We – the world’s nations in the west and Asia – were warned in 2019 a new incurable ‘flu’ was on its way and we should prepare for it. We did not. What is the virus and is it Armageddon, an Act of God, or a bug that targets the elderly and the infirm causing pneumonia, an ailment a great many of us succumb to in old age?
Here’s is what I’ve managed to glean from various medical sources and periodicals.
What became known as Covid-19, or the coronavirus, started in late 2019 as a cluster of pneumonia cases with an unknown cause. The cause of the pneumonia was found to be a new virus – severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or Sars-CoV-2.
The illness caused by the virus is Covid-19. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says about 80% of people with Covid-19 recover without needing any specialist or intensive treatment. Only about one person in six becomes seriously ill “and develops difficulty breathing”.
Accusations of secretive Chinese being the villains are baloney. From their first cases the Chinese authorities published the DNA sequence online which, among other scientists, caught the attention of Professor Kate Broderick who immediately galvanised her team into action to find a vaccine. (More about her shortly.)
How does it affect us?
Reading of the number of celebrity deaths, pneumonia as a result of contracting the virus is by far the biggest killer. Medics aver all serious consequences of Covid-19 feature pneumonia. The least serious are those people who are “sub-clinical” and who have the virus but have no symptoms.
Next are those who get an infection in the upper respiratory tract. A “person has a fever and a cough and maybe milder symptoms like headache or conjunctivitis”. In those cases you can transmit the virus without knowing you have it.
The last group develop severe illness that features pneumonia. In Wuhan, it worked out that from those who had tested positive and had sought medical help, “roughly 6% had a severe illness.” The WHO says the elderly and people with underlying problems like high blood pressure, heart and lung problems, cancer or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.
How does the virus develop into pneumonia?
When people with Covid-19 develop a cough and fever because it has reached the air passages that conduct air between the lungs and the outside. [Lancet Journal] “The lining of the respiratory tree becomes injured, causing inflammation. This in turn irritates the nerves in the lining of the airway.” Just a speck of dust can stimulate a cough.
If it gets worse the lungs fill with fluid. Lungs that become filled with inflammatory material are unable to get enough oxygen to the bloodstream, reducing the body’s ability to take on oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide, the main cause of death from severe pneumonia.
How can the virus be treated?
In its worse state there is no antidote – yet. Various laboratories are working flat out to find a cure, not the least a Scot in the USA, Professor Kate Broderick, who says they are close to a breakthrough, but it takes time to conduct clinical tests. A vaccine will be found but not before we see many more unnecessary deaths.
Meanwhile, there’s nothing available guaranteed to stop us getting the virus. A face mask, or scarf helps, as does washing our hands regularly each day. People are trialling all sorts of medications. According to Professor Broderick, scientists are hopeful that we might discover that there are various combinations of viral and anti-viral medications that could be effective.
At the moment there isn’t any established treatment apart from supportive treatment. “We ventilate them and maintain high oxygen levels until their lungs are able to function in a normal way again as they recover.”
How different is Covid19 pneumonia?
Most types of pneumonia are bacterial. They respond to an antibiotic. However, medical specialists suggest there is evidence that Covid-19 pneumonia is particularly severe. Coronavirus pneumonia tends to affect all of the lungs, instead of just small parts.
Australian specialist Christine Jenkins, chair of the Lung Foundation, says: “Once we have an infection in the lung and, if it involves the air sacs, then the body’s response is first to try and destroy the virus and limit its replication. However, if the first responder mechanism is impaired in the sick or young children it will replicate swiftly”.
Who is likely to be worst affected?
Age is the major predictor of risk of death from pneumonia.
Covid-19 suggests, with some exceptions, a healthy immune system is usually able to control infection. Importantly, the virus cannot gain entry to our homes or bodies by itself – we have to let it in. This is why official advice centres around cleaning our hands and avoiding touching our faces.
Pneumonia is always serious for an older person and in fact it used to be one of the main causes of death in the elderly. There exist good treatments for pneumonia, but Corvid-19 is a son-of-a-bitch to stop in its tracks. The general consensus of opinion is, no matter how healthy and active you are, your risk for getting pneumonia increases with age. Our immune system naturally weakens with age, making it harder for our bodies to fight off infections and diseases. Obviously, told don’t get old, is pertinently useless advice.
Until a sure cure is on its way, created by some wonderful Nobel winning scientist, perhaps from a Petri dish left on a window sill by the likes of an Alexander Fleming, or a slide under a microscope viewed by Kate Broderick, we can only avoid the Grim Reaper’s scout by avoiding close contact with strangers and neighbours to help arrest the spread of the virus.
Professor Broderick, is working round the clock with her team of researchers at the pharmaceutical company Inovio in San Diego to develop a jab in just six months. The 42-year-old, who is originally from Dunfermline, says the aim is to make a vaccine faster than they’ve made “any other in our history”.
We wish her all speed. She has helped create successful vaccines for ebola, zika, lassa fever and Mers (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) moving from Glasgow to develop her work in molecular genetics.
I’ll keep this outline updated if and when new developments are published.
POST SCRIPT ON ENGLAND’S HEALTH SERVICE
In 2016, the Department of Health in London conducted a full-scale pandemic drill, known as Exercise Cygnus. The National Health Service was overwhelmed. There weren’t enough ventilators, emergency beds, ICU beds, protective kits and much else. In other words, it predicated accurately the crisis we face today. The Chief Medical Officer at the time appealed to the Conservative government to heed the warning and begin to restore and prepare the NHS. This was ignored; the documents describing the conclusions of the drill were suppressed.
This is what happens when a government is allowed to privatise a nation’s care system.