Editor, Commonwealth:

In my lifetime, I have seen 15 epidemics come through, two of which tried to kill me.

It seems that every winter, some plague flu disorders come in from China. Usually by hot summertime, though, they disappear.

We need to acknowledge that in this current epidemic, all of our experts have been wrong in what they have predicted. In fact, there is no real scientific evidence that the different lockdown-type actions have altered the course of the epidemic at all.

However, there are some peculiar patterns that are suggestive. Certain parts of our country, such as sunny states with beaches along the ocean, seem to have lower infection rates than the rest of the states. Southern and western states with hot summers also seem to have lower incidence rates.

In our own community, the three nursing homes have drastically different COVID-19 infection rates. Golden Age, the largest of the three, has had only one COVID-19 patient, who has since tested negative for infection.

But according to Saturday’s Mississippi State Department of Health COVID-19 daily update, there are 43 additional positives at other nursing homes in Leflore County, and eight nursing home patient deaths.

I am sure that all of our local nursing homes have been following the standard preventive rules, but why the large difference?

Several years ago, a group of doctors specializing in geriatrics (treatment of the elderly) began to study disease processes in nursing homes. They discovered that a number of patient symptoms, especially weakness, musculoskeletal problems and failure to thrive, were all related to extremely low vitamin D levels. Furthermore, these patients quickly improved when treated with vitamin D.

As a result, at Golden Age, where I am medical director and half of the patients are my own, I have insisted that each patient receive 5000 units of vitamin D daily. I have delivered a number of lectures on the subject to physicians over the last few years, and the use of supplemental vitamin D has given great results in our patients.

Could vitamin D be the difference between our results and those of other nursing homes? Most nursing home patients receive far less sunlight than ordinary individuals, and sunlight on bare skin is the way vitamin D is naturally produced. Also, darker skinned individuals have more difficulty making adequate vitamin D.

Thus, it seems possible that in less sunny environments, such as is found in the northern and eastern states, and in metropolitan areas where people travel by subway and buses in the dark and work all day in skyscrapers with little access to sunlight, a vitamin D deficiency might explain higher COVID-19 infection rates.

Vitamin D is already shown to help down-regulate dangerous immune responses, including the “cytokine storm” that does so much lung damage in COVID-19 cases. It has also been shown to help suppress other respiratory infections as well.

Indeed, after I wrote the first draft of this letter, I became aware that at least two late-breaking medical studies have just found a correlation between low vitamin D levels and high COVID-19 infection rates.

Of course, correlation doesn’t prove causation. No doubt it will take some big grants over several years to perform a double-blind, crossover, placebo-controlled study that will give us solid scientific proof one way or the other.

I think it would be good to compare infection rates of outdoor workers, such as roofers and gardeners, with people who are confined to nursing homes and offices.

Because of all these facts and observations, I routinely recommend that all of my patients, family and friends take 5000 units of vitamin D3 every day. This can be found at all the local drug stores at low cost and without a prescription.

Of course, we must continue to wash our hands and clean off surfaces. We must also get plenty of outside fresh air, exercise and sunlight.

And take your vitamin D daily. What do you have to lose?

John Hey, MD, AGSF

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