Covid, flu, and the fight against airborne viruses

Covid research has given us some unexpected insight into the flu: Contrary to what most of us have believed since forever, we’re not likely to catch the flu by touching contaminated surfaces. Yes, the viruses for flu and Covid can both survive on surfaces for some time, but the experiments demonstrating that used industrial strength amounts of virus–more than you’d find in real life–and that skewed the results. What’s more, a lot of the viral particles the experiments found were no longer infectious. It was viral RNA, which is “more like the corpse of the virus” than like the virus itself according to Emmanuel Goldman, of Rutgers University. 

Goldman was the first person to challenge the hygiene theater that had people sanitizing their groceries, washing their hands, and singing “Happy Birthday” to make sure they’d washed long enough. 

Or maybe it was only in Britain that people sang “Happy Birthday.” It was recommended by our then-prime minister–what was his name?–as a way to know you’d scrubbed for twenty seconds.

To be fair, that was relying on the medical advice available at the time. If he’d been marginally competent in other ways, I might forgive him.

Of course, I might not, but that’s a different post, and one I don’t plan to write. We could’ve skipped both the hand washing and the singing. Like Covid, the flu is airborne, and that’s how we’re most likely to catch it. During the first year of the pandemic, when people were still taking masks seriously (in spite of the people who hadn’t figured out that their noses were part of their breathing apparatus and that their chins weren’t), flu transmission went down to almost nothing.

Irrelevant photo: An azalea, now blooming indoors.

All that Covid-inspired hand washing did do one thing for us: It improved food safety.

Having called time on hygiene theater, Goldman is now pointing us toward a way out of the pandemic: 

Respiratory viruses like COVID-19 and the flu spread primarily indoors, so we need a safe virus-killing reagent that can be pre-deployed in occupied spaces. As it happens, we already have one.

“Triethylene glycol (TEG) is an air sanitizer that has been shown to be safe for humans to breathe at low concentrations. It’s also been found to kill viruses on surfaces and in the air at those same low concentrations. Given the science, regulatory agencies should fast-track approval of TEG-based air treatments.”

Will they? No idea.

A UK government study evaluates its safety this way: “There is some evidence that repeated exposures to a glycol-based aerosol may result in respiratory tract irritation, with cough, shortness of breath and tightness of the chest. However, it is not possible to extrapolate the findings to other workplaces/settings or to longer-term exposure impacts, without further research.” 

It’s generally used to make theatrical fog. That’s what the bit about “other workplaces” means.


A Report from the Department of Covid-Fighting Gizmos

This is going to sound like I’m wearing the proverbial tinfoil hat, but a gizmo that uses no batteries and no wires can detect the presence of Covid in air. It uses a “magnetostrictive clad plate composed of iron, cobalt and nickel, generating power via alternative magnetization caused by vibration.” I have no idea what that means, although I could define every last one of the words–or I could if I looked up magnetostrictive. Why bother when I still wouldn’t follow it? That’s why I’m quoting. 

I can’t give you a link on this, because it came as a download. The article’s title is the poetic “Batteryless and wireless device detects coronavirus with magnetostrictive composite plates.” If you ask Lord Google nicely, he may lead you to something at least vaguely related. 

Exactly what you do with the contraption once you have it is up to you. I imagine sending it into a roomful of people on the back of a small, dog-shaped robot and waiting for it to report back before I go in. If it’s not safe, I’ll just go home, thanks.

Why’s the robot dog shaped? To add a bit of charm to my tinfoil-hat look.


Another invention allows you–or if not you, at least someone–to watch viruses die as they try to make their way through masks. 

I know. I prefer a book myself. Or TV. Or, hell, social media if I get desperate. But still, the thing’s out there and someone wants to use it.

What does it do? It gets viruses to light up when they die, and by doing that they tell us that very few viruses get all the way through multilayered FP2 masks. That’s reassuring, but the process can also identify what materials are most effective at killing viruses. In other words, we don’t need the dog-shaped robot for this one. People who design masks will find it useful. The rest of us can give it a miss.


Coordinating information on long Covid

Worldwide, some 100 million people are believed to be living with long Covid, and a new questionnaire is trying to get a better picture of its impact, giving researchers better information. 

Existing questionnaires don’t cover the full spectrum of its symptoms. It’s not just fatigue; it can also be vomiting, incontinence, erectile dysfunction, hair loss, and so much other other fun stuff. The new questionnaire breaks the symptoms into 16 categories and uses a single scale to measure their severity, nad it can be “e-migrated, translated, and cross-culturally validated,” which I think means it’s set up to be translated into hundreds of languages. Accurately. Taking into account the cultural context in which it’ll be used. 

So far, it’s been approved for use in 50 countries.


New drugs in the works

A couple of Covid drugs look promising. Others are in the works, but let’s not spread ourselves too thin. We’ll look at two.

