COVID19: KEEPING YOURSELF SAFE

A guest post written by my beloved husband….

Originally posted on March 16, 2020; updated on March 19, 2020

Avoiding COVID‐19

We are witnessing a rapidly evolving pandemic, that is unpleasantly similar to the plagues of the past, and more like science fiction than the reality we took for granted. In many ways COVID‐19 most resembles the Spanish flu from 100 years ago: it’s mortality rate (currently 3.8% vs 2%), it’s R0 (R-naught = contagiousness; currently 3.1 vs 2.0), and its rapid spread across the world. The Spanish Flu of 1918 killed 650,000 americans and >50 million people worldwide. COVID‐19 is related to two other coronaviruses, SARS and MERS. Like them, it is a biosafety level 3 (BSL‐3) pathogen, that’s now loose and uncontained in the population.

Even a few days ago I heard people minimizing or dismissing the severity of this situation. But, as it became known that 12,000 new cases arose in Italy in the past 48 h, and 370 people died yesterday (Italy has a mortality rate of 7.3 %), that unrealistic viewpoint was replaced by fear and panic. No vaccines or anti‐viral medications exist for MERS, SARS or COVID‐19, so we cannot expect medical intervention to stop the pandemic in the near future. The best person to listen to for advice on how to guard against coronavirus is Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on viral pathogens. Still, I read an article asking for guidance on how to avoid contracting COVID‐19, and so I’m summarizing some practical advice about that. You may not need this input, but I want to provide it in case anyone wants it. My wife Sally and I were trained by excellent microbiologists, from whom we learned procedures that prevent contamination. We use them in our laboratory, and as we watched COVID‐19 progress over the past weeks we made a plan to adapt these methods for our home. We are in a high‐risk group, but with this approach we hope to avoid contracting the virus. Given its very contagious nature, that’s a tall order. What follows below is a step‐by‐step plan for how to change life at home.

1. Prepare disinfectants.Coronaviruses are microscopic particles, invisible to the naked eye, that have an RNA genome within a lipid bilayer membrane that also contains proteins. The membrane makes the virus hardy and protects it outside the host cell.   However, most viruses, including COVID‐19, are susceptible to destruction by bleach or alcohol. The first thing to do at home is to prepare two types of spray bottles, one containing 10% bleach, and one containing 70% alcohol (either isopropanol or ethyl alcohol). If you are not knowledgeable about making such solutions, here’s how to do it. For the bleach solution, mix 1 part CLOROX with 9 parts water. Do not use cheap, off brands of bleach; CHLOROX contains stabilizers that maintain its potency for up to 5 days after dilution in water.  Ordinary bleach loses efficacy within 1 day of dilution in water.  For the 70% alcohol, you can buy bottles of 70% isopropanol in supermarkets or pharmacies. You can also buy EVERCLEAR (it is 95% ethyl alcohol) in a liquor store, and mix 3 parts EVERCLEAR with 1 part water. Isopropanol is also available as a 95% solution, so you can dilute that the same way.  10% bleach, 70% isopropanol or 70% ethyl alcohol inactivate and kill COVID‐19 within a minute of exposure. Put these solutions in 1 qt spray bottles (available at supermarkets, pharmacies and hardware stores) for general use. We also prepare small, 60 mL spray bottles of 70% alcohol to carry in a pocket or purse, and use them to spray down anything that we suspect might be contaminated, including our hands, shopping cart handles, door knobs, gas pump dispensers, etc. You can find these small spray bottles in pharmacies or eye centers, because they are often used to hold eyeglass cleaning solution. Don’t skimp when decontaminating something with bleach or alcohol: give it a thorough coating, until it’s wet with the liquid, then let it sit for at least a minute.

