Journal of the Plague Year: Holy remedial biology, Batman

Posted Saturday, March 14, 2020 in News

Journal of the Plague Year: Holy remedial biology, Batman

by Gina Hamilton

March 14, 2020

Maine announced that it would be closing down the statehouse after Tuesday. Okay, okay, this was the emergency session and they would have been done by the end of May anyway, but still. They can't hold Skype meetings because of Maine's open meeting law, and that's that. They can be called back into special session, presumably, and you can still keep in touch with your representative and senator by email and phone, and in some of those weird lines for supplies.

So that's the biggish news of the day, other than a couple more schools have decided to close for the duration, including the Math and Science Academy in Limestone, Scarborough, John Babst, the Mt. Desert Islands schools, and a few others.

But during a conversation about how this particular virus works, it became clear to me that a lot of highly intelligent people don't understand the nature, if you will, of a virus, so for the record, this is essentially what's what.

Viruses aren't technically alive. They are made of the stuff of life -- RNA and in some cases, DNA -- but that's about where the similarity ends. They don't do a lot of the things that living things do. They don't regulate their homeostatis; they don't feed; they don't respirate; they don't mate. Their cycles can be interfered with, including being "killed", and the things do replicate, but not "reproduce" in the cellular asexual way, or the organism's sexual or asexual ways. 

Viruses are tied to their hosts in what, if they were alive, we might call a symbiotic (although parasitic) way. They evolve, to the extent they do, in lockstep with the host. When the host develops an immunity to them, and they can no longer replicate in the host's cells, they either move, adapt, or die.

Moving means viruses develop means to infect a new host by tricking the current's host's body to expel them by sneezing, coughing, an exchange body fluids of other kinds, or even breathing. Viruses might adapt -- relatively quickly change themselves a tiny bit so that the host can no longer resist them. And if they don't do either thing, they can die.

Some viruses are better at adaptation than others viruses. The less they adapt, the easier they are to control in the host population.

For instance, measles is not a good adapter; the disease relies only on airborne movement of virus particles from host to host, which is why it can be controlled with a vaccine so well. Measles can be almost completely controlled with childhood vaccination, and the only way it gets a foothold in the population is if people fail to vaccinate.

Seasonal influenza, on the other hand, is a good adapter; it changes in subtle ways even within the course of a single season, which makes an effective vaccine hard to predict or produce. But unlike measles, seasonal flu requires more than an airborne system of delivery -- it has a histamine delivery system to the lymph nodes, which is why the coughing, sneezing, and runny nose occur, and the particles, called virions, move from person to person in those mucus particles. 

Coronavirus transmits from person to person using a histamine delivery system, like the flu, but no one is entirely certain whether it has the same adaptation superpowers that the flu has. Some Chinese researchers think they are seeing evidence of mutation. We'll find out soon enough. What we do know is that some relatively simple things "kill" it, including isopropyl alcohol. (Which is why it is so hard to get one's hands on hand sanitizer right now. But you can make your own with isopropyl alcohol and a little aloe vera gel, about two parts to one, alcohol to gel. Pop it in an old hand soap bottle and use liberally. And hand soap -- got the handwashing memo?)

All of this means that this particular virus should be pretty easy to detect. Nobody needs to know whether the virus is replicating in the host; all they need to do is look at cells in the host's mucus and see if it's there. So the weird little tap dance about needing some kind of strange test that no one else in the world is using to determine the numbers of Covid-19 patients is utter nonsense.

The only reason for this government not to take already-existing World Health Organization testing kits and testing virtually anyone with symptoms or anyone who got close to anyone with symptoms is that someone has a vested interest in keeping the numbers of victims down for some obscure (political) reason.

I can't imagine who that would be.

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