For anyone stressing out about COVID-19, I suggest you get on the Internet and read about the human immune system. It will make you feel better. It did me.
My mind was blown by the depth, breadth and complexity of the human defenses against germs. There are layers and layers of defenses. Thousands of different types of human cells all interacting in concert. It made me think of God.
One piece of the puzzle are antibodies. Your body has the ability to detect how viruses attach to cells. It then custom designs a little molecule that blocks the virus’ ability to attach, shutting down the invasion.
The federal government has just approved a do-it-at home 10-minute finger prick antibody test. If you have the antibody, it means your body has already beat COVID-19 and you’re immune. You can go back to work.
It will be fascinating to find out just how many Americans have already been exposed and didn’t even know it. Some experts believe 10 to 40 percent of Americans have already contracted the virus. If that’s the case, COVID-19 is not the incurable killer we first believed.
Three separate studies have shown that over half the people who get COVID-19 show no symptoms at all. None.
Here’s my question: How deadly can a virus be when it doesn’t even cause any symptoms in half the people it infects? Eighty percent of people who get COVID-19 have only mild symptoms. A small percent, about five percent, get very sick. Some of them die. These are often old or frail people with underlying conditions and weakened immune system. Same thing happens with colds and flus.
More questions: On March 13, just before the COVID-19 panic, the Center for Disease Control, reported 36 million flu illnesses, 370,000 hospitalizations, and 22,000 deaths during this year’s four-month flu season.
But this wasn’t even noticed. It made zero headlines. Perhaps it created a big yawn because the 2017-2018 flu season killed 66,000 Americans in four months. So this year’s 22,000 flu deaths seem to be nothing compared to two years ago.
Meanwhile, the CDC says COVID-19 has killed 7,616 Americans as of April 4, That’s a third the number of Americans that have been killed by the flu this season.
Google “the human virome.” Turns out the average human being has 500 trillion viruses in them at any one time, including about half the known species. Chances are you’ve got several of the different species of coronavirus somewhere in your body right now, along with adenoviruses, papiilomaviruses, polyoviruses, rhinoviruses, paroviruses, anelloviruses . . . the list goes on and on.
In fact, there are a thousand different viruses that invade the human body. Scientists estimate another 500 human viruses haven’t even been discovered. We discover several new ones every year. It’s a jungle out there! Or should I say, “in here.”
Another question: Whatever happened to the Spanish Flu? It was a novel flu virus that appeared in 1918 and killed 500,000 in the U. S. Then, after a year, it just disappeared. Poof! Where did it go?
The Spanish Flu was caused by a virus named H1N1. Sound familiar? That was the same flu strain that showed up in 2009 as the Swine Flu and scared us half to death. The Swine Flu lasted a year, ending in April, 2010, causing 61 million illnesses, 273,304 hospitalizations and 12,469 deaths. Compared to the Spanish Flu, it was a dud.
What happened? Well, for one thing, the Swine Flu occurred in 2009, 90 years after the Spanish Flu. Medical progress had advanced. Sanitation had advanced. Communication had advanced.
So why is this scaring us so, to the point of wrecking the economy? Social media has created the perfect vehicle for rumors and panic. The whole world can now have an instant panic attack thanks to smartphones. This would be called the Law of Unintended Consequences.
The rise of digital media is a big contributor. Disaster always sold newspapers, but digital advertising has taken this to another level. Digital advertising is sold strictly on the number of views. The more views, the more dollars. So digital media profits are tied directly to scaring the bejabbers out of us.
Being scared into good hygiene is not necessarily a bad thing when a new virus hits the streets. Except for one thing: Trashing our entire economy can cause suffering far beyond the current scale of this virus.
Look at this another way: Federal airline regulators don’t require safety modifications unless the cost is less than $2 million a life saved. Congress has been forced to spend two trillion dollars propping up the economy because of the COVID-19 panic. Since half the COVID-19 deaths occur among people over 80, the expected age of death, our “shelter at home” efforts will have needed to save a million younger lives to be cost justifiable, based on federal benchmarks. That means the virus, without shelter at home, would have had to kill two million Americans total.
Would that have happened if we did nothing? Like all great issues, we will never know the answer to that. Some will say we dodged a bullet through a heroic national effort. Others will say we completely overreacted.
In any case, after April, we have to get back to normal. If we haven’t contained it by then, it’s not containable. How do you contain a virus that causes no symptoms in half the people it infects?
The good news: In Europe, like China, the case and fatality rates are declining in perfect conformance to Farr’s Law of epidemics. U. S. declines will come in a week or two.
The predecessor to SARS-CoV-2 (the name of the virus that causes the illness named COVID-19) first appeared in 2002 and killed 775 people. This is not a new virus. It’s endemic among bats and other animals. Four other coronaviruses are endemic in human populations and cause common colds.
We are watching the evolution of the fifth endemic human coronavirus. This is a process that has been going on for decades, maybe centuries. The virus is adapting to us and we are adapting to it. It becomes less deadly to its host. And we learn to control it by our powerful immune system.
Years from now, somebody’s going to catch a cold. “You okay, honey?” the spouse will ask. “I’m find dear. It’s just a mild case of COVID-19.”