Covid-19 Omicron Variant & Lyme

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Major Update: 12/27/21

Omicron Variant of Covid-19 & Lyme Disease

The Omicron Covid-19 variant is here. At first in Seattle, it was a whisper, and now it seems it is everywhere. I got infected with it at a superspreader event about one week ago. Fortunately, I am vaccinated and boosted - one week out and I am doing well. So Covid-19 is now personal. Here is what I know from my personal experience and managing those with Lyme who have Covid-19. 

The Good and Bad News about Omicron

Reports from the UK and from South Africa suggest the Omicron variant does not tend to cause severe disease. However, it is super infectious. This means many will get it. Most will not require hospitalization, but some will. And the numbers that will need hospitalization could still over-run the healthcare system which has staff already burned-out from Covid. 

There is an interesting twist in this. Many people who have refused the vaccine will get infected and develop natural immunity. We could reach a level of community Covid-19 immunity from vaccinated and infected people so that by spring or summer - we could bet back to some normal patterns of living. Maybe Covid-19, with the Omicron variant, will have mutated itself out of being a worrisome infection. If this is true, Covid-19 will still circulate in our communities - but most of us will have some degree of immunity from the vaccine and from being infected so it will not cause major illness in low risk people.

What About The Person with Lyme & Covid-19

Most with Lyme do not have a greater problem handling this infection than any other person. Lyme may suppress the immune system to fight Lyme. This does not mean the immune system is suppressed to fight other germs like new or even common viruses such as the Flu.

While most with Lyme do not have broad immune suppression against all germs, there are some that do. A small percentage of Lyme patients have a history of getting most virus infections that come along or of getting severely knocked down and sick with each viral or bacterial infection they acquire. These types of Lyme patients may, but we really do not know, have a type of immune suppression that makes them at higher risk for a poor outcome with Covid-19.

Risk Factors for a Poor Outcome with Covid-19

People with high risk factors for getting severe illness or death with Covid-19 should take steps to limit getting the infection. High risk medical conditions include:

  • Diabetes,
  • Heart disease like congestive heart failure
  • Lung diseases like chronic bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, and smoking damage
  • Immunosuppression from chemotherapy or other illnesses (this category may include a small percentage of Lyme patients as I describe above.)

How to Prepare for Omicron (or The Next Variant)

There are two parts to preparing for Omicron. One part is to prevent getting infected. The other is to boost the immune system to fight it. 

An analogy to this approach is a house with a front porch. The vaccine does not keep intruders off your front porch. Vaccines do not work this way. A good mask and social distancing can keep intruders off your front porch. On the other side of your front door is your immune system army - ready to attack intruders that get throught he door. The vaccine and the booster prepares your army for the best fighting chance to keep you well and out of the hospital. There are also supplements and lifestyle steps you can take to prepare and support your immune system. 

Up Your Mask Game Plan

As I said above - Omicron is very infectious. At my superspreader event, all had to be vaccinated or test negative to attend. Two people I know wore cloth masks - and they got infected. Cloth masks and surgical masks will not do. Time to up your mask game plan. In public spaces I suggest getting an N95 or KN95 mask which does a much better job of blocking the virus than cloth or surgical masks.

Read more about KN95 and N95 masks with purchasing resources in Wirecutter. Masking does help. Here is a review of the research in support of this.

Get Vaccinated and Boosted

Vaccines may not prevent getting infected, but they do charge up your immune system to fight the infection and prevent serious illness. In my case, I was boosted three weeks before I got infected. I have no doubt this is why I have done so well. Vaccination helps you, but it also will do a great job of keeping you out of the hospital. In this way vaccination is personal, but it is also part of your civic duty to stop burning out healthcare workers in our hospitals. Those that are fully vaccinated and boosted stand the best chance at protecting themselves and the healthcare system. 

For more information about Lyme and Covid-19 vaccination safety see: The Covid Vaccine and Lyme Disease.

