According to this article from the LA Times, coronaviruses aspire to be like the common cold. In other words, more infectious than Covid-19, but less deadly. The article says that at least four coronaviruses have mutated to follow this pattern.
According to Daniel Defoe, in “The History of the Plague in London” the early form of that disease was both infectious and lethal. Later it made people ill, but it didn’t kill quite so readily. (I’m interpreting what Defoe said, and interpolated his conclusions). It may be that this is the way that the Covid-19 epidemic ends. In the case of the plague, this happened within a year (if I’m correct), and it is likely that Covid-19 may mutate and produce a much less lethal strain on a timescale of months.
Coronaviruses are noted for their ability to mutate. Mutating fast means that any immunity that someone gets from being infected quickly erodes. So, if the flu is a good guide, the flu’s rapid mutation means that we have to get vaccinated every year to protect ourselves. Sometimes the flu virus is a more serious disease than at other times, but it doesn’t seem to become a lot more lethal over time.
There is a possibility that that is mostly due to better medical treatments and facilities for sufferers. But there is always a chance that the flu could become more lethal in spite of this. If Covid-19 doesn’t mutate to become less lethal or harmful, then life as we knew it is over. Border controls, social distancing, and so on are here to stay. Outbreaks are here to stay. Fast cheap air travel is at an end. Global tourism is at an end.
The Covid-19 pandemic may not actually end, but governments may have to act as if it has. They will be forced to open the borders some time, and this will, inevitably, let the virus in again. More people will die. It seems that vaccines will at the most be only partially effective. People still get the flu even if they have been vaccinated, because the virus continually mutates and the same may prove true of Covid-19.
In Defoe’s time people eventually suffered from “plague fatigue”. They took the attitude that if the plague was going to get them, it didn’t matter what they did, and they stopped avoiding plague victims, and just carried on with business as usual. (They wrapped it up in religious language, but that is the essence).
This, interestingly, appears to be happening in NZ and in the rest of the world. In Defoe’s time, in London, this happened at the peak of the epidemic, and things, coincidentally I believe, got better from then on. In Trump’s America, (and some other countries) we can see the consequences of giving up too soon.
Consequently, I believe we in NZ should continue the fight against the virus, for so long as it remains so lethal. We should hope that, within a year, the virus mutates to become less lethal. We should hope that a vaccine becomes available, but we shouldn’t pin all our hopes on that. Viruses have ways of getting around vaccines.
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Today I am going to reflect on sickness. As an aside, my aim was to write something every Friday and post it here, but lately the deadlines have been slipping past and I didn’t complete the previous post until Tuesday. This Friday I was still suffering from the bug that I caught, and motivation and energy levels were low, so I didn’t start this until Sunday. The effects hang on, but if I don’t start now, I may not get a post done at all! So here goes.
Last Monday I was feeling like I was coming down with something but struggled into work anyway. A couple of hours into the day it was obvious to me that I was rapidly getting worse so I headed home and put my feet up. I fully expected to be over the worst by Wednesday but on Wednesday morning it was obvious that I wasn’t recovered enough to return to work, so I visited the doctor who confirmed a flu-type illness.
The doctor didn’t prescribe anything apart from rest, which suited me. I must write a post about over prescribing of medicines by doctors as I see it sometime. So the rest of the week was taken up by lying around, drinking copious tea, coughing and aching. I believe that one of the symptoms of the sickness I am still suffering from is to make everything ache. Of course, the constant coughing results in aching of the chest muscles, but my arms and legs and head also ached. Not nice.
Add on on shivering fits and sweats and it all makes for a fun week. Did I mention a sore throat?
I think that I am suffering the attack of a flu virus, but obviously not a strain that was targeted by the flu jab that I had. Since it was presumably a virus there is no treatment possible, apart from alleviating the symptoms.
Speaking anthropomorphically, it is in the virus’ interest to not reduce the functional level of the organism that it attacks to the level where it quickly dies and so cannot pass on the infection, so viruses tend to merely make you sick. So infected organisms remain more or less functional. They still eat, drink, and interrelate with others of their type, which allows the virus to spread by coughs and sneezes which fill the air with the virus which can then be inhaled by well individuals.
It is good strategy for the virus to irritate the nose and the the chest, increasing the possibility of the virus being passed on. I say “strategy”, though of course it is pure evolution in action – viruses which don’t cause you to cough and sneeze don’t get spread around so easily and so tend to die out. Of course there are other ways to spread a virus or other disease, STDs and diseases transferred by physical contact spring to mind.
When you think about it, sneezes and coughs are a pretty damn efficient way of spreading a virus. A cough or sneezes creates a mist of tiny virus-laden particles that can be inhaled or picked up from surfaces where they settle. It follows that viruses at least of this type would spread most efficiently in enclosed spaces such as homes and workplaces. A farmer could sneeze in the fields and not affect anyone, but a sneeze in a packed classroom could result in several pupils being missing in the next day or two, not to mention the teacher.
One of the silly things about employment laws is that a person who takes leave from work because of sickness can be asked to provide a medical certificate, even if the employer doesn’t believe that the worker is faking the sickness. Usually there is a day or two’s grace to allow the sick person to obtain a certificate from the doctor. This usually means that the sick person has to go out into the community, sit in a waiting room which is probably a miasma of viruses, and talk to a doctor who is then subjected to the airborne virus! It’s possible that evolution will favour viruses which reach maximum infectiveness in 2 – 3 days!
The reason for the laws is to prevent people from claiming to be sick when they aren’t (known colloquially as “taking a sickie”). While this is obviously a problem it does mean that people may struggle into work when sick in order to avoid the expense of a doctor’s visit, and they may spread the virus around the workplace, resulting in more absences and more costs to the employer.
Viruses are amazing things, on the borders of death and life. They are simply little packets of genetic code for self-replication which utilise the organism’s own machinery against it. Of course all living organisms are packets of genetic code for self-replication, but viruses are the smallest possible, with the possible exception of things like prions. (Which, I’ve just read, don’t contain any genetic code).
The immune system of the body is triggered by viruses (which results in all the coughing and sneezing) and so the body is not defenceless. However viruses mutate quite quickly, so we have many ‘strains’ of common viruses. The common cold is, I believe, a particularly mutable virus which is probably why research into it has not gone far in combating it. The flu virus that attacked me is likely to have been a mutation of a strain of the flu virus that was targeted by the flu jab that I had.