Best Way To Recover From COVID-19 Is Not To Get It At All
Almost every person in America is tired of hearing about ‘the virus’ and the increasing tolls from COVID-19. Nearly all of us want the kids back in school where teachers teach face to face, little girls dance and sing, little guys play, and parents joy as they see their children learn and grow. We want to eat at our favorite restaurants at our tables seeing our wait staff, talking with their friends new and old. We want to worship in churches, sing in choirs, play in brass bands, and spend an evening a month at the Symphony, or the Art Museum or even a basketball game.
We want to return to normalcy but we can’t. Because some mean doctors have told us to mask, shelter in place, be tested if we’re suspicious of an exposure, and quarantine for 14 days if we “test positive”. And anyway there’s no game because many of the University of Toledo basketball players have tested positive for ‘the virus’, as has the coach.
A virus is a molecular engine of small genetic code encased in a container of protein so small that millions of their brethren may sit on the head of a pin. Most viruses pose no danger to human beings, but the corona-19 virus is so infectious that we’re told to avoid more than 15 minutes cumulative exposure to those with the disease lest we risk being infected. Corona-19 virus passes from one to another easily. A virus cannot replicate alone. It needs a host cell where it can make copies of itself using the components of the host cell to do so. In the process, it may kill that cell and cause damage to the host organism. Viruses are parasites needing us to multiply and thrive. The corona-19 virus devastates lungs and other body organs when it invades, catches ahold and multiplies.
Joshua Lederberg, at the time a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was awarded Nobel prize in physiology and medicine in 1958 “for his discoveries concerning genetic recombination and the organization of the genetic material of bacteria.” Nobel prize winners become savants of sort, speaking about futures in science and other things on occasion. Lederberg became one of those known for clairvoyant insights when, in 1989 before an audience of molecular biologists he warned his colleagues “against complacency in the age-old contest between mankind and microbes — viruses and bacteria. He laid out why man’s “only real competitors remain the viruses,” and explained how all terrestrial life is a dense web of.. genetic interactions; there are abundant sources of genetic variation “for viruses to learn new tricks, not necessarily confined to what happens routinely or even frequently.”
Viruses, he warned, more than 30 years ago, “were our mortal enemy and we best not ignore them.”
But the history of epidemic disease is one of the last refuges of special creationism of human beings. American research scientists paid scant attention to dynamic change on the part of the agents of disease. It’s scary to imagine the emergence of new infectious agents as threats to human existence, especially threatening to view pandemic as a recurrent, natural phenomenon. But so it is, and so it has become. The world’s scientists, mostly funded by governments that directed their attentions, largely ignored viruses to our detriment. Persons in charge of worrying about the diseases that effected, or were to impact Americans were, according to Tom Kristof ‘b-grade’. So, because American research and development is said to lead the world, humanity lost time, and millions of lives were lost world wide while those errors of omission were, hopefully, to be rectified.
With deference again to Lederberg, he suggested in 1989 that many people find it difficult to accommodate the reality that Nature is far from benign; in spite of our best dreams it has no special sentiment for the welfare of the human versus other species. In order to tip the scales in human’s favor, we have to “tamper with natural evolution” by fighting disease where we find it and anticipating diseases as they might come. In ways we haven’t done so badly – with the advent of antibiotics, and vaccines, the average life span gains for every American in our century is beyond the scope of what had ever been shaped by natural selection.
But our main recourse (against viruses) in expanding life expectancy has been protective; i. e. vaccination. For a number of viruses this works. Smallpox has been eradicated globally. And polio is nearly so too. But many viruses are more adroit. They mutate/change their structures too rapidly to be stopped by a vaccine. Influenza is one; HIV AIDS is another. There is no vaccine for all ‘flus’ or for HIV AIDS.
So where does this leave us with the corona-19 virus? Perhaps the original sin of America’s response to the coronavirus came with the bungling of testing.
Without testing, health officials were fighting an opponent blindfolded. They didn’t know where the virus lurked, and couldn’t isolate those infected or trace their contacts.
But lest one think there’s a mitigation for COVID-19, one disease corona-19 causes, there is not. The best way to recover from it is not get the disease in the first place.
Long ago, molecular biologists working with photoscientists, found ways to degrade DNA into its component parts one nucleic acid at a time. The corona-19’s viral bundle of genetic code, and the molecular structures of its DNA’s and RNA’s, were known in early February. Chinese scientists characterized it, and published its composition. And the race toward a vaccine for it began then. So did searches for anti-virals – chemicals that fight the symptoms the virus causes after it has invaded a human’s cells. Our best step forward to this point has been remdesivir, a small organic compound that apparently fights some of the difficult edifications of the disease – like inflammation of the lung – after the disease has taken hold.
But pessimistically I must admit, reverting to Lederberg: “But apart from the personal human catastrophe that a species obliterating pandemic would entail, I would also question whether human society could survive left on the beach with only a few percent of survivors. If reduced to that, would we compete very well with kangaroos? “
Dr. Douglas Neckers is a McMaster Distinguished Research Professor (emeritus) and a 67-year Chautauqua Lake resident.