The monkeypox puzzle
When I first started writing this, Britain had 20 confirmed cases of monkeypox, and more than 100 had shown up in other non-African countries. Both numbers have grown since then, but let’s stop counting.
That they’re showing up outside of Africa is significant, because Africa’s the only place the disease is endemic. So let’s ask the question: Is it time to panic?
Well, those aren’t huge numbers, but the last few years have primed us to overreact when diseases we never heard of knock on the door. We hide behind the couch. We yell through the door and throw things. We eat too much of whatever’s on hand. It’s as natural as it is pointless.
Still, what’s happening is odd. Monkeypox doesn’t spread easily. It’s shown up outside of Africa in the past, but as isolated cases, not as chains of infection, which is what at least some of these are.
Monkeypox is a milder relative of smallpox and comes in your choice of two designs: the West African and the Congo. The Congo strain is fatal in 1 out of 10 reported cases and the West African in 1 out of 100. In both instances, you should put the emphasis on reported, because a lot of milder cases never do get reported. In other words, the virus is less lethal than the statistics make it sound.
So far, only the West African strain has been found in Britain. Reports aren’t in from the rest of the world.
Most people recover from monkeypox in a few weeks and don’t need treatment, although it can cause complications in pregnancy, including stillbirths, and is generally more severe in children than in adults.
Both an antiviral treatment and a vaccine exist. What’s more, anyone who was vaccinated against smallpox as a baby probably has some protection against monkeypox. But smallpox vaccination wound down in most countries before 1980.
How does monkeypox spread? Not easily. It likes to travel on large dro
plets–those things we breathe out no matter how delicate we pretend our manners are. But large droplets don’t travel far, so you have to be in relatively close contact to be exposed. The World Health Organization doesn’t talk about it as an airborne virus.
You can also get it from contact with skin lesions (it causes a rash) and from contact with materials. What kind of materials? A New Scientist article talks about the “clothing, towels or bedding used by an infected person.”
The World Health Organization also doesn’t talk about it as a sexually transmitted disease, but (don’t you love how a but slides in and contradicts everything that comes before it) it can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact–not to mention by heavy breathing in close proximity. It can also be transmitted by contact with the rash it causes, and if the rash is in a sexually relevant place, contact becomes almost inevitable. So yes, sex with an infected person would be a great way to catch the disease. In Britain, the current crop of cases are clustered in gay and bisexual men, not because they’re any more prone to it but presumably because some of them were prone with an infected person.
The most recent report I’ve seen traces a lot of cases to two raves, one in Spain and one in Belgium.
Charlotte Hammer, an expert on emerging diseases, said, “I am certain we are going to see more cases,” but that doesn’t mean we’re looking at a replay of Covid. The experts will be looking for more cases, and GPs can now be expected to recognize any that show up. So infections that would have gone unnoticed will now be noticed. And since the disease has an incubation period of one to three weeks, it’s about time for people who were exposed early on to come down sick.
Why, thn, do we have such an unusual number and range of cases showing up outside of Africa? Hammer said we’re looking at two possibilities, although it sounds to me like two and a half. We’ll count it out my way, since she’s not watching.
1, The virus is inherently different now,
1a, our susceptibility has changed,
or 2, a perfect storm of conditions has allowed the virus to spread the way it has.
She thinks number 2 is the most likely. Let’s back that up with a quote from Keith Neal of Nottingham University. “Has the virus changed? Well, it does not actually appear to be any more lethal, though something may have affected transmissibility. And don’t forget, this is a DNA virus and is unlikely to mutate at the rates that RNA viruses do. . . . I am not too worried.”
Researcher Romulus Breban thinks that, given the number of people who have not been vaccinated against smallpox, this was waiting to happen.”
“Our immunity level is almost zero,” he said. “People over 50 are likely to be immune, but the rest of us . . . [are] very, very susceptible.”
In short, this doesn’t sound like the next thing that’s going to kill us all. So settle down, everyone. Just be careful who breathes into your face, whose skin you rub, and whose bedding you handle. Not to mention who you go to bed with.
That last part is probably good advice anyway.
I skimmed through Twitter the other day and spotted an early-stage, monkeypox-related rabbit hole, which told me that the bad guys are working the good but credulous folks into a state of hysteria over nothing. Again. Not that they need to bother if hysteria’s their goal. The Twitteratti are doing it for them.
Who are the aforesaid bad guys? Depends who you ask. Dr. Fauci, George Soros, the Pfizer corporation, and the government (choose your least favorite or simply the one where you live) all got a mention, and all that was before I’d read for more than a minute. I’m sure the list is longer–and if you believe the theories, they’re all in it together. If I’d dug deeper, I expect I’d have found an international conspiracy of woke neo-Marxist professors of post-structural critical race theory and a cabal of international communist Jewish bankers.
Has anyone noticed how few bankers turn out to be Communists, and vice versa? How you can find enough to mount a decent conspiracy is beyond me, but never mind. Why ruin a good theory? Whoever they are, they’re out to get us.