2. Eliminate hand‐to‐mouth contact.When you are in a potentially contaminated environment, whether it’s a public place (grocery store, office, classroom) or in your home, it’s crucial to avoid touching your face. That’s the first priority in the laboratory, but it’s not easy to remember or accomplish. One tip that helps is to think about keeping your hands below the level of your shoulders. If you don’t raise your hands above your shoulders, then you cannot touch your face. Second, maintain a discreet distance from other people, a few feet away. Coronaviruses are quite hardy.  Recent findings (Mar. 17, New England Journal of Medicine) describe the survival of  COVID-19 (also called SARS-Cov-2)  and the related SARS (also called SARS-Cov-1), in the air and on different surfaces: in the air, 3-4 h;  on cardboard, 24 h; on copper, 4 h; on plastic or stainless steel, 2-4 d. Respiratory viruses are present in fluids from the lungs of infected people, but coronaviruses are not airborne… that is, they don’t fly. When they are coughed or sneezed or breathed out in the respiratory droplets of sick people, they have a maximum range of projection of a few feet, before the droplets fall to the floor, a table, or a countertop.  Hence, keep your distance (6 ft) from other people, but especially from anyone who has symptoms of sickness.  A sick person may contaminate others by coughing or sneezing or talking, any of which can project droplets of the virus. But, those droplets fall out of the air in a few minutes, limiting the scope of direct contagion.  On the other hand, a sick person walking through a room touching things leaves a trail of millions of viral particles, that in the case of COVID-19 remain viable and infectious for days.  The head of a pin is large enough to hold 70 million virus particles.  If a sick person walks through a supermarket, even without directly encountering anyone, his or her hands will likely contaminate the shopping cart, that may infect the unlucky 10 – 15 people per day that use it over the next few days, by hand-to-mouth.  Consequently, and perhaps most important, healthy people become infected by touching a contaminated surface, and then touching a mucous membrane (eyes, mouth, nose) without decontaminating their hands.  But, the virus cannot penetrate unbroken skin, so if even you touch an infected surface you can wash your hands or sterilize them with 70% alcohol or 10% bleach to protect yourself. Make a habit of washing your hands with warm soapy water, and when you are out and away from a sink use 70% alcohol to sterilize them.

3. Re‐organize the home environment.At present our city and the university are free of coronavirus, but that will soon change. Now is the time to prepare for a situation in which a percentage of residents are carrying COVID‐19. Yesterday 14% of 1500 people tested in New Rochelle, NY were carrying the virus. Soon, whenever we leave our homes, we will venture into a potentially infectious situation. Besides the possibility of direct contamination, the foods and other items that we bring home are a risk, because they are prepared, packed and shelved by people who we know nothing about, who might be infected or sick with COVID‐19. The mushrooms and broccoli that we cooked last night were from Watsonville and Soledad CA, respectively; today CA reports that 400 of its residents are infected.  At its current growth rate, in a week that number, which is probably a gross underestimate, will rise to >3000. California is just an example; many places that we obtain food and merchandise from have similar levels of infection. Unfortunately, within days or a week people here in town will be infected too. The bottom line is to make your home a sanctuary from any threat of infection by COVID‐19. To do so, we decontaminate things that come into our home. At present these precautions may seem extreme, but we are facing a potentially lethal virus that is unprecedented in recent history. The decisions that we make and the actions that we take are literally life‐and‐death choices. Why take chances with the lives of loved ones?

a. We installed a table in our garage, on which we spray potentially contaminated things with bleach or alcohol, before they enter our home. Most of our foods are packed in plastics anyway, so it’s easy to spray them down. Use your best judgment about what needs decontamination, but anything that was handled by several people should be either cleaned or well‐cooked. Assume that the exterior of anything you purchase might carry particles of live virus.  When shopping, try to use your credit card instead of cash or coins, and spray it with alcohol before putting it back in your wallet.  When you return home from shopping or other errands, leave your shoes in the garage and put on some shoes that never leave the house.

b. Besides the garage, divide your home into different areas, for: incoming unpacking/triage/decontamination, cooking, eating. We have a space in the kitchen to place incoming stuff that we are unsure about. Do not place incoming bags of groceries, packages or mail directly on the countertops used for food preparation. Decontaminate the contents first, and then start cooking. It’s unlikely that COVID-19 will survive during transit in the mail because its survival is much shorter on porous surfaces.  Nevertheless, the people that handled the mail during delivery might be infected, so after opening mail discard the envelopes and packaging and wash your hands.  After shopping, wash and decontaminate your hands, and then unpack, decontaminate and store your items.  Throw the bags away in the trash.  You can spray or soak fresh produce that you want to eat raw (celery, carrots, lettuce, broccoli peppers, etc.) with a dilute solution  of (unscented) CHLOROX (0.75% = 1.5 ts per gallon of water); let it stand for at least 5 min and rinse with water before eating.   After unloading, decontaminating and storing everything, wash your hands again before food preparation.

