Monday, December 5, 2022

Those Darn Hibernating Viruses!

Many viruses stay in the body, all sneaky-like, for years after a first infection. Let's compare chicken pox, polio, HIV, and Covid.

Chicken pox, which spreads from contact with blisters or mucus, shows up with flu-like symptoms and characteristic spots. Then 30-70 years later, it can develop into shingles in about 10% of people, which is a painful skin condition. Luckily we have a vaccination for chicken pox AND a vaccination for shingles for anyone over 50 who had chicken pox in their life. It's two shots, and they're a couple hundred dollars each. They figured out the connection between chicken pox and shingles back in 1953, but didn't try to prevent chicken pox with a vaccine (or even warn parents to avoid it) until 2000, and the shingles vaccine wasn't developed until 2006.

Polio, which spreads from contact with bodily fluids (mucus or feces), first shows up with flu-like symptoms that most people make a full recovery from within a week or two, but less than 1% end up with paralysis of some type. Then 15-40 years later, people who just had mild symptoms can develop post-polio syndrome, characterized by progressive muscle weakness and atrophy, joint degeneration and pain, and skeletal deformities. Polio was around for centuries before Jonas Salk's vaccine in 1955. Luckily, vaccinations have almost completely eradicated polio here. So far.

HIV, which spreads from contact with bodily fluids, first shows up with flu-like symptoms. Then 5-15 years later, it can develop into full blown AIDS. That's why people with any possibility of a contact will get tested and start on a preventative drug regimen to ward off AIDS. It's been very successful, but can be very expensive for anyone without a drug plan. Tons of people died of AIDS before the connection was made between that earlier case of the flu and that later destruction of the immune system. AIDS was known about in 1981, but not much done to help in the U.S. until 1985 and even less has been done in places like South Africa.

Covid-19, which is freakin' airborne!!!, first shows up with flu-like symptoms, that most people recover from, but some end up hospitalized for, and a few die from. So far, about 20% of people have developed chronic symptoms three to six months later that differ depending which part of the body the virus has targeted: it can include extreme fatigue, "brain fog" or neurocognitive decline, lymphocytopenia which makes it easier to get sicker from other illnesses, diabetes, liver damage, heart attack, stroke, lung damage, and more. Vaccines can't eradicate Covid-19 because it mutates too quickly for herd immunity to develop, which is why we keep needing another vaccination every few months, and it's possible that this scenario will go on forever - or until we get really serious about cleaning the air in public buildings with better ventilation (at least 6 ACH), filtration (2 CR boxes/classroom), and upper room UVGI. (But make sure it's all plugged into solar panels because this virus has really distracted us from climate change.) 

Hopefully one day they'll develop a medication regimen or vaccination to ward off Long Covid to be given to anyone who gets Covid, but some estimate that over 10% of the world* has had Covid already, so that's a lot of meds, and they might not be free forever. And, right now, there's not a single treatment for Long Covid. If you get it, you're on your own. For some it just lasts a short time, and they recover spontaneously - with LOTS of rest. But others have had it for years with no signs of improvement, and some others seem to completely recover, then suddenly drop dead. 

1% of people who got polio from close contact with someone with it ended up disabled, but 20% of people who get Covid from just walking into a store or school, end up disabled. Luckily, Covid-19 can be prevented pretty effectively with a well-fitting N95 mask worn whenever in a public space while we work on cleaning the air! Masks are so safe and easy!! 

And so weirdly unpopular and unlikely to be worn in any public place. We're a funny lot. 


*From that data site, if 10% have had a case, then in every 1,000 people, 100 has had it, 1 died, and 20 people have Long Covid. But doesn't 10% seem really low? In real life, 2/3 of my kids and I are the only people I know of who have never had a single case. All of my friends and neighbours and my kids' friends have had it at least once. I know that's not a random sample, but it sure makes it seem like it's everywhere! And teachers are telling me that, at any given time, they're missing about 20% of students to absences. That same site says 12% of Canadians and 30% of Americans have had it at least once. The 1 death in 1,000 people is likely accurate, though, but if the case numbers are underestimated, then so are the potential numbers with Long Covid.

ETA: Seroprevalence studies in Canada have found that 70% of people have had Covid at this point. So,  if in 1,000 people 700 has had it, 1 died, and 20 people got Long Covid, then the rate of Long Covid is much less that expected - just 3% of infected people. Is that right? BUT, even if my math is right, there are others that say these tests aren't entirely unreliable - if anything they undercount the number who have had Covid, suggesting that it's currently more than 70%.

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