World Governments spend billions on defence budgets, US military expenditure was $1 trillion last year, China spent $261 billion and India’s defence budget was $72 billion. Yet no country in the world was ready for a rapidly moving, highly lethal pandemic of a respiratory pathogen. No healthcare system in the world was prepared.
In 2005 WHO drew up a blueprint of how countries should prepare and respond to a health crisis. They said nations have to develop the capacity to detect outbreaks and quickly report to WHO. 196 countries signed this agreement but few complied. Every nation in the world, every individual is at risk, yet no country is Pandemic ready.
During MERS & SARS pandemics healthcare workers were disproportionately affected. It was recommended that densely populated areas should conduct mock drills with an artificially simulated outbreak of a respiratory infectious disease. But after a Pandemic all the lessons learned are quickly forgotten and we move onto tackling other more pressing day to day problems afflicting a nation.
In 1918, 100 million people died of Spanish Flu. World population was 1.8 billion then, Today it is 7.8 billion. How many people do you think will die in this Pandemic? In 1918 there were no planes with people zig zagging across the world. There were no factory farms with millions of chickens and livestock. Medical infrastructure has improved since 1918 but quality of life has deteriorated drastically. Exposure to chemicals and pesticides, poor food/water/air quality have reduced our overall health condition and immunity.
Diseases caused by viruses are rabies, herpes, Ebola, smallpox, the common cold, different types of flu and influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, shingles, hepatitis, herpes, polio, cold sores, hanta fever, HIV, SARS, dengue, Zaika, Epstein-Barr, adenovirus, parainfluenza, roseola, chikungunya, warts, genital warts, genital herpes, Lassa fever, oral herpes, yellow fever, Marburg, Crimean Congo fever, Molluscum contagiosum and the list of diseases caused by viruses is endless. Some viruses like human papilloma virus(HPV) can cause cancer.
Viruses were one of the first life forms on Planet Earth, these microscopic organisms exist everywhere. They can infect animals, plants, fungi, even bacteria. Viruses are the most abundant biological entities on earth, but they cannot live on their own, they need other living cells(host) to thrive and reproduce. Different viruses have different effects on different hosts. That is the reason some people die of a virus and some people are asymptomatic, they don’t even know they were infected with a virus.
There is no drug that can destroy a pathogen, they inhibit their development and slow down progress of the disease, the only possible treatment is to provide symptomatic relief. Anti viral drug Remdesivir that has been used to treat other viruses like HIV, Hepatitis C and Ebola has demonstrated some effectiveness in treating COVID-19 but this pandemic will be around for 1-2 years by which time two thirds of the world population would have developed herd immunity.
The official name of this virus is is SARS-CO V-2 and the name of the disease it causes is Coronavirus Disease 2019, known as COVID-19. This virus has crown like spikes, Corona means crown in Latin and coronation is crowning.
Once the virus enters a body, the spikes act as a key locking onto the proteins in human cells and starts reproducing rapidly. Viruses consist of genetic material, RNA or DNA and are surrounded by protein, fat or glycoprotein. A virus gives a good hard hit but it can’t take a hit so if your immune system is strong enough to hit back you’re the winner. You will beat it.
Nobody knew or anticipated that COVID-19 would become a pandemic of this size. Never has the world faced such a great challenge, never have we paid a higher price. The cost to humanity has been unbelievable. Pandemics have always killed more people than wars.
We don’t realize how inter connected the world has become, how fast a virus can spread from one part of the world to another. A virus needs only one person, one host to start an outbreak and that can lead to a pandemic. Human body is a great incubator, we can host multiple virus’ simultaneously.
If we don’t change the way we live on the planet we are going to pay a heavier price in the next outbreak. We have to stop encroaching forests. Living where wild animals lived exposes us to wild animal pathogens, viruses and bacteria. Human population explosion has dramatically changed the dynamics of how and where we live. Building houses & farms next to forests has increased interaction between wildlife and domestic animals. Disease transmission is inevitable. A virus moves from wildlife to livestock to people. You have to find it, isolate it and treat it before it can infect the first person.
When there is an outbreak in a chicken farm, it didn’t start there. It probably started when the farmer went to a neighbouring jungle, didn’t clean his boots when he returned and went into chicken areas. Influenza A virus jumped from birds. HIV virus is simian immunodeficiency virus or SIV, transmitted to humans (when they hunted primates) and mutated into HIV .