Support Your Innate Immune System

There are two parts of the immune system that fight infections. One part is called the “innate immune system” and the other is called the “acquired immune system”. The innate immune system fights new germs, like Covid-19, the body has never seen before.

The acquired immune system includes cells and antibodies primed to fight infections which the immune system has learned to fight. For instance, in chronic Lyme it is white blood cells and antibodies in the acquired immune system that help fight the infection. The acquired immune system also is activated by vaccines. See How to Boost The Immune System in Lyme for information about how to support the acquired immune system.

To fight Covid-19, it is the innate immune system that will act first. The innate immune system is composed of barriers like our skin and mucous membranes like those in the nose. It includes various types of immune cells like Natural Killer Cells (NK), Dendritic Cells, Macrophages, Phagocytes, and Mast Cells. Some of the innate immune cells produce protein virus and bacteria germ killers.

A healthy lifestyle helps. Both parts of the immune system work best when one gets seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Emotional toxins like stress and worry suppress immune function - so find ways to destress like counseling, meditation, keep hobbies, visit friends, and exercise.

There are a number of supplements one can take to support and boost the innate immune system.

  • Vitamin A supports mucous membranes that act like a barrier to keep germs out. Vitamin A also regulates the immune system.
  • Vitamin D modulates the immune system, prevents excess inflammation, helps macrophages kill germs, and increases antimicrobial proteins that kill germs. In the case of the Flu, people who take Vitamin D regularly have marked decrease in Flu symptoms and the severity of the Flu compared to those who do not take Vitamin D and have the Flu.
  • Beta-Glucans found in mushrooms like Reishi turn on Macrophages, NK cells, and Phagocytes.
  • Transfer Factors are proteins made by immune cells that turn on various cells like NK cells. One product made by Researched Nutritionals called Transfer Factor Multi-Immune is shown in a very small study to improve NK function by 600%.
  • Probiotics appear to prime most innate immune system cells.
  • Glutathione appears to help Dendritic Cells. This can be increased either by taking liposomal glutathione or N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) which is a building block for glutathione.

Prevent Cytokine Storm

People die from Covid-19 due to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. In this condition, the infection triggers the immune system to release very high levels of inflammatory cytokines. These excessive levels damage the lung tissue leading to death.

People with Lyme are very familiar with cytokines. Excess cytokines made by white blood cells to fight the Lyme infection give most of the symptoms we call Lyme disease symptoms. One type of cytokine storm is the Herxheimer reactions that people with Lyme have when they kill Lyme germs with antibiotics. As part of my Lyme treatments I recommend numerous ways to lower cytokines to improve immune function, decrease Herxheimer reactions, and to improve symptoms. For a detailed look at Cytokines and Lyme see Cytokines: A Guide to Fix Lyme Symptoms & The Immune System. For more information about Herxheimer reactions see Herxheimer Die-off Reaction: Inflammation Run Amok.

Cytokine production is controlled by a cellular genetic messenger called NF-kB. The herbs quercetin and curcumin block this messenger leading to lower cytokines. Antioxidants like liposomal glutathione lower cytokines acutely. It is also possible to turn on a cell messenger called Nrf2 that increases cell production of antioxidants. Curcumin and quercetin turn on Nrf2. Another way to limit cytokine production is to block kinase enzymes. Quercetin is a strong kinase inhibitor.

Stop Virus Replication and Infectivity

If you get infected with Covi-19, stopping virus replication or decreasing infectivity may help decrease the severity of the illness or even prevent death.

Decrease Viral Replication Natural Support

Zinc blocks the enzyme that controls virus replication inside infected cells. Zinc gets into cells using ionophores. An zinc ionophore that is shown to help in laboratory studies is the supplement quercetin I mentioned earlier in the section on Cytokine Storm. One study suggests quercetin works best in the lab to decrease Coronavirus infectivity if the cells are treated first with quercetin before they are infected. So this herb may work best to help a person if they take it before they get infected.