c. De‐clutter and organize the countertops and tables in your kitchen. To keep your kitchen safe, it’s necessary to frequently and easily clean all these surfaces with bleach or alcohol. Throw away anything unnecessary, store anything decorative, put away everything not in use, and keep counters and the sink clear. In the morning, before cooking, and in the evening before bed, spray the countertops, eating areas and sinks with 10% CLOROX and wipe them down with a clean cloth.  You may want to wipe the countertops with alcohol before using them during the day.

d. Carry a small spray bottle of 70% alcohol in your pocket or purse, and use it to decontaminate anything you are skeptical about: your hands, your steering wheel, your door handles, your computer keyboard, your phone, your keys, shopping cart handles, touchscreens. Liquid/gel hand sanitizers also contain 60‐70% alcohol and they work fine, but they are less penetrating than an alcohol spray, and more difficult to apply to surfaces. 70% alcohol will not damage glass, plastic, metals or your skin. It will dry your skin, so it’s a good idea to also use hand creams to re‐moisturize.

e. Change your clothes regularly and do not re‐wear clothes that you wore outside without washing them. When you leave your home you are entering environments that might contain COVID‐19, and it could get on you clothes when you are working in an office or sitting in a chair. When in doubt, wash it. If you can’t wash it, then hang it in a closet for a week. COVID‐19 does not survive as long on porous surface like fabrics.

f. Don’t go to restaurants, bars, clubs, churches, theaters or any other place where people congregate. Do not invite other people into your home.  Do not go to health clubs or gyms.  Try to do as much as possible electronically from home with your computer or phone. Avoid trips outside the home; shop as infrequently as possible. The next few months will be critical in the fight against this organism. It’s a good time to stay home with the family, to write, read, stream entertainment, watch the news and listen to Dr. Fauci. If you follow these approaches it will maximize the chance of avoiding sickness from the coronavirus.

Additional notes on Mar. 19, 2020

Without a vaccine or an effective anti-viral drug, the only approach left to stop the pandemic is to eliminate person-to-person transmission.  China’s response of complete, militarily enforced quarantine in Hubei province leveled off the incidence and the mortality of the epidemic within 2 months, at a total of 3200 deaths (only 34 new cases, and no deaths reported yesterday).  South Korea took a similar approach.  As a result, the number of new cases in these countries plummeted, and the infection is under control (see the graph below, from today’s New York Times).  Looking at the responses of Italy, Iran, Spain and the US, all of which initially did nothing to contain it, the results are strikingly different: exponential growth of the virus and exponential death of infected individuals, neither of which shows any indication of subsiding.

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The bottom line is that many, many people are going to die from this pandemic, and the only thing we can do, until vaccines or treatments are available, is to stop transmitting it person-to-person.

P.E. Klebba, Ph.D

SUNSHINE ON MY SHOULDERS!


I got a blog award!  And like sunshine it made me very very happy… Thank you so much, Dorothy (from New Vintage Kitchen), it took me a while to compose this post, but better late than never! Life has been slightly hectic, but now that I am for the most part laying in the sun in Hawaii, it seems like the perfect opportunity to say a big thank YOU!

The Sunshine Blogger Award is given by bloggers to peers who they feel are creative, positive, and inspiring while spreading sunshine to the blogging community.

Rules for the Sunshine Blogger Award

  1. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and link back to their blog.
  2. Answer the 11 (or so) questions the blogger asked you.
  3. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award in your blog post.
  4. Nominate 11 (or so) new bloggers & their blogs. Do leave a comment on their blog to let them know they received the award and ask your nominees 11 (or so) new questions.