One of them is already used to treat a liver disease (primary biliary cholangitis, in case anyone asks), so its safety has already been tested and its patent has expired, which means it doesn’t cost a fortune. What’s more, it’s easy to store, it’s easy to ship, and it can carry a tune even when a symphony orchestra’s playing an entirely different one. It never loses its temper. What’s not to like?

Dr. Fotios Sampaziotis, of Cambridge University, explained it this way: “Vaccines protect us by boosting our immune system so that it can recognize the virus and clear it, or at least weaken it. But vaccines don’t work for everyone—for example patients with a weak immune system—and not everyone have access to them. Also, the virus can mutate to new vaccine-resistant variants.

“We’re interested in finding alternative ways to protect us from SARS-CoV-2 infection that are not dependent on the immune system and could complement vaccination. We’ve discovered a way to close the door to the virus, preventing it from getting into our cells in the first place and protecting us from infection.”

The timing’s good on this one, because the virus has out-evolved the antivirals we’ve relied on. And because it works on the human cell rather than aiming at Covid’s spike protein, it should be variant-proof.

It’s done well in small clinical trials and will be going into larger ones.


Another drug, in an earlier stage of development, also promises to be variant-proof. It’s called an ACE2 decoy, and it works by luring the virus to itself, so it ignores the cells’ ACE2 receptors, which is the normal route for infection. Once it’s done that, it takes off the top of Covid’s spike, which inactivates it.  

It sounds ugly, but there’s a microscopic war going on in there all the time. 

The drug could potentially be used against other coronaviruses, which enter human cells the same way. It hasn’t been tested in humans yet but they’re moving it in that direction.

34 thoughts on “Covid, flu, and the fight against airborne viruses

  1. As usual, far UVC lamps are not mentioned. They kill 99% of all airborne contagions. The only problem with them is the cost. They run around 1000$ a lamp for a UL-listed lamp. If a low-cost lamp could be invented such as one using LEDs this would solve the problem. The LED that emits the far UVC wavelength could be included with standard LED lamps! There is research and development going on now. Occam’s Razor: The simplest solution is always the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Far UVC and ventilation are two of the most ignored solutions available. You’re right that I should write more about UVC. It doesn’t tend to show up in the digests I follow and I do tend to get stuck on a treadmill.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We’re in the tiny minority of people who wear masks here now. We still haven’t had Covid. I notice now that some people treat us differently now. It’s like the tide is turning against masks. My husband caught it on a trip to the UK and had to quarantine. He had some breathing difficulties and fatigue for a longer than a month. He’d had all the vaccines, including the Omicron one before he caught it. Luckily he feels fine again now.
    Thank you for your informative article. I really enjoyed reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you. One of my friends in the UK caught it the first Christmas, sadly her partner died (he was mid 40’s and healthy) and she now has really high blood pressure.
        Good that your friend’s taste is returning. That must be horrible.

        Liked by 1 person

        • She doesn’t talk about it much, but I expect it is. That’s horrible about your friend. When you look at what’s happening in China, where the vaccines aren’t as effective and I don’t think they’re as widespread–how on earth can people act as if this is over??


          • I absolutely agree. I think they just want it to be over and stick their heads in the sand. But that doesn’t help anyone.
            It was devastating for my friend. Another close friend called me on Christmas Day to tell me that her mother had died of Covid that day. She was quite elderly and had dementia. She’d fallen a few days before and broken her hip, so she had to stay in hospital. She’d tested negative when she went in and I think it was about four days later she started showing symptoms, so they tested her and she’d caught it. About four, maybe five days later she was dead.
            The following day my friend’s partner died. Such a shock. My friend’s mum was old and she was always having falls and accidents. So we all kind of expected it. But my other friend’s partner… It was mind-blowing. He was young and really fit. One of those guys who never has a day off or needs a doctor. So it was a massive shock. My poor friend was in a mess and she couldn’t work as she had long Covid. Her whole life just got turned upside down in an instant.
            It was so difficult being so far away from everyone and not being able to help.
            By the New Year over 20 of our close friends and family members, mostly in the UK, a few here in Germany had caught it. A week after that, one of them was in intensive care. Also not elderly, early 50’s.
            All in the midst of Brexit and for some reason my German Visa card stopped working on UK sites and kept getting cancelled any time I tried to use it there. So I was trying to send food parcels, flowers, anything to improve their days. But the payment wouldn’t go through. I was crying most of the day for a good couple of weeks because I just felt so sad about everything they were going through and I so desperately wanted to do something to help them.
            If your best friend loses her partner, the first thing you’d do is race around there and sit with her making tea, giving her hugs and mopping up tears with mountains of tissues.
            She had Covid herself, and she was really quite ill, but she was all on her own. She couldn’t leave the house. Nobody could go and see her. Her son was in a different district so he couldn’t even drive over to the doorstep with some food or something. And her local friends from her village were also quarantining. Hence my desperation to try and get her a food parcel. It was like she was in the worse situation she could find herself in, and she had to suffer it alone.
            So I take it all very seriously.