Decrease Viral Load Medicines

If you do get infected and are a person with high risks for a bad outcome - talk with your healthcare provider to see if you qualify for monoclonal antibody infusions or one of the newly approved Covid antiviral drugs - Paxlovid from Pfizer and Molnupiravir from Merck. The Paxlovid is shown to prevent severe illness about 85% of the time in high risk groups while the Monupiravir is shown to prevent severe illness 30% of the time. These drugs are in short supply till the beginning months of 2022.  

I do not support the use of ivermectin as a covid antiviral medication. My review of the science suggests this is not an effective treatment - the best I can say is maybe it will work to prevent or treat covid. I have read the science about Ivermectin. I do not trust it - in general it is very poor quality and largely created and organized by physicians acting more as Ivermectin cheerleaders rather than medical scientists. There are various types of bias in the majority of these studies. Worse yet, the Ivermectin supporters include a lot of unpublished and non-peer reviewed data making it so I cannot validate their findings. You can read more about the NIH review of science here. I agree with the NIH position indicating they cannot tell if Ivermectin works.

My Recommendations

My recommendations below are for people who do not require hospitalization.

Before You Get Infected

1. Prevent contact with the Covid-19 infection.

Practice social distancing and wear an N95 or KN95 mask in indoor public settings.

2. Get Vaccinated and Boosted

3. Practice a healthy immune system supporting lifestyle.

  • Get seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
  • Find ways to lower stress like those mentioned above.

4. Use supplements to support innate immune system function*

  • Transfer Factor Multi-Immune by Researched Nutritionals 1 pill 2 times a day
  • Reishi Mushrooms 400 mg 1 pill 3 times a day
  • Vitamin A 5000 IU 1 time a day
  • Vitamin D 5000 IU 1 time a day. Be careful by working with your physician to keep your level between 50-80. Levels above 150 can be toxic.
  • Probiotics like Corebiotic by Researched Nutritionals or HMF Forte by Seroyal/Genestra 2 pills 1 time a day
  • NAC 500 mg 1 pill 3 times a day or liposomal glutathione 500 mg 1 time a day.

5. Decrease Virus Replication and Prevent Cytokine Storm*

This probably works best if taken before you get infected based on the lab studies showing it works best if cells were pre-treated with quercetin before they were infected.

  • Quercetin 250-300 mg 2 pills 3 times a day
  • Zinc Picolinate 60 mg a day

If You Are Exposed to Covid 19

1. Limit Virus Infectivity/Replication and Decrease Cytokines*

  • Zinc Picolinate 60 mg a day
  • Quercetin 250-300 mg 2 pills 3 times a day

2. Prevent Cytokine Storm*

  • Curcumin 500 mg 1 pill 3 times a day
  • Liposomal glutathione 500 mg 1 time a day

3. Support the Immune System*

  • Vitamin D 5000 IU 1 time a day. Be careful by working with your physician to keep your level between 50-80. Levels above 150 can be toxic.
  • Probiotics 2 pills 1 time a day.

IF You Test Positive or Have a Clinical Diagnosis of Covid-19

1. Limit Virus Infectivity/Replication and Decrease Cytokines*

  • Talk to your physician to see if you qualify for monoclonal antibodies or one of the new Covid-19 antiviral medications (Paxlovid from Pfizer and Molnupiravir from Merck).
  • Zinc Picolinate 60 mg a day
  • Quercetin 250-300 mg 2 pills 3 times a day

2. Prevent Cytokine Storm*

  • Curcumin 500 mg 1 pill 3 times a day
  • Liposomal glutathione 500 mg 1 time a day

3. Support the Immune System*

  • Vitamin D 5000 IU 1 time a day. Be careful by working with your physician to keep your level between 50-80. Levels above 150 can be toxic.
  • Probiotics 2 pills 1 time a day.