Being the rebel that I am, I must say that I will not nominate 11 bloggers, so my apologies for that, I hope it’s ok. But here are the answers to the questions Dorothy asked in her nomination

  1. Describe your blog and why you started it. My blog is almost 11 years old and it started just to join my passion for writing and cooking. I like to keep it varied, but over the past couple of years there has been a clear increase in baking.
  2. Favorite time of day to write? I don’t have a preferred time, usually I write my posts in the weekend or evenings.
  3. Music while you write? If so, what? No music. I don’t listen to music while I write or cook. If Phil has music on in the background, it does not bother me, but I never set anything to play.
  4. Do you carry a notebook or use notes on phone or tablet to jot things down when out of the house? No.
  5. What inspires you the most in regards to your writing? First, the recipe I will be featuring. It all goes around it. But I avoid excessive text before the recipe, I find it too distracting.
  6. Have you ever dreamed you could fly? No.  I guess I am a very boring person… No music, no notebooks, no flying… what’s wrong with me?
  7. What was the last book you read and did you like it? Man’s Search for Meaning. A difficult, disturbing read but I adored it.
  8. What superpower do you wish you had? Time travel (with 100% safe return to present).
  9. Dark or milk chocolate? Both. Plus white.
  10. Is there a question you wish you were asked? Nothing in particular comes to my mind.

A few more words about blogging. I have perhaps a bit over 3 thousand subscribers to the site, but I doubt that more than 20% of those come and read what I post. I never had a blog post, pinterest or instagram entry go viral. But every time I hit “publish” on a post I feel the same thrill of 11 years ago when it all started. I guess that is what keeps me going. Being nominated for an award by someone who pays attention to my writing and leaves me comments and so much encouragement? That is special. That warms my heart.

THANK YOU, DOROTHY!

 

 

VENTING ON VACCINES

I am re-blogging this article, which I originally wrote in 2015, since it seems even more relevant today.  Please feel free to share if you like it. (comments are shutdown, you can add comments to the original post, if so desired)

Bewitching Kitchen

Disclaimer #1:  This is not a food-related post

Disclaimer #2: I am taking my gloves off

Few things upset me more than the disturbing movement to stop vaccinating babies and kids. For a while now I’ve been debating whether I should write about it. Having watched an episode of Frontline the other day that dealt with the subject, and almost succumbing to cardiac arrest while screaming at the screen, I decided I cannot stay silent any longer. First of all, let me get this straight out up front: I have a doctoral degree in Biochemistry, three years post-doctoral experience in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford, and I taught Microbiology to Medical students in Brazil at Universidade de Sao Paulo. I also worked for about 10 years on basic research into the biotechnology of vaccines.   I’m not bragging, but I am stating my experience, that hopefully will convince…

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A DREAM THAT DID NOT COME TRUE

Do you remember the Great British Baking Show? I watched every season. It quickly became my favorite cooking show because contrary to other productions, the overall atmosphere is friendly, and the judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood work together flawlessly to evaluate the contestants, bringing a perfect balance of criticism and praise. The show was so successful that an American version popped up a few years ago (2015), using a very similar format. Season 3 got canceled after just a few episodes but a new season is coming up probably later this  year.

(Word cloud, courtesy of my dear friend Denise – do I have cool friends or what?)

I am not allowed to share any specific details. All I can say is that I got very close from being a contestant in this upcoming Great American Baking Show. I passed all hurdles, except the last one.  It was a stressful process, with quite a bit of anxiety but also a ton of excitement. Probably the most amazing experience I’ve been through.  For a while I was living in a kind of a daze, not quite sure it was all really happening.

I confess that I day-dreamed a lot about meeting Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry (if they would be the hosts), and ‘the tent.” I confess I day-dreamed about getting a handshake on Bread Week (hey, dreams are free, and sometimes wild). I confess that no matter how much I try to tell myself it was a long shot, that the competition was fierce and the contestants I met were better than me, I am disappointed and sad for not being chosen.

I guess what makes me most disappointed is that I feel I did not do my best on some levels. That is what bothers me. And I will have to find ways to deal with it. But it’s all water under the bridge. Life goes on, and my plan is to continue trying to improve my baking skills.  I have a long list of things I want to learn and a long list of skills I want to get better at.  It would have been so nice to be on the show, but unfortunately, not every dream in life comes true.

