After three years of the SARS pandemic, I’m sure that nobody needs to know what COVID-19 is. However, a lot of people use it as a misnomer to what is spreading. COVID-19 is the sickness caused by the virus, SARS-CoV-2, which is one of many coronavirus. Viruses. Viri?
In this article, I will try to explain the current pandemic, pull out statistics, talk about treatment, talk about the vaccines available, and what is there for the future of the pandemic.
The pandemic is caused by a coronavirus, which is one of the most transmutable viruses. This means, it constanly changes its genetic makeup to create new types of infections almost every time it jumps from one host to another. It is believed that this virus is zoonotic, so there is no need for conspiracies against the Chinese government. It happens. Just like Ebola happens, HIV happens (which by the way is the world’s largest and longest pandemic), and the yearly Influenza (flu) happens. Viruses mutate and they reinfect. How does this happen? They replicate so fast that at least one mistake in copying is made. Sometimes it’s harmless; sometimes it causes another strain. It is God’s gamble with humanity.
This virus is designated SARS-CoV-2. SARS actually stands for something. It’s severe acute respiratory syndrome. It means that it primarily effects the lungs much like SARS-CoV-1. CoV stands for coronavirus, which is named after the spiky proteins on the outer coating of the virus. Corona means crown. Virus is a controversial “living” thing.
From the start, the World Health Organization did not want to ensue panic and economic failure across nations. It was not a slow response, and pandemic protocols have been written and revised since the Bush administration. However, this tactic did not work as people criticized the WHO, due to its cautious approach, to be in collaboration with China to spread the “man-made” virus all over the world. This tactic is known as finger-pointing, mostly amplified by a certain, fake-tanned, ex-president. I will not mention his name, because of his propensity to lawsuits.
The virus did not jump countries magically. This spread is due to close contact within circulated-air areas, such as buses, trains, planes and other forms of public transportation. It spreads much like the flu, where one person sneezes into the air and particulates will then spread and recirculate through AC units or fans, which are widely available in public transport. It just takes one person NOT to cover their nose and mouths for the virus to have a chance to get into the air instead of just your hand.
SARS-CoV-2 is quick like most flu viruses. It has a mean incubation period of 3 to 5 days. This means that, although the virus has already infected you and is starting to replicate, the symptoms will show up 3 to 5 days later, in which you could have already infected a few people. This is why masks work. And sometimes, it does not.
There are many types of masks out there, and obviously nobody is going to go around with their own oxygen supply and a HEPA filter attached to their face. Most people however are not taught how masks work, and how to wear a mask. The most common mask recommended are N95 surgical masks. They stop 95% of particles that come out of your mouth. That is the point. They stop particles coming out of your mouth, when people wear them as they are. As a surgeon once told me, “Green always touches green.”
Most people are not in the scientific field, but this is a pretty easy concept to grasp. The green end goes towards sterile, meaning that if you are sick, the green side goes towards the outside. If you are healthy and COVID-19 free, then the green side goes towards your face. This is because the masks are designed with one-way folds that catch particles. The way that most people wear masks is not effective, thus – despite wearing masks – the numbers of infections are still going up.
In addition to wearing masks, social distancing is a very effective way to slow down or stop the spread of any air-borne virus. The N95 masks will only slow down coughs or sneezes, so that most particles can only travel 30 centimeters. The recommended distance is two meters or six feet from the other person. However, in Asia, the distance is cut down to half that. It was pretty awkward for me to stand in lines at a distance of only one meter.
Another good behavior to prevent any type of disease – not just COVID-19 – is to wash your hands regularly. This is the same message that we say for E. coli, cholera, and many other diseases. This works because of the structure of soap. Soap molecules are like little knives that cut through a membrane and break it apart. With agitation, it is like slashing multiple little knives into the capsules that surround a virus or bacterial membranes, leaving you with 0.1% bacteria or virus that is usually harmless. That is why hand-washing techniques are very important to follow, and the duration of hand-washing is important.
The rate of infection is referred to as the R-value, which is easy to understand. If one person can only infect another person, the R-value is 1:1 or 1. If they can infect two people, then the R-value is 2. This is very high, because the virus can quickly go from 1 to 2 to 4 to 8 to 16. This is clearly an exponential growth and that is why the population is not headed to recovery if the R-value is anywhere over 1. When the R-value is less than 1, then the virus is not being spread; thanks to interventions such as immunity from already been infected, isolation of the population (this is temporary and will only slow the R-value), and vaccines (this is more permanent).
Looking at the spikes of infections over time, there is a clear trend that follows most air-borne type viruses, such as influenza. There is a peak before the summer and a peak before the winter. These correlate to the times when people get together again, which can be easily avoided. This could be due to religious ceremonies, seasonal work, and especially schools. There is a very high correlation to the times when air-borne viruses hit and children going back to school. Since children and the younger population are usually asymptomatic, they will lax on their usage of social distancing and masks, congregate in a classroom with others who might carry the virus, then bring them home to their individual households. Add to that a good 3 to 5 day incubation period, and the amount of contact that people have with other people. That will definitely increase the chances of an exponential spread of any virus, not just SARS-CoV-2.