Disclaimer

The ideas and recommendations on this website and in this article are for informational purposes only. For more information about this, see the sitewide Terms & Conditions.

* Be aware there is no research showing these supplements will actually help someone with Lyme who acquires Covid-19. But based on their function seen in lab experiments, these may help.

References

View Citations

Immune Boosters

  1. Rountree R. Therapeutic use of immunomodulators. Oral presentation at: The Institute for Functional Medicine Immune Advanced Practice Module; Feb, 2019; Palm Springs, CA.
  2. Martineau AR, Jolliffe DA, Hooper RL, et al. Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. BMJ. 2017;356:i6583. Published 2017 Feb 15. doi:10.1136/bmj.i6583
  3. Cannell, J. J., R. Vieth, J. C. Umhau, M. F. Holick, W. B. Grant, S. Madronich, C. F. Garland, and E. Giovannucci. "Epidemic Influenza and Vitamin D." Epidemiology and Infection 134.6 (2006): 1129-140
  4. Gill, H., Rutherfurd, S., & Cross, K. (2001). Dietary Probiotic Supplementation Enhances Natural Killer Cell Activity in the Elderly: An Investigation of Age-Related Immunological Changes. Journal of Clinical Immunology, 21(4), 264-271.
  5. Adams CA. The probiotic paradox: live and dead cells are biological response modifiers. Nutr Res Rev. 2010 Jun;23(1):37-46. doi: 10.1017/S0954422410000090. 
  6. Murphy, E & Davis, J & Carmichael, Martin. (2010). Immune modulating effects of β-glucan. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care. 13. 656-61. 10.1097/MCO.0b013e32833f1afb. 
  7. Researched Nutritionals. Research Alert: A Study on Transfer Factor. Los Olivos, CA: Researched Nutritionals, 04/2019. Print.
  8. De Flora, S., Grassi, C., & Carati, L. (1997). Attenuation of influenza like symptomatology and improvement of cell-mediated immunity with long-term N acetylcysteine treatment. European Respiratory Journal, 10(7), 1535-1541.
  9. Kim HJ, Barajas B, Chan RC, Nel AE. Glutathione depletion inhibits dendritic cell maturation and delayed-type hypersensitivity: implications for systemic disease and immunosenescence. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007 May;119(5):1225-33. Epub 2007 Mar 1.

 

Quercetin: Coronavirus and Zinc

  1. Dabbagh-Bazarbachi H, Clergeaud G, Quesada IM, Ortiz M, O'Sullivan CK, Fernández-Larrea JB. Zinc ionophore activity of quercetin and epigallocatechin-gallate: from Hepa 1-6 cells to a liposome model. J Agric Food Chem. 2014;62(32):8085–8093. doi:10.1021/jf5014633 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25050823/
  2. Chiow KH, Phoon MC, Putti T, Tan BK, Chow VT. Evaluation of antiviral activities of Houttuynia cordata Thunb. extract, quercetin, quercetin and cinanserin on murine coronavirus and dengue virus infection. Asian Pac J Trop Med. 2016;9(1):1–7. doi:10.1016/j.apjtm.2015.12.002 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26851778/

 

Cytokine Reducing Supplements

Read my article on Cytokines and see it's references: Cytokines: A Guide to Fix Lyme Symptoms & The Immune System

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About the Author

Marty Ross, MD is a passionate Lyme disease educator and clinical expert. He helps Lyme sufferers and their physicians see what really works based on his review of the science and extensive real-world experience. Dr. Ross is licensed to practice medicine in Washington State (License: MD00033296) where he has treated thousands of Lyme disease patients in his Seattle practice. 

Marty Ross, MD is a graduate of Indiana University School of Medicine and Georgetown University Family Medicine Residency. He is a member of the International Lyme and Associated Disease Society (ILADS) , The Institute for Functional Medicine, and The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.

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