            Liked by 1 person

        • I hated the way COVID kept trying to raise my blood pressure, too. Every time I lay down to SLEEP! How dare that virus…Biofeedback and meditation helped *a lot*. I hope your friend can learn to use them too. The blood pressure stabilized in a few weeks but the other two rounds with COVID brought it back for a few weeks each time.

          Just wondering…do universities still have biofeedback labs where anybody can go in and watch their pulse and blood pressure readings go down as they learn to control them?

          If you ever get the temporary-cardiac reaction I get to some “pesticide” vapors, I think learning to stabilize pulse and blood pressure may literally be a lifesaver. My heart’s done some scary things during the minutes before I’ve persuaded it that it didn’t have to do those things. (That’s the image that works for me; yours may vary.)

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Covid, SARs, and the Flu oh my ! Repeat this several times whist holding Toto and walking with your three buddies Tin Man, Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. We are now living in the time of the trinity of respiratory ailments. We have had all our vaccinations and boosters. So far as I know I either have not had covid or I am among those very fortunate to exhibit no symptoms. None. Of course when I had pneumonia a year ago my CT scan showed ‘broken glass’ and the doctors and technicians were absolutely convinced that I had experienced covid. No doubt it shall forever remain a mystery. Again if I did have it there were no symptoms including no respiratory distress. Fortunately worry does improve the quality of my drinking time. It gives me a reason and I do so hate to drink without a reason. Actually I am amazed that things are managing to carry on in this post covid world. Everything is in short supply. Well most everything except for speculation and questions. Answers are still in very short supply. Come to think of it they were even before covid. Oh and this message was run through all of the recommended and even a few of the extreme measure sterilization measures of sanitation. I wonder had covid been around would Orson Wells have chosen it over the War of the Worlds for his radio broadcast ? I think this is the part where I cut back to my opening few lines… Carry On.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sanitizing the message. I handled it with gloves anyway, because you can’t be too safe. Lots of things are in short supply here too. Answers, sanity, competent government. Also physical objects that are normally for sale. I thought maybe that last category was a result of Brexit, and some of it may well be, but–well, we’re back to that annoying shortage of answers. No location seems to be short on lunacy.

      I don’t drink anymore, so have mine, will you? Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will try to make up for the deficit however superior age is cutting into the quantity of my drinking time so it may take several days or weeks to fulfill that request. I hope you do not find this as disappointing as some do. I might have to modify the encouragement – Carry On just slow and steady.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. If you lack a dog-shaped robot would an actual dog work ? Or a robot vacuum ?(No use even thinking of using a cat. Maybe a rat trained to run a maze pattern?)
    I just keep wearing a mask. Knock on wood I have avoided colds, flu and what used to be my yearly bronchitis. Seeing a lot fewer masks, but no one seems to give those of us who are masked a second thought. I did have a medical scan last week at a hospital where EVERYBODY was wearing a mask, and when you walked in (past all the signs) if you weren’t, the information desk person hopped up and handed you one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For the first couple of years of the pandemic, when I went for my yearly mammogram , they asked me to take off the higher-grade mask I was already wearing and put on one of those somewhat less effective blue ones. What the hell, I didn’t argue. I was just grateful they were asking people to wear them.

      I have an actual dog. He does no work whatsoever, unless you consider pacing around with a toy in your mouth work. So I’d guess the answer there is no, but I admit I’m not presenting a full range of evidence.


  5. I’m still wearing a mask in the grocery store and other places with lots of folks. All vaxed, but I don’t want even a mild case of this junk. It seems that there are enough people still wearing masks that there’s no weirdness about it–plus you never know someone’s situation. This is interesting stuff, but the magneto-thingy seems a bit Buck Rogers…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Buck Rogers indeed. I sometimes think our times have borrowed bits and pieces of the most overdone plot lines of bad sci fi and brewed them into what passes for real life. Pandemics that morph every few months or year? Tin-pot dictators or would-be dictators who win elections of try (incompetently, so far) to stage coups? Nut theories followed word for word by a fair number of our fellow citizens? Increasingly brutal storms signaling the end of the climate we rely on?

      Okay, I won’t go on. I’m scaring myself and have no idea what effect I’m having on you. Sorry. I’m used to wearing a mask in public and tend to forget that I am–at least unless someone has trouble understanding something I’ve said. So no, no weirdness here either, at least about that.


  6. I must have missed something, because nobody had told me to sing “Happy Birthday” (or “Highway to Hell”) while washing hands.
    I am not sure that I’d like to walk into a room filled with glycolic fog, so I just keep my mask on.
    Frankly, I have no idea what this device is good for, Robodog or not, I can not think of an utilization right now. It is an impressive piece of engineering.

    Liked by 1 person

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