of getting tuberculosis in these countries is very low. In 2020 the majority of persons with tuberculosis are either immigrants or are infected with the HIV virus. Although the BCG vaccine has an excellent safety record, it makes the TB skin test less reliable as a diagnostic tool because it causes that skin test to be positive in varying degrees for some time.
Two observations should make it mandatory to investigate this vaccine as a means to prevent coronavirus infections. First, two countries with the longest history of BCG use, India and Japan, not only have fewer cases of COVID-19 than “advanced” countries that do not use the vaccine, but the mortality rates are also lower. For instance, as of April 10 (from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center) Japan has had only 5,530 cases of the disease and 99 deaths – fewer than the city of Philadelphia! Japan’s mortality rate from this infection is 1.8 percent. In contrast Netherlands, which does not use the BCG vaccine, has had 23,249 cases and 2,511 deaths, a mortality rate of 10.8 percent.
Another observation is that studies during the SARS outbreak in 2002 – another coronavirus – showed that persons who had received the BCG vaccine had a milder form of the disease. Even earlier studies showed that children who had received BCG vaccine had fewer respiratory infections.
There are still a couple of issues that have to be resolved. The first is that there are various forms of BCG currently in use and not all of them have the same effect on the immune system. Another potential problem is that BCG is standard therapy for certain forms of bladder cancer and there are already some supply problems.
A COVID-19 vaccine is months away. The BCG vaccine is available right now. Studies of this vaccine against the new virus are already under way in Australia and the U.S.. Let’s hope that it works and gives us one more tool against the virus that has crippled the world’s economies.