A pathology report translated from Russian about one week ago explained for the first time in our reading why the COVID-19 illness and its progenitor, the novel coronavirus, is being taken so seriously. As yet, the virus has infected what amounts to be an infinitesimally low number of people (126,258 people worldwide as of 4:47AM EDT March 11, 2020), but against the known number of infections, its mortality rate shows at 3.67%, and this appears far higher than that of the normal influenza rates of about 0.1% of cases. While it is more likely that the actual number of people who have been affected by COVID-19 is far higher, the kind of things that happen to people who develop acute cases of the disease are alarming and of enough concern that the World Health Organization has deemed this a pandemic, and estimates the global risk for the disease at “very high.” President Trump closed incoming travel to the US from all European nations except the United Kingdom for thirty days effective midnight Friday morning. All over the world, events which gather large groups of people are being suspended or canceled, and in some cases, panic buying and hoarding has led to some strange and even absurd consumption of various items, such as toilet paper.
We do have some promising news about all this, but we want to lay out for the reader what it is about this particular virus that is creating the stir and uncertainty on such a massive scale.
An Izvestia news piece dated February 3rd, 2020 noted that some experts in the field of virology noted at least two factors in the characteristics of the novel coronavirus that led some of them to believe that the virus was artificially created or modified in a laboratory. The characteristics are the virus’ long incubation time, the large genome that the virus possesses, and the severe pulmonary edema it causes during its course of infection are all factors that could be effectively used in the creation of biological weapons.
This is not to say that the virus is definitely lab-created. Not all virologists researching this pathogen thought that it was. But these characteristics do raise questions, because the trajectory of the virus is unusually severe on its victims.
The crux of the report from Izvestia, translated into English, says approximately the following:
“Coronavirus can very well be chosen as the object for creating the ideal construct for infection,” explained a Russian specialist in virus genetics, who also wished to remain anonymous.
“The virus is respiratory, that is, it spreads effectively (only the measles virus is more effective). Its genome has a large number of genes, which is convenient. It has a very unpleasant characteristic: the pathogen is respiratory, but also asymptomatic in the early stages. It has a long incubation period. This is the most dangerous combination that could exist.”
As the specialist further explained, the novel coronavirus is able to suppress the immune response in the first stages of infection. When the number of copies of the virus exceeds a certain (rather high) level, the body’s immune response is finally triggered, but this happens in the form of a very strong systemic immune response. This response is so strong that it actually injures the infected person even more, causing lung damage.
By the time an infected person feel the onset of any symptoms, the virus is already very widespread, [the report literally saying it is in] almost all the organs [cells] of the body. As a result, the body’s immune system gives such a strong response that pulmonary edema is formed, reducing the lungs’ capacity for air intake to a minimum, and those who are sick cannot breathe.
However, so far no expert has clear indications that the virus was created artificially.
Again, this is not a smoking gun to say the virus was created in a bio lab, and honestly, even if it is something somebody created, it does not matter beyond the hope that the genome sequence the Chinese provided the world for the virus actually helps in finding ways to effectively treat it. Certainly the world’s best are at work on that very problem now. Maybe, if the virus was an artificial creation and accidentally released, such publication can stave off a massive problem.
The peculiar capability that the virus has for suppressing immune response until an advanced stage of the disease raised the question of the virus being lab-created. Does this kind of thing happen in nature?
A subheading for a 1973 article in Scientific American does seem to indicate that this is possible:
The body’s defense mechanism may not always be beneficial. In many cases the very process that should combat a virus is itself a cause of the damage associated with a viral disease.
This is the subheading for the piece, entitled “How the Immune Response to a Virus Can Cause Disease.” It goes on to say that the possibility that the immunity system itself can cause injury was raised nearly sixty years before this piece was written, hence approximately 1913, as noted by Clemens von Pirquet, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Pirquet’s hypothesis was followed up in the 1950’s by a virus investigator named Charles P. Rowe, who noted that mice infected with lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM) showed no symptoms at all even while the virus was multiplying rapidly in many organs. However, about six days into the infection’s trajectory, the mice’ immune systems began to respond to the virus, but they still developed meningitis and died anyway. Rowe thought that the immune response itself might be what caused the onset of meningitis, so he used X-ray irradiation to suppress the mice’ immune responses. The result came in – the mice did not get sick.
So, it does appear that while the character of COVID-19 looks like it “could only be artificially created”, there is evidence that this does happen in nature. Further articles noted that some infections attack body cells and are designed to cause other kinds of damage. COVID-19 does not fall outside of this scope either, though of course, the fact that it does what it does means that certainly a robust treatment regimen is needed to effectively combat it.
That appears to still be in development.
It also appears to put to rest the notion that something like Project Blue or the zombie apocalypse is coming. COVID is serious but we have no evidence yet that it is catastrophic, and we do have evidence that measures exist that can slow its spread.
And now for that bit of good news:
Coronavirus infection rates are reportedly radically diminished in China, the native country for the disease. For several days now the incidence of new infections has been below 100 per day. Also the number of people reported as having recovered from the COVID-19 illness continues to increase, presently sitting at 68,284 worldwide. The reason for the decline in new cases in China has not come to light, though we will investigate this. It may well be that the virus has some sort of a life cycle, that if properly dealt with, leads to the diminution and eventual end of the pandemic by the virus’ own nature.
The real test is yet ahead. With the coming of warm weather across those parts of the world strongly affected by the virus, such as Western Europe, the USA and eventually the more northern nations like Russia and Canada, we will learn how susceptible the virus is to warm weather, and also how long it can hold out in case it prefers colder conditions. There are reports being spread across social media that the virus ‘hates’ heat over 27C (about 78F) but these are unverified by us here at The Duran at this time.
While there still remain more questions than definitive answers about the novel coronavirus at this time, it does appear that the gap will be closed very rapidly. Until then, the whole world is on an unexpected, very unpleasant and sometimes deadly, roller-coaster ride.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.