Almost 40 years ago, a friend was working on the bluetongue virus at Colorado State. Though this work was done in a lab with masks and gloves and all the protocol of any university lab researching a disease, albeit one only infecting sheep at the time, there was an issue. Routine screening revealed that she and the head of the study became the first human beings to test positive for the disease. She seemed oddly pleased, or at least excited by the news.
Bluetongue is an infectious arthropod-borne [biting midges] viral disease primarily of domestic and wild ruminants. Infection with bluetongue virus (BTV) is common in a broad band across the world, which until recently stretched from ~35°S to 40°–50°N. Since the 1990s, BTV has extended considerably north of the 40th and even the 50th parallel in some parts of the world (eg, Europe). The geographic restriction is in part related to the climatic and environmental conditions necessary to support the Culicoides vectors. Most infections with BTV in wild ruminants and cattle are subclinical. Bluetongue (the disease caused by BTV) is usually considered to be a disease of improved breeds of sheep, particularly the fine-wool and mutton breeds, although it has also been recorded in cattle and some wild ruminant species, including white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana), and desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) in North America, and European bison (Bison bonasus) and captive yak (Bos grunniens grunniens) in Europe. —Merk Manual
To be clear, my friend did not have the disease, but she had antibodies to the disease which caused her to test positive. If she’d been a domestic sheep, there was up to a 90% chance that she would have died. But she’s still fine all these years later.
When the mad cow disease was freaking our U.S. authorities [late 90s—remember?], I was grateful to have ceased eating meat long enough ago that I knew I could not contract it. The incubation period is 4-5 years and humans catch it the same way cattle contract the disease: eating meat products contaminated with infected tissue, usually brain or other nervous system. [What I also know from my friend: When a slaughterhouse stuns an animal before chaining it by its legs head down and eviscerating it alive, the force of the stun gun 1. may not make the animal fully unconscious and 2. may drive brain tissue into the rest of the body, which is alive and still pumping blood.] The disease has always been rare, but when a friend said she was not worried about catching it because she didn’t know anyone who had it, I figured out I knew of two.
While I was teaching, a Health teacher abruptly recognized the danger of diseases crossing species and stopped eating meat. I don’t know what she’d read.
A study on sugar consumption decades ago demonstrated clearly that sugar had absolutely no impact on children’s behavior. None. Billions of mothers arched their brows, said huh? and laughed. Is anyone surprised to learn that study was funded by the National Sugar Institute? Hmmm. A 1995 JAMA publication of a “meta-analytic synthesis of the studies to date found that sugar does not affect the behavior or cognitive performance of children. The strong belief of parents may be due to expectancy and common association. However, a small effect of sugar or effects on subsets of children cannot be ruled out.” Again, laughter from those on the front lines.
So far I know no one with covid19, but my sister-in-law living in Seattle knows three people who have died from it. Yesterday, when we spoke on the phone, we both connected the panic/denial of covid19 to the HIV epidemic back in the day. Both of us lost people we cared about to AIDS. “In the United States, an estimated 700,000 Americans have died of HIV-related illnesses since the start of the epidemic in 1981.” Over 770,000 people died worldwide of AIDS in 1981 alone, and that disease is only contagious through direct exchange of body fluids (such as saliva, but usually blood and usually only through sex, shared needles, or in the early days form blood transfusion). Covid19 is carried through the air and on ordinary surfaces such as plastic.
It can take decades to calculate actual death rates from an outbreak. For covid19 it’s probably much worse than we think. The CDC already knows the current numbers of covid19 are massive underestimates. People have died of “pneumonia” or “heart disease” or even “influenza” because there was no test available to prove it was anything else. It will take years before we can be certain of where and how far this disease spread. Airplanes and cruise ships carried it all over the world. Does anyone believe India has only 933 cases today, in the second most populated nation in the world (over 1.3 billion people) and right next door to, you know, China? It will take time.
Here’s a comparison of reports from the first 65 days of the 2009 swine flu in the United States and first 65 days of the 2020 covid-19 outbreak.
- April 15, 2009 — first infection detected
- June 19, 2009 — 21,449 cases, 87 deaths
- Jan. 20, 2020 — first infection detected
- March 25, 2020 — 69,344 cases, 1,050 deaths
Eventually, government figures reveal “there were 60.8 million [swine flu] cases, 274,000 hospitalizations, and 12,469 deaths (0.02% infection fatality rate) in the United States.” Compare that to the infection fatality rate of covid19, estimated to be 1.4%, though it’s been much higher for countries scrambling to cope with massive outbreaks, in Italy for example.
We could not afford to create a stronger, more resilient healthcare system, rebuild roads, “throw money” at our public education system to make it once again the best in the world?
Sure we can. How can we not?
Do the math. (That’s my favorite line from the film The Martian.)