Anybody can get the virus, but the reaction of most people are asymptomatic (about 50%). However, there are risk factors that could increase the chances of hospitalization. In general, anything that causes chronic inflammation in your body could take away the body’s ability to fight a new infection. In a sense, these additional infections could be labeled as a superinfection, making anybody with those risk factors worse. Chronic inflammation is a pretty wide definition. It could mean anything from cancer to diabetes to smoking. As long as someone has a risk factor, it is best to keep distances from anybody carrying a respiratory virus. This is a good general rule, not just for SARS-CoV-2. When someone else is sick, it’s better not to be close to them.
There are long-term effects of the virus that are still being recorded, the most famous one being loss of smell and/or taste – anosmia. This is due to the virus being able to attack the upper respiratory tract, believed to be due to most people wearing masks BELOW the nose instead of fully covering their nose and mouth. There is a correlation between improper mask use and these upper respiratory tract symptoms. The other possible cause could be the return of virus to the upper respiratory tract by sneezing. Other long-term symptoms, to me, seem like psychological trauma.
Symptoms may develop 2 days to 2 weeks after exposure to the virus. A pooled analysis of 181 confirmed cases of COVID-19 outside Wuhan, China, found the mean incubation period was 5.1 days, and that 97.5% of individuals who developed symptoms did so within 11.5 days of infection.
The following symptoms may indicate COVID-19:
Fever or chills
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Muscle or body aches
New loss of taste or smell
Congestion or runny nose
Nausea or vomiting
Other reported symptoms include the following:
Neurologic (eg, headache, altered mentality)
Being unprepared for this type of acute respiratory syndrome, researchers and doctors and the entire medical field first had to figure out what the symptoms really were, and what the treatment is to reduce symptoms and stabilize the patient. That is why the WHO came up with “flattening the curve”. Due to high rate of infection, the hospitals can be overrun by patients, and there are very limited breathing devices, medication, ICU beds, etc. Most everybody will get infected, but the most important thing is not to overwhelm the capacity of the system. That way, everybody can be treated. That is why it was important, in the early stages of the pandemic, to isolate.
As treatment goes, like most respiratory viruses, it is mainly supportive. The body will handle the virus on its own. There are antivirals that have been tried, corticosteroids to reduce over-inflammation responses (cytokine storm), and a lot of oxygen to get the body oxygenated. There are also physical treatments like putting the person in a reverse prone position to let the liquid in the lungs flow to the top of the lungs, so the bottom of the lungs (which has more surface area) can get some oxygen. Other than that, doctors just maintain vitals (respiratory rate, heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygenation, body temperature) and function of vital organs (brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidney, GI tract and spleen). Once your body is able to recover (or not), you’re transferred into a normal ward (assuming you were in the ICU) for observation and further recovery. Low risk patients go home to isolation.
The vaccines are an amazing shift in modern medicine using mRNA, although the technology to target proteins in that way is pretty old. I remember people researching it when I was doing my Biochemistry degree. There is a video explaining what they have done and how it is amazing, and it can pave the way to creating vaccines for almost anything with knowledge of the target’s DNA sequence. That is why this technology has not been used until now. It can be abused in a devastating way. People thought CRISPR was scary, but this can be even scarier.
However, knowing the target protein of SARS-CoV-2, vaccines can be made to emulate those spike proteins (the ones creating the crown) → complicated biochemistry → and start an immune response in the body towards the encapsulated virus. This will not stop you from getting infected nor stop you from being viral, but it will not give you serious symptoms that will land you in the ICU. That is why masks and social distancing is still needed, because the majority of conspiracy theorists will not get vaccinated. The vaccines work in similar ways, but the best combination so far was found to be AstraZenica or Pfizer + Moderna or Novavax.
Currently, in Malaysia at least, the R-value is at 0.85. A healthy path to recovery from the pandemic. There are strains that are more infectious, but that does not mean more potent. The SARS part of the pandemic is slowing down, as the Omicron variant does not produce much SARS. The most important thing for people to do is to just wear masks and social distance indoors. There has been no correlation between masking outdoors and spreading the virus, unless you sneeze in that person’s face. In that case, you would need to learn culture and manners. With cooperation, vaccination and QoL (quality of life) in consideration, governments and people will get through this pandemic better than the previous pandemics and epidemics.
Personally, I find it amazing that people have forgotten the other epidemics we have been through since the turn of the 21st century. Most people cannot name most of them. It is not the first time, nor will it be the last time. Learn from the past, don’t live day by day, and prepare for the future, because that is best for your society and humanity as a whole.
Alternative medicine is always preventive medicine. There is no quick fix to sicknesses and diseases using alternative medicine. Alternative medicines do not even stop pain immediately. That said, any alternative medicine to combat SARS-CoV-2 involves boosting immunity, social distancing and making sure every individual is responsible enough to stop the spread of a contagious virus. If zombies came at you, you would not want to get bitten. If you’re infected, you do not want to go around biting people. So wear a mask, socially distance yourself, eat a healthy dose of Vitamin B, D and E (Vitamin C does not increase immunity; see video), and think socially and responsibly to help humanity flatten the curve so that people who need the ICU get the ICU.
The constant increase in the prevalence of BA.2 in more countries over the world has confirmed the growth advantage that this variant has compared with others. BA.2 reduces the protective effect of vaccination against infection. Omicron antibody cross-neutralization can be partially restored by a third booster vaccination, an aspect that becomes problematic in the context of a low vaccination rate, where peaks of Omicron may increase the likelihood of infection in the elderly and in other groups at a higher risk of severe disease. Omicron BA.2 opens up new evolution channels, but what do the experts think will happen?https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/972238