Coronavirus Q & A with Dr. Rick Sharpee

February 19, 2020
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Dr. Rick Sharpee is Director of Science and Nutrition at NOW Health Group. He is responsible for clinical testing for safety and effectiveness, international registrations and technical support for all dietary supplement products.

He received his B.S. degree in Bacteriology from the University of Wisconsin, his M.S. in Microbiology and Immunology from Miami University. And his Ph.D. in Microbiology (Virology) from University of Nebraska. He has over 30 years of broad-based experience in infectious disease research, innovative “industry-first” product development, GMP manufacturing and technical market support in the dietary supplement, animal health and pharmaceutical industries. Dr. Sharpee was named a “Top 100 innovator” for the development of the world’s first vaccine for feline leukemia. He is a co-discoverer of rotavirus and the discoverer of coronavirus in cattle.

 Questions for Dr. Sharpee:

What is your background with the coronavirus?
Is the coronavirus more dangerous than the regular flu?
Who is at more risk for contracting it?
If someone suspects they may have contracted it or have been exposed to it, what is the protocol they should follow?
How is the disease diagnosed?
Is there anything that can be taken to prevent or cure the coronavirus?
How is the dietary supplement industry being affected by this and what, if anything, can we do to safeguard our health?

For more detailed responses and additional insights from Dr. Sharpee, watch this webinar:


Q: What is your background with the coronavirus?

A: I worked on the discovery and characterization of the bovine (cattle) coronavirus as part of the requirements for creating original research for the Ph.D. degree in Microbiology at the Univ. of Nebraska.  About this same time I published an article in “Lancet” (a premier medical journal) predicting coronaviruses in humans and horses and further proposed that corona viruses could be classified into 2 subgroups based on acid sensitizing for the respiratory form and acid resistance for the enteric form.

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Q: Is the coronavirus more dangerous than the regular flu?

A: Coronavirus in humans is a severe upper respiratory tract disease similar to the flu (Influenza) but has been shown to be more invasive and deadly in humans due to its ability to rapidly multiply and spread in lung tissue destroying the cells that line the lungs thereby destroying the ability of the lung to absorb oxygen.  The patient becomes starved for oxygen and essentially dies from asphyxiation. It’s also important to note that this coronavirus (COVID-19) is not the same virus that is responsible for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) that first appeared in the early 2000’s.  Additionally it has been suggested this virus is less severe than the virus responsible for SARS since mortality rates are around 2% while SARS is near 14-15%.

The outbreak is believed to have begun in a seafood and poultry market in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China. The virus is readily transmitted from person to person, scientists believe. It is still unclear how the current epidemic of coronavirus can be contained.

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Q: Who is at more risk for contracting it?

A: Anyone exposed to someone who is demonstrating symptoms of the disease which are similar to the symptoms of cold and Flu and pneumonia. But anyone who has a compromised immune system, the very young and very old. And especially anyone living and working in the region of China (city of Wuhan) where the epidemic broke out.

Symptoms are similar to Cold & Flu making clinical diagnosis difficult. These include: fever, cough, runny nose, sinus congestion and nasal discharge, sore throat.

World health authorities now have a name for this novel coronavirus illness, (COVID-19).

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Q: If someone suspects they may have contracted it or have been exposed to it, what is the protocol they should follow?

A: Since there is currently no vaccine to prevent the disease, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However, as a reminder, CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using facemask.
    • CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear facemask to protect themselves from respiratory viruses.
    • Facemask should be used by people who show symptoms in order to protect others from the risk of getting infected. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

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Q: How is the disease diagnosed?

A: CDC has a two-phase approach for serology testing, using two screening tests and one confirmatory test to detect antibodies to the virus.

  • ELISA, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, is a screening test used to detect the presence and concentration of specific antibodies that bind to a viral protein. CDC tests by ELISAS for antibodies against two different viral proteins, the nucleocapsid (N) and spike (S).
  • If a clinical sample is determined to be antibody-positive by either ELISA, CDC then uses the microneutralization test to confirm the positive result.
    • The microneutralization assay is a highly specific confirmatory test used to measure neutralizing antibodies, or antibodies that can neutralize virus. This method is considered a gold standard for detection of specific antibodies in serum samples. However, compared with the ELISA, the microneutralization assay is labor-intensive and time-consuming, requiring at least 5 days before results are available

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Q: Is there anything that can be taken to prevent or cure the coronavirus?

A: There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for this virus infection. People infected should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms. For severe cases, treatment should include care to support vital organ functions.

People who think they may have been exposed should contact their healthcare provider immediately.

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Q: You stated earlier that there is currently no vaccine or cure for coronavirus.  Tell us how the dietary supplement industry is being affected by this and what, if anything, we can do to safeguard our health.

A: Supplements are not drugs so supplement companies should not be making any claims that their product can cure or prevent any disease, including the coronavirus. Supplements are meant to complement a healthy diet and lifestyle, and can support overall health and wellness and help to fill in nutrition gaps.

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