I have read several conspiracy theories about the origin of Coronavirus, accusations that China developed this bio weapon in a lab. People who believe this are clearly ignorant about bio diversity and eco systems of our planet and have never worked with animals.
Right now there are over 1.5 million viruses in wildlife that could be transmitted to humans at any time. Bats carry over 60 zoonotic viruses and rats that run around in our buildings carry a wide range of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, helminths that can cause 35 diseases, any of which could turn into an epidemic if it’s not contained early.
When scientists were looking for SARS related viruses that could jump from animals to humans they looked at this virus and said it is unlikely this virus would make the jump. They sequenced the genome of the virus causing COVID-19 and found It is 96% similar to Bat coronavirus RaT13 and most likely is a mutation of that virus. The best scientists in the world cannot predict all the ways a virus can mutate and evolve.
Nipah Virus originated in a village in Malaysia, Sungai Nipah. Scientists found that Fruit bats were drinking date palm sap, then urinating into the collecting pot. The virus mutated when locals drank the palm sap.
The origin of Smallpox virus is unknown. It was first found on mummies during the Egyptian Empire around the 3rd century BCE. 30% of people who contracted small pox died, it terrorized humanity for thousands of years. In the 20th century alone it killed hundreds of millions of people.
H7N9 is a highly contagious avian influenza. The first case was reported in Wenshan, China in 2013. It was transmitted from chickens at a wet poultry market to humans. H7N9 virus has a very high mortality rate of 60%. It is a lethal virus. It is the most dangerous influenza virus on the planet. So far it has not spread beyond China but it can happen any day.
H5N1 is a highly infectious deadly Avian flu. The virus was first detected in 1996 in geese in China. H5N1 was transmitted to humans in 1997 during a poultry outbreak in Hong Kong and has since been detected in poultry and wild birds in more than 50 countries. It does not transmit from person to person, humans got it from eating infected poultry.
H5N6 is a highly pathogenic avian influenza first found in ducks and chickens in Jiangxi, Guangdong in China in 2013. Over 1 billion birds died of this flu in South Korea. It is deadly for birds but only 24 humans have contracted it so far. But it can mutate and jump to humans.
H5N8 is a highly pathogenic Avian influenza found in migratory birds who spread it all over the world. It doesn’t transmit easily to humans but every virus is constantly mutating. Any strain of the virus could infect humans at any time.
H3N2 virus caused Hong Kong Flu Pandemic in 1968, killing about 4 million people. This is the most deadly of the four seasonal flu strains. H3N2 is the problem child of seasonal flu., it mutates so much that scientists have not been able to find a vaccine for it.
H1N1 virus caused Spanish Flu in 1918, another strain of the virus caused the swine flu epidemic in 2009-10. Over 59 million Americans were infected but only about 12,000 died because it was a mild strain of virus. Swine Flu got its name because it emerged in a pig-farm in Mexico. Swine flu infected 2 billion people in 160 countries.
There is an abundance of millions of viruses waiting to spillover from animals to humans. Does China need to develop a virus in a laboratory?
Mother Nature is the ultimate bio terrorist. Leave her alone!
Wet markets in China give animal viruses all kinds of opportunities to mix and mutate and jump to humans. India leads the list of places where a new virus is most likely to make the leap from animals to humans. Rampant deforestation is bringing more wild animals into contact with people.
Healthcare is already very fragile in India and the density of population makes containment extremely difficult. Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum has only 80,000 toilets for almost 1 million people. Lockdowns and isolation are harder in India because 10 people live in one shanty in a slum and use a public toilet.
Quarantine is an old method devised 7 centuries ago to slow down the spread of a virus. People were quarantined for 40 days during the Black Death. If we have to go back to dealing with a Pandemic the way it was in 1350, we haven’t progressed much. Indefinite lockdowns will not combat a virus, it will only create mental health issues. There has been a sharp increase in domestic violence. United Nations has banned solitary confinement for prisoners, it is a gross violation of human rights.
We talk of going to the moon and living on Mars, being a multi-planetary species but we fight a pandemic exactly how it was fought in the Middle Ages.
Despite all our inventions and innovations in science and technology, the photographs of 1918 Spanish Flu and 2020 Covid-19 look exactly the same.
This is a stark reminder that we are only as strong as our weakest link!