COVID-19: Outrunning the Virus

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Vaccines are coming out at warp speed, but is the virus faster?

It was feared that a new strain of COVID was loose on a mink farm in Denmark, so a million mink were killed, destroying an industry. Seven municipalities were put on extreme lockdown affecting 280,000 people. But it didn’t help (see graphic below). The disease spread just as fast as it did in the four municipalities that continued the moderate measures prevailing in the rest of Denmark.

If virus is in an aerosol—say generated by toilet flushing—social control measures won’t protect you. What if, as James Conca writes in Forbes, “we have created the equivalent of cities with contaminated water and sewage running down the streets.” Even if we conquer COVID-19, “it’s a safe bet this will not be the last virus to find this environmental niche and take advantage of it. In addition, this virus exchanges genetic material with just about anything that is alive and is likely to pass on its talents to other air-borne pathogens.”

Treatments and vaccines are narrowly targeting specific features of the COVID-19 virus: the spike protein or an enzyme needed for replication. But what if a single mutation alters the three-dimensional structure of the protein so that the template no longer fits? The vaccine or antibody or drug may just wipe out the competition so that the mutated virus can take over.

The most important means for stopping epidemics in history has been engineering. Methods that can be used to filter and purify the air kill viruses and other pathogens indiscriminately. Ultraviolet light was previously used to control tuberculosis. Innovations are under development, especially in Israel. But for lack of published studies, public health authorities are not recommending them.

Re-purposed old drugs—ivermectin and antimalarials such as hydroxychloroquine—act by mechanisms that do not depend on a stable virus. They may shield the spike protein from cell receptors and prevent viral entry, or may prevent viral-mediated red blood cell clumping, among other effects. Dr. David Scheim discusses how the clumping effect explains many features, including the effects of sex and blood type and the low oxygen saturation sometimes observed in alert patients.

Research funding goes to expensive, novel interventions. And for lack of studies it considers acceptable, the National Institutes of Health recommends against these long-established drugs.

For more information:

A Natural Experiment in Denmark: With and Without an Extreme Lockdown