A while back, I summarized a theory that the Covid virus is unlikely to pick up the number of mutations it would need if it’s going to evade the vaccines. I felt a lot better after reading that, but let’s look at an opposing theory so we can all get depressed together.
This theory raises the possibility that in addition to the virus picking up small mutations over time (that’s called antigenic drift), there’s the possibility of antigenic shift, which involves more dramatic changes caused by the virus recombining with other human coronaviruses. Viruses do that. Basically, they hold a swap meet. Or a bring and buy sale if you’re more used to them. They don’t actually use money–their evolution hasn’t brought them to that exalted stage–but they do trade strategies for making money-using creatures sick.
If they swap the right bits of knowledge, the current crop of vaccines will need to be re-engineered. We’ll all move back to Go and start the game over again.
It’s also possible that Covid will infect animals we share space with and then cross back to humans in some more powerful form. That’s reverse zoonosis.
As a general rule, long-term evolution favors viruses that don’t make their hosts too sick. The very sick tend to crawl away somewhere and keep their germs to themselves, which (seeing this from the germs’ point of view) isn’t an efficient use of a host. And the dead die, which also limits their opportunities to share. That’s even more inefficient.
From that base, any number of people argue that (after a trail of death and destruction) epidemic diseases get milder over time. Everyone who doesn’t die lives happily ever after. They point to the 1918 flu epidemic (or the Black Death, or some other cheery moment in human history) and assure us that this is the natural order of things.
According to this theory, that is indeed one possibility but it’s not the only one.
The British government’s group of scientific advisors, SAGE, thinks the virus isn’t likely to become less virulent in the short term. (Virulence isn’t about a disease’s ability to spread–that’s transmissibility. It’s about how sick it makes a person.) SAGE considers that a long-term possibility, but it also considers it a realistic possibility that a more virulent strain will emerge.
Sorry. I don’t create the possibilities, I just write about them.
So what direction will it evolve in? Basically, no one’s sure.
However, all isn’t lost. A lot of work’s being done on how to cope with Covid.
The Covid-killing mask
A group of researchers have created a surgical mask that deactivates not just the Covid virus but any enveloped virus (that includes the flu), plus some antibiotic-resistant bacteria like a couple of the staphylococci.
What’s an enveloped virus? I’m so glad you asked, because I have an answer right here in my pocket. It’s “any virus in which a nucleoprotein core is surrounded by a lipoprotein envelope consisting of a closed bilayer of lipid derived from that of the host cell’s membrane(s), with glycoprotein.”
You’re welcome. I didn’t understand it either, but I’m glad to get it out of my pocket.
The masks are the first ones that don’t just protect both the rest of the world from the wearer but also protect the wearer from the rest of the world.
Okay, not completely, but virus- and staphylococcuses-wise, it will. If someone’s trying to hit you on the head with a hammer, the masks are no help at all.
I’ve seen masks promoted as antiviral. Advertising copy for masks with a copper layer, for example, talks about copper’s antiviral properties without actually claiming that the masks will kill Covid. From what I’ve read, they don’t have enough copper to do more than provide carefully worded hype.
The new masks are called FFP Covid masks, they come in adult and child sizes, and according to the article I read they’re very affordable.
How affordable is very affordable? After bumping around the internet for a while, I found some on sale for one euro. That’s not bad, but whether it’s affordable depends on how much you have in your wallet, and how long it takes to renew itself once you pull some of it out to buy masks.
Not to mention how many other calls you have on it.
Are the masks reusable? That’ll affect people’s opinion of their affordability, and the definitive answer is, I’m not sure. They look disposable, but that’s strictly a guess.
Another limiting factor for most of us–since this is an English-language site–is that the only place I could find them for sale is in Spain, which is where they were developed. Presumably they’ll make their way into the rest of the world at some point.
Still, whatever the mask’s immediate impact, it’s an important step.
