The Deadliest Pandemic of All Time: A Preventive Cardiologist's Perspective (Updated 6-6-20)
Updated: Aug 15
The devastating impact of COVID-19 has made us realize how interdependent we are. In a society that promotes and rewards individualism, our personal conduct--something as simple as covering our mouths when we cough or sneeze--directly influences the health of others. One person's careless actions may take the life of another unrelated, innocent human being.
I am writing this article in hopes of helping many of my patients who are experiencing cardiac symptoms due to the emotional stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Read: Stress and Heart Disease)
The unhealthy and repetitive media bombardment tallying the number of infections and deaths, coupled with daily political briefings with their childish bickering and infighting--leads to fear, anger, anxiety, uncertainty and depression.
We have also experienced darker shades of human behavior: hoarding of supplies; price gouging of personal protective equipment (PPE). We've seen YouTube videos of harmless looking adults intentionally spitting on groceries, contaminating elevators and other public places in an attempt to spread infection--incomprehensible.
COVID-19 has also devastated our economy. Over 42 million people have lost their jobs. Businesses will be forced to close.
Inspite of all of this negativity, you must remain firmly optimistic about our societies' future and that science, faith, and the best of humanity will overcome this, or any, disease. I would like to share a few of my observations.
In early February 2020, I had the privilege of spending a 12 hour day with some of the nation's leading experts in cardiology, cardiac surgery and cardiovascular research at Stanford University. I have been working closely with Stanford Healthcare, Department of Cardiology, for a couple of decades. It is difficult to convey to the average person how truly talented and brilliant these individuals are. The same could be said of the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic, UCLA/Cedars Sinai, Johns Hopkins, The Mayo Clinic. At Stanford, their researchers can not only cultivate a heart stem cell from a single vial of blood--they can also perform genetic editing to answer complex clinical questions. Think about that for a moment. What is a more difficult task, editing a genetic sequence in a cardiac stem cell cultivated from a vial of blood, or finding a treatment or even creating a vaccine for a virus?
But also think for a moment about the average person who showed up for work in March and April at the peak of the pandemic. Although everyone understands the self-sacrifice of the ER and ICU doctors and nurses, policeman, firemen, paramedics--they could not function without the support of administrators, clerks, custodians, dispatchers, transporters, security, cafeteria workers--all quietly doing their jobs behind the scenes. Countless people risked their lives to prepare and transport our food, stock our shelves, check us out at the store, deliver our mail. Ordinary people, just doing their jobs. No glory. No fanfare. No reward. Most did not even have adequate protective gear. Yet, they showed up and carried the load of our society on their backs. All of these people just doing what they do best: helping others. How impressive. I hope you thank them. I always do.
On my office door, I have listed the names of every health care worker, worldwide, who died from COVID-19: the doctors, nurses, dentists, hospital workers. Over 54,000 Italian health care workers became infected. These professionals, like our colleagues in NYC, demonstrated a committment to their patients that few of us ever will. How can we in healthcare ever live up to their standards?
What Can You Do?
You must stay healthy. Keep your family healthy. Help your friends and coworkers stay healthy. Keep up your immune system: Get proper sleep, eat a reasonable diet. Perform non-strenous simple aerobic exercise. Get a few minutes of sunshine each day.
Use common sense. Avoiding COVID-19 by following certain CDC guidelines for social distancing, handwashing, wearing a mask, staying home if you feel ill--will protect you against the common cold/flu also. Protect the elderly and immunocompromised.
These are the only treatments we have against COVID-19 at this time, but they may be the only ones we need.
If you stay healthy, you are doing your part to keep others healthy.
CVD and COVID-19: A Grim Tale of Two Pandemics.
As terrible and devastating as COVID-19 is, you must not neglect your efforts at preventing CVD (Cardiovasculare Disease).
CVD is the number one killer of human beings, without challenge. Pandemic or not, COVID-19 cure or not, CVD is relentless.
Tragically, at the time of this writing June 2020, COVID-19 has been linked to 333,000 deaths worldwide, over 111,000 deaths in the US, and 17 deaths in Honolulu (16 total deaths in Hawaii).
Both COVID-19 and CVD are pandemics.
CDC reported 16 million deaths from CVD in 2016.
WHO reported 17.9 million CVD deaths last year.
24 million deaths per year due to CVD (Cardiovascular Disease) by year 2030.
In the United States someone dies from a heart attack every 45-60 seconds.
On average around 2100 heart attack deaths per day.
Annual heart attack deaths in the US: 650,000/year.
Annual stroke deaths: 140,000/year.
In other words, nearly 800,000 Americans and 18 million people worldwide will die this year and every year from heart disease and stroke...also known as CVD (cardiovascular disease).
Any loss of life is tragic, but it may actually save lives from CVD if we acknowledge the staggering difference between CVD and COVID-19 deaths. CVD is the true #1 killer.
Compare 17.9 million CVD deaths to the current 333,000 COVID-19 deaths (as of 6-6-20; 6 months).
US 800,000 CVD deaths/year to 111,000 COVID-19 deaths (as of 6-6-20; 6 months).
Sadly, it is unlikely that COVID-19 deaths in the US or even worldwide will be but a small percentage of the total deaths caused by CVD.
Why are there no headlines, death counters, of the #1 killer of men and women?
Because CVD (cardiovascular disease) is not contagious.
It is the contagious nature and immediate impact of COVID-19 which shakes us to our core.
No one can give you a heart attack or a stroke--you give it to yourself.
Treatments and Vaccines
There is no cure for COVID-19, but there is a cure for CVD.
There is no vaccine for COVID-19, but there is a 'vaccine' for Cardiovascular Disease...it's called Prevention: Lower your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol. Exercise, lose weight. Stop smoking.
Points To Remember:
Follow the CDC guidelines and you'll prevent COVID-19.
Follow the advice of your PCP, regarding cardiac prevention, and you'll do you part to not become a cardiac statistic.
Gregg Yamada MD FACC
Disclaimer: I hope you find my medical blogs to be pertinent, interesting, and thought provoking. The information provided is educational and should not be taken as medical advice. I am a doctor, but I am not your doctor. Please schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss these issues and to determine what is right for you.
© 2020. Gregg M. Yamada, MD FACC. All rights reserved.