I’m not actually sure the denizens of this incipient rabbit hole have to agree on who the they here is. Or are.The whole business puts as much of a strain on grammar as it does on logic.
The inflation news
With inflation rising at a level Britain hasn’t seen in 40 years, a handful of Conservative MPs (that’s members of parliament) have demonstrated a breathtaking understanding of what it means to live on a low income.
Lee Anderson opened the discussion by saying the country doesn’t need all those pesky food banks. The problem is that poor people don’t know how to budget or cook from scratch. If they did, they could make themselves a meal for 30 p. (To translate that to dollars, about 40 cents.)
So Welsh chef Gareth Mason took up the challenge.
“I’ve come to the conclusion it’s a load of rubbish,” he said. “These meals I’ve done, as soon as you put any protein or dairy into them, it’s not feasible to do it for 30p.
“If you eat beans on toast for every meal, it might work, but even if you did cheese on toast, the cost of cheese would be more than 30p on its own. And you have the cooking cost on top of the cost of the food.”
Yes, money’s tight enough and energy bills are high enough that people are asking themselves whether they can afford to turn on the oven. Or the stove, although they’d call it a cooker.
“Even if this MP is talking about batch cooking army food, even the smallest amount of spaghetti bolognese is going to go above 30p.”
An adult, he said, would struggle to get the recommended number of calories.
I’m grateful to Mason for doing the research, because it gives those of us who already knew it was rubbish someone authoritative to quote.
Meanwhile, Rachel Maclean said people struggling with the cost of living should get better jobs. You know, the kind of jobs that pay more. Or they should work more hours.
See, that’s the trouble with poor people. They don’t think of things like that.
If poor people became MPs, for example, they could claim–as the average MP does–£203,000 just for expenses, although Maclean claimed £10,000 more than that.
She, by the way, is the government’s minister for safeguarding, meaning she’s in charge of protecting an assortment of vulnerable people from the kind of stuff they’re vulnerable to. I haven’t noticed any of that going particularly well, but never mind. The pay’s good and–see?–she’s not poor, so maybe the two are connected
So how bad is inflation? At the beginning of April, it hit 9%, and the less money you make the higher your personal inflation rate is, because you spend more of your income on food and energy, which have risen more than (and I write this next bit with without checking either my figures or my stereotypes) yachts and champagne, pushing your personal inflation rate in the double digits. Silly you; if you had your priorities straight, you’d forget about food, rent, and heat and spend your money on something with a lower inflation rate.
To put numbers to that, the inflation for the poorest 10% of the population is 3 percentage points higher than it is for the richest 10%.
The situation is bad enough that Andy Cooke, the chief inspector of constabulary, said police should use their discretion in deciding whether to prosecute people who steal because they need to eat.
Which led Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, to say the idea that inflation would cause more crime was “old-fashioned.” He’s told officers not to let people off just because they’re desperate and stealing food.
Okay, he didn’t mention desperation. I’m not sure he understands its connection to money. Or hunger.
What he did say was, “I have to challenge this connection between poverty and crime. What we’ve found in the past, and where there is now growing evidence, is that actually crime is a contributor to poverty. That if you remove the violence and the crime from people’s lives they generally prosper more than they otherwise would.”
So first we take away the violence. As a result, people’s paychecks get larger. Their rent gets lower. Why hasn’t anyone mentioned this before? All we have to do now is figure out how they feed themselves and their kids while they wait for the magic to kick in.
What do all these people I’m quoting actually do? The chief inspector of constabulary heads the independent body that assesses police forces in England and Wales. The policing minister is part of the government–in other words, a member of the party in power (the Conservatives, known for their compassion, their competence, and the parties they threw when they’d locked down the rest of the country). He does something or other in that connection, although I have no idea what and I’m not convinced that he does either.
We’ll give the final word to the prime minister, who tells us that work is the best way to get out of poverty. This from a man who can’t tell work from a party, which is why he ever so accidentally broke his own lockdown rules.
Nah, let’s not give him the last word, let’s give it to Oxfam, which reports that, worldwide, the pandemic has created a new billionaire every 30 hours–and it expects a million people to be pushed into extreme poverty every 33 hours this year.
“Billionaires’ wealth has risen more in the first 24 months of COVID-19 than in 23 years combined. The total wealth of the world’s billionaires is now equivalent to 13.9 percent of global GDP. This is a three-fold increase (up from 4.4 percent) in 2000. . . .
“The fortunes of food and energy billionaires have risen by $453 billion in the last two years, equivalent to $1 billion every two days. Five of the largest energy companies (BP, Shell, TotalEnergies, Exxon and Chevron) are together making $2,600 profit every second, and there are now 62 new food billionaires. . . .
”The pandemic has created 40 new pharma billionaires. Pharmaceutical corporations like Moderna and Pfizer are making $1,000 profit every second just from their monopoly control of the COVID-19 vaccine, despite its development having been supported by billions of dollars in public investments. They are charging governments up to 24 times more than the potential cost of generic production. 87 percent of people in low-income countries have still not been fully vaccinated.”
Just sayin’, as one of our godkids used to say.