Multiple new Covid treatments and vaccines are in the works. Here’s a sampling:
An inhalable powder works against Covid, MERS, and one version of the flu. In animals. It has yet to be tried in humans–at least in this form. As a pill, it’s used against leukemia, but when you turn it into a powder and inhale it, it becomes a whole ‘nother thing. In addition to landing in a different part of the body and possibly needing a different dose, it opens up the possibility of Covid treatment taking on some bad-boy chic: You roll up a hundred-dollar bill and snort your meds.
Repurposing a drug that’s already in use to treat a new disease isn’t, it turns out, as simple as it sounds. You may have to shift from a pill to a powder. You may need a dose so high that it turns toxic, at which point you may need to rethink the whole idea.
Another drug that’s already in use, this one to treat fatty substances in the blood (no, don’t ask me), could reduce Covid infection by 70%. Could. So far, it’s worked only in human cells in the lab. Two clinical trials are underway, though.
An antiviral called molnupiravir halves the chances of an infected, high-risk person needing hospitalization or dying from Covid, and Merck will be asking for emergency approval in the U.S. Molnupiravir doesn’t seem to be as effective as monoclonal antibodies, but because it’s a pill it can be used outside of hospital settings, so it’s much easier to use..
Down sides? It costs $700 for a five-day course of treatment, which makes it cheaper than and easier to type than monoclonal antibodies, but it’s still expensive. And some experts are warning about potential side effects. Plus it doesn’t seem to help patients who are already sick enough to be hospitalized. So although it’s gotten a lot of press coverage and is, without question, important, it’s not the answer to all problems.
Other antiviral pills are also in the works.
Vaccines? Why yes. A new vaccine in development uses only a single shot and can be stored at room temperature for up to a month. In trials with primates, it gave near-complete immunity that stayed at its peak level for eleven months.
It’s called an AAVCOVID vaccine, AAV being the vector the vaccine uses.
What am I talking about? The vector’s the horse the vaccine rides in on. Or if you want to sound marginally more sensible, it’s the strategy the developers use. I’m not going to try to explain this one, because I’m pretty sure I’ll get it wrong. Let’s just say that if this strategy works, it’ll help get the vaccine out to places where refrigeration’s a barrier.
The team that’s developing it is also exploring needle-less delivery systems.
Another vaccine in the works is using a new model that I’d love to explain but I’m not even close to understanding it, so let me quote: It combines “the advantages of the two types of traditional vaccines—virus-based vaccines and protein-based vaccines—by preparing a bacterial protein that self-assembles into a virus-like particle. By displaying a COVID-19 protein on the surface of this virus-like particle, researchers produced a novel vaccine that is well recognized by the mammalian immune system, but yet does not have any viral infectivity.”
If I understand that correctly, it behaves like one of those transformers kids used to play with, and for all I know still do. You introduce it into a body as a motorcycle, it clicks a few of its own pieces, turns green, and suddenly it’s the Hulk, chasing down unsuspecting Covid viruses.
Early tests show it being effective against the Covid variants and setting up a strong immune response.
Come to me anytime you need a high-grade scientific explanation.
Long Covid numbers
I’ve found some numbers on long Covid, finally: About a third of the people who come down with Covid get at least one long Covid symptom.
First question, who are we talking about when we say people who get Covid? As far as I can tell, it’s people who actually got sick, because the article talks about them recovering. So I think we can rule out anyone who gets infected but stays asymptomatic.
We need all the good news we can get, so let’s play nice and say thanks for that.
Second question, how are they defining long Covid? You get to pick from nine core symptoms, and they have (or it has, if you only get one) to last at least 90 days. The most common ones are breathing problems, abdominal symptoms, fatigue, pain, and anxiety and depression.They’re more common in people who’ve been hospitalized and slightly more common in women than in men. The same symptoms occur after the flu, but they’re 1.5 times more common after Covid.
Next shred of good news? If long Covid symptoms are more common in people who’ve been hospitalized, less than a third of people with milder symptoms are likely to come down with it.