 

 

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WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE

For the past couple of months we’ve been struggling with intense sadness, brought by the shocking news that our very dear graduate student, and my lovely friend, Aritri was diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive type of cancer. She had surgery on the day of her 30th Birthday, and the diagnosis came a few days later as a New Year sarcastic surprise, on January 1st. Her cancer, leiomyosarcoma, is pretty much unheard of in women in her age bracket, hitting those in their 50’s instead. Usually post-menopausal women. A very unlucky roll of the dice for our friend.

Aritri has been working daily on the bench right next to mine for the past 5 years. I taught her every technique of molecular biology I know, and she not only learned them all, but I must admit, she does them better and faster than her mentor. You want something tricky done as efficiently as possible? Give it to Aritri.  She loves having a ton of stuff to do (I often think she pushes the envelope a little), and after lab meetings in which we go over what everyone is doing, she will often approach me with a very characteristic smile and ask  “why don’t you let me do it for you?”  She loves being busy, she loves earrings, colorful outfits, she loves to cook, to have fun, she loves to sing and does so beautifully – at a professional level, actually. She often performs at functions on campus.

Bottom line is, she is a special person in our lab in general and in my life in particular. I wish I had a magic wand to wave and make this nightmare go away from her life. So that she can go on to become a successful scientist, so that she can go on singing, and brightening up the world around her with her smile, her beauty, her sense of humor and sweetness.  I don’t have a magic wand, but I do have this blog and I hope that you understand if I use it to at least try to help her deal with the financial burden of what she is going through.

To this end, I am setting up a GoFundMe campaign for her, and the link is here.

I should let you know that I will not keep track of who is donating or not, I don’t want to do that. Not everyone can donate, and that doesn’t mean a person does not care. I leave it up to you, if you can do it, we really appreciate it.

One final note: if you try to donate, the way gofund is set up, it makes you think there is no way to avoid including an extra tip. Just scroll to “OTHER” and fill the value with zero.  

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THE IRON (UPTAKE) CHEF CHALLENGE

I wish I could take credit for coming up with Iron Uptake Chef, but one of my readers – you know who you are – coined the term for me. Coolest title ever!  Iron uptake experiments are my “thing” in the lab. You know how a person might love to make pasta from scratch, or bake breads, or bake cookies, and that is their comfort zone in the kitchen? In a lab, we all have our favorite experiments. For me, by far, it is anything related to iron uptake. These experiments require careful timing and I was born with a chronometer inside my head. Anything that requires careful timing, please let me take care of it. I love it, and all modesty aside, do a pretty good job with it. For these experiments we must measure the radioactivity in hundreds of test tubes, one by one, using a machine called gamma-counter, aka My Preciousssss.

If something happens with My Preciousssss, I am in deep, deep trouble. Unfortunately that is exactly what I faced last year. My beloved gamma-counter died. I suspected a mechanical problem, the chains that move the tubes around were stuck. Our counter is old (built in 1990), no one services it anymore, parts are next to impossible to find.  So the Iron Uptake Chef was left with 180 samples inside the machine. Paralyzed. We considered buying a new machine, but the price tag is painful: about 25K.

In despair, we asked our IT guy to take a look at it. He’s been working in our department for 30 years (!!!), and performs all sorts of miracles in anything involving computers and beyond. Gamma-counters go beyond the definition of beyond, but… he said he would take a look at it. Yes, it was a mechanical problem, and he thought that replacing one component that rotates a big handle inside the machine could be the key to solve it. He took the part out, searched for it on ebay, and found something that seemed to be a good replacement. A few more days went by, the radioactivity in my samples decaying at the same rate my hyperventilation was increasing.  When we finally got the part, the dimension of one metal component was too big, it would not fit in the little space available for it. Undeterred, our guru got a special saw and “trimmed” the part to fit. He worked a whole weekend on it, and by Monday morning my Preciousss was in top shape, and my experiment saved!

