Slaying Dragons #30 – Viruses

John Watkinson considers viruses

Understandably, audio has taken a back seat in the last few weeks and I have been researching a different topic that I felt might be more relevant.

The present outbreak of a virus is the latest in such outbreaks that have been going on for as long as there has been life on Earth. On an evolutionary scale, today’s medicine and things such as vaccines and antibiotics only appeared in the last few milliseconds.

For most of the evolution of life there was no artificial treatment for viruses, yet life continues to flourish because of one key mechanism. Second only to the ability of life to reproduce and evolve is the existence of an immune system. Were it not for that there would be no life. And without life, there would be no viruses.

Looked at from the point of view of the virus, it spreads most effectively if its hosts stay alive so they can infect others. It is not in the interests of a virus to kill its host, as it also dies. The present virus is no different and it does not itself kill anybody. What it does do is temporarily to damage the body in such a way that it is slightly more likely to contract something that will kill, like pneumonia.

It follows immediately that in a real population in which there is a statistical distribution of immunity, the damage done by a virus will not be sufficient to do lasting harm in the great majority of the population. We need not be concerned for children whose immune system is at its strongest. Our concern needs to be focussed on those who have weak immune systems for whatever reason, including old age and recovering from an operation. 

The actions that were taken in various countries in an attempt to control the outbreak were universally and inevitably too late. The initial spread of a virus is exponential and by the time anyone realises that a new one has emerged, it is everywhere and we are left staring at the stable door. Blaming the government for lethargy is in most cases justified, but not in this one. The chances are that millions…

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