Viruses & stuff…

What is a virus?

A virus is a tiny infectious pathogen that replicates inside the living cells of other organisms.  Viruses infect all types of life forms, from animals and plants to microorganisms, including bacteria.  More than 6,000 virus species have been described in detail, even though there are millions of types of viruses in the environment.

When infected, a host cell is forced to rapidly produce thousands of identical copies of the original virus.  They are really, really small. About one-hundredth the size of most bacteria.  Viruses are considered by some biologists to be a life form, because they carry genetic material, reproduce, and evolve through natural selection.

Viruses spread in many ways.  One transmission pathway is through disease-bearing organisms known as vectors: e.g. blood-sucking insects, bats etc.  Influenza viruses are spread by coughing and sneezing.  Norovirus is transmitted by hand-to-mouth contact or in food or water.

Viral infections in animals provoke an immune response that usually eliminates the infecting virus.  Immune responses can also be produced by vaccines, which confer an artificially acquired immunity to the specific viral infection.

Oh yeh, and viruses mutate.  Covid-19 has been mutating since we first saw it, although actually very slowly.  In just a few months, researchers had catalogued more than 12,000 mutations in SARS-CoV-2 genomes (Nature, 8 Sept 20).  Obviously by now we’re talking many, many more.

Does it matter or is the media (and government) blowing this all out of proportion?

Well, most virus mutations are bad for the virus.  Their RNA has mistakes in it, which is passed on to the next version.  This could have been why SARS (the old, original Covid) became less of a problem for us.  Sometimes though, mutations (variants) make the virus better at getting transmitted, sometimes less so.  Some mutations cause the virus to become less harmful and other times more virulent (they cause more harm to us).  As far as we can tell we’re already dealing with the most transmissible one but, so far, none of the variants are more deadly.  If anything new variants are less deadly.

This is important so I’ll say it again – viruses tend to mutate, they become more transmissible BUT less virulent.

Scientists did make the mistake (March 2020) in using the word ‘alarming’ when describing the rate at which a protein was coding for the spiky bit on the Covid virus (that’s what makes it stick to our cells better).  The world’s media (having absolutely no idea what they were talking about) put 2 + 2 together, i.e. the words ‘Covid variant’ and ‘alarming’ and came up with a magic number squared.  And the rest is history as they say, or in our case, the crap we hear on the BBC and C4 every night.

In actual fact the Nature study found that a less virulent mutation is likely to occur.

OK, what does this mean for us?

Well, the tens of thousands of mutations will be looked at by virologists and if something nasty appears (which hopefully it won’t) they’ll tell us.  But, so far nothing has.

Infections in UK are down.  Hospitalisations are down.  Vaccines are up.  Every day the rate of infections goes down, in Wales for example we are as about as low as we’ve ever been since the pandemic started.  That is much less than 1 person with Covid in a pub rammed full of 1000 people all shouting, hugging and coughing over each other.  Plus most of those people will have been vaccinated of course so won’t get it (or have mild symptoms) or even pass it on.

In other words, for the vast majority of us our chances of catching it are minute if we are in a pub, playing indoor 5 a side, in a restaurant, at the gym etc.

Every day more people are vaccinated, 10 days later they get a good immune response, 22 days later (even with one jab) they have 70-90% protection.  Already we are seeing bigger falls in infections in the vaccinated age group.  Younger people don’t get that ill.  Open the gyms.  Open the pubs.  A month ago…

So, variants…

The new buzzword from journalists that don’t get science.  Bollocks.  Viruses mutate, many times every day!  It’s just a mistake in the RNA code.  Covid is actually really clever though, it has a proofreading enzyme / protein to correct fatal errors in coding – how mad is that?!!!  The protein acts like Word Autocorrect!  But, that means it’s actually pretty stable.  Not that the media get any of this of course.

Anyway, my concern is, the word ‘variant’ will now be used, forever, to give governments an excuse to curtail our freedoms anytime they want.  Just think about Edward Snowdon and how the USA and UK think it is alright to read our emails.  They just get the media to do their dirty work for them: ‘It’s ‘cos of national security, after that terrorist bomb!’ and so on…

Why such doom and gloom from other government?

There are as many scientists as viruses (OK, I made that bit up), but they don’t all agree.  The UK government has SAGE.  They are made up of very clever people BUT, they like models.  Remember Airfix, Scalextric and Hornby?  Yep, they are mostly mathematicians who put numbers into computer models.  Anyway Sage has got, and continues to get, a lot of things wrong.  No one on Sage is a clinical immunologist.  No one has a biology degree and a post-doctoral qualification in immunology.  Unfortunately the government is relying on just this one group for their ‘science’ when perhaps they should be consulting the leading experts in virology and immunology.

Finally…

In the meantime, if anyone is feeling depressed by the daily statistics on TV just remind yourself that we’ve been through worse:

The 1918 flu pandemic, which lasted until 1920, was unusually severe and deadly. The victims were often healthy young adults, in contrast to most influenza outbreaks, which predominantly affect juvenile, elderly, or otherwise-weakened patients. Recent research suggests that it may have killed as many as 100 million people, or 5% of the world’s population in 1918.

HIV—which evolved from viruses found in monkeys and chimpanzees—has been pandemic since at least the 1980s. It is estimated 37.9 million people are living with the disease worldwide and more than 25 million people have died since it was first recognised on 5 June 1981.

Ebola and similar viruses, that cause viral hemorrhagic fever, have killed many people in Africa.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) are caused by other types of coronaviruses.

Some people might argue we are also in the middle of another, even bigger, more deadly pandemic as we speak – mental health issues caused by extending lockdown too far…  Time will tell.


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