So how do you even begin to say thank you for someone who went not just the extra mile, but what it amounts to a full marathon for you?  I asked him what was his favorite cake, and promised I would bake him one. As he considered all the possibilities, I started to shake inside, fearing the worst. What have I just done? Have I set myself to calamitous trouble? Could he possibly pick a Gateau Saint-Honore’? A Sacher Torte, perhaps? Well, it was challenge enough for this Iron Woman. Stay tuned for the outcome…

(to be continued….)

 

 

 

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SOMEONE TURNS 70 TODAY!

This post is dedicated to my sister Norma, so my apologies to those who cannot read Portuguese…

Norma, holding her younger sister (yours truly).

Ser a irmã caçula – e caçula de verdade, 16 e 12 anos mais nova que as primeironas – e’ uma experiência interessante. Meio como ser filha única, mas não exatamente.  Irmãos separados por dois, tres, quatro anos, tendem a interagir de uma forma mais egalitária. Brincam juntos, aprendem juntos, brigam, se batem (principalmente se meninos), mas com a diferença grande de idade, tudo muda. Quando eu era criança, minhas irmãs eram adolescentes. Eu as olhava com uma certa admiracão velada, quando se aprontavam para sair, se analisavam no espelho, arrumando o cabelo, a maquiagem, escolhendo a roupa. Eu imaginava como deveriam estar se divertindo longe de casa, e que um dia quem sabe seria a minha vez. Quando eu tinha 10 anos elas se casaram e  minha vida mudou drásticamente, creio que ate’ aquele momento eu não sabia que fariam tanta falta.  Mas, tem coisas que a gente não pode mesmo antecipar.

Anos e anos se passaram e hoje minha ‘irmãzinha do meio” completa setenta anos de vida! Não estou la’ para comemorar, mas divido tres lembranças que por um motivo ou outro ficaram solidificadas na minha memória. A primeira, foi sentar com ela e folhear um caderno de desenho que ela tinha, feito para alguma matéria na escola, sei la’ o que seria. Aula de Desenho? Naquela época talvez existisse. Era uma coisa mais linda do que a outra, desenhos perfeitos, a lápis, alguns tinham um formato geométrico, outros eram desenhos de pessoas, rostos, e eu fecho os olhos ainda hoje e re-visito aquela mesma fascinação que senti. Minha irmã, uma artista!  Para mim, melhor do que Michelangelo…

Segunda memória. Um grupo de amigos e amigas das minhas irmãs estavam em casa e eu, como a caçulinha, rondando, tentando não me fazer muito evidente, para não correr o risco de ser mandada embora do grupo dos “adultos.”  Norma de repente comeca a cantar uma canção em italiano, francamente nao me lembro mais qual, mas era uma música famosa no Brasil naqueles tempos. A voz dela, lindíssima, clara, magnífica. O mundo silenciou, saboreando a beleza acústica de um momento especial. Pensar que quando eu canto os cães saem da sala… pode haver tanta injustiça em um único pool genético?

Terceira memória. Essa a mais especial. Tenho certeza que ela não faz ideia. Nas minhas décadas de vida, se eu tivesse que escolher cinco dias como os mais especiais da minha vida, esse seria um deles. Os detalhes são um pouco nebulosos. Por algum motivo eu não tinha ido para a escola e Norma, tambem por algum motivos inusitado, estava em casa. Naquela tarde, ela brincou comigo da hora do almoco ate’ a hora do jantar. Eu lembro que ela inventou a brincadeira toda, eu tinha umas garrafinhas coloridas de plástico, imitando garrafinhas de boliche, e eram parte da brincadeira. Não lembro mais grande coisa, so’ a sensação deliciosa de estar vivendo um dia especial. E lembro também que quando o dia acabou eu fiquei muito triste. Eu temia que nunca houvesse outro igual. De fato, não houve. Mas o que importa e’ que esse um valeu por milhares. Ainda que eu tenha levado mais de 40 anos para dividir essa lembrança com ela, antes tarde do que nunca….  Tagradecida!

FELIZ ANIVERSARIO PARA ALGUEM MUITO ESPECIAL QUE MORA DO LADO ESQUERDO DO MEU PEITO!

 

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