Unless you are an essential worker in Peru, you are staying at home to curb the spread of Covid-19. You practice social distancing and wear a mask when you do go out. You wash your hands thoroughly and often. But what else can you do to reduce the chances of becoming infected and critically ill?
Fortunately, most people who contract the virus are either asymptomatic or have mild to moderate symptoms. So far, data on Covid-19 show that the healthier your immune system is to fight infection, the more likely you are to have mild disease if exposed. Nutrition, sleep, stress and physical activity will all have a impact on your immune system.
There are many online resources discussing ways to keep your immune system healthy during the pandemic. Dr. Heidi Rula of the Ironwood Cancer and Research Centers has several good suggestions. She says that nutrition is the most important factor for a healthy immune system. She recommends eating plenty of fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, peppers, berries and citrus fruits. She also suggests eating cultured foods like yogurt or sauerkraut or taking a probiotic supplement to promote digestive health. Fortunately, all of those foods are readily available in Peru. Even if you can’t shop at a grocery store or market, many bodegas and fruit and vegetable vendors will deliver fresh produce to your front door.
Sleep is also key for immune system health. Try to keep your normal sleep schedule and to get at least seven hours of sleep at night. If you are having trouble falling asleep, Dr. Rula suggests taking melatonin, drinking herbal teas or using essential oils such as lavender.
To reduce the stress of living in the midst of a global pandemic, engage in a daily relaxation practice such as yoga, meditation or breathing exercises. There are many apps like Calm or Headspace that you can download as well as many free online resources for different relaxation practices. Limit your news consumption. Getting out in nature has also been shown to lower stress. Although outings are limited to the essentials here in Peru, you can still enjoy Lima’s and other cities’ suddenly wonderfully fresh air and clear skies on your way to the pharmacy.
While exercise is important, Dr. Rula advises against overexertion as it can weaken your immune system. Online dance classes can be a fun way to get moving, especially when you do them with your shelter-in-place companions. Also, keep in phone and video contact with family and friends. Research has shown that an absence of social connection can negatively affect your immune system. Finally, Dr. Rula recommends vitamins C and D3, probiotics, melatonin and zinc to boost immune health.
If You Do Get Sick
What if you develop a dry cough, fever or difficulty breathing despite following all regulations and recommendations? The Ministry of Health of Peru is responsible for overseeing all Covid-19 operations in Peru. If your Spanish is decent, go to the Ministry of Health website, https://www.gob.pe/minsa, and click on the green ribbon entitled Conoce como protejerse del Coronavirus at the top of the page. The site offers a wealth of information on cases in Peru, preventive measures and caring for patients at home. It also includes a rapid screening test to determine if you should receive a Covid-19 test. To access it, in the section “Estoy en riesgo de haber contraído el coronavirus Covid-19?,” click on the blue rectangle that says “Empezar evaluación,” which offers clear instructions for each step.
Most of the time, you should be able recover from the virus at home. However, if you become more critically ill, particularly if you are having breathing trouble, you need to go to the hospital. Peru, like many countries, has only limited ICU beds available for the sickest patients – about 270 – but is working to install more.
If you have private Peruvian insurance, contact your insurance company, ideally your insurance broker. Everyone should have a broker as they will advocate on your behalf in the event of problems with clinics, claims, etc. Your broker will probably recommend that you go to the nearest well-equipped clinic. In Lima, these include the Americana, Delgado, Internacional, San Felipe and Golf clinics. All of those clinics have set up separate emergency room/intensive care units specifically for suspected Covid-19 patients. They have the additional benefit of many English-speaking health professionals. The clinic and/or your insurance company will coordinate with the Ministry of Health to have you tested for the virus. Most local insurance plans include a deductible or are reimbursable, so be sure to bring a credit card with you.
According to insurance broker Aldo Almerini, travel insurance such as the Assist Card will also cover Covid-19 emergencies. If you have international health insurance from your home country, you can try to contact brokers there, although they might have more difficulty helping you in Peru. In that case — or if you don’t have health insurance– it is probably best to call 113 or to write to the Ministry’s WhatsApp hotline (+ 51 952842623). On the WhatsApp, they may not answer you immediately but should respond within a day or two. If the Ministry sends an ambulance to pick you up in Lima, it will most likely take you to the newly established hospital in the Villa Panamericana Apartments in Villa El Salvador, which is reserved for moderately ill patients requiring hospitalization. More critical patients will be transferred to Lima Este Vitarte Hospital in Ate. This modern facility was due to be opened in a few months, but fortunately the government acted swiftly to equip and staff it in record time to care for the most severely ill. In the provinces, you will be taken to the large public hospitals.
Here in Peru, like almost everywhere around the world, Covid-19 has suddenly turned our lives upside down. It can be hard to remain patient as we wait for the infection curve to descend. But as a wise friend said, “our parents and grandparents were required to risk their lives to fight a war; we’ve only been ordered to stay at home and wash our hands.”
By: Kristin Keenan