Slaying Dragons #34 – Epidemiology

John Watkinson considers epidemiology.

We are now far enough through the viral outbreak to be able to look back at some of what took place. Given that my advanced years put me at risk, for my own safety I now know more about epidemiology than I ever wanted to know, but even the little I know causes me to ask questions.

The questions all begin with why, but before they can be asked, it is necessary to find some facts that can be relied on, and that is where we have to look at some difficult subjects, like death.

One of the things I have learned is that the same evolution that resulted in animal life, including human beings, also evolved myriad bugs, viruses, diseases and so on that survive by being communicable. There is a kind of cold war going on where these bugs evolve to be more infectious, whereas the immune system of the animal kingdom also evolves to control them. It is not an exaggeration to say that animal life is only possible in the presence of a powerful immune system.

Death is inevitable and we all have to go sometime. We are born with incredibly powerful immune systems that weaken as we age. Barring sudden events such as accidents and heart attacks, most of us will go when our immune system is no longer as strong as the threats. It has therefore always been obvious that the present outbreak would affect the elderly, and the equally obvious reaction should have been to put barbed wire around care homes. Instead, in UK, infected people were sent there from hospitals and the inevitable happened. That’s my first why.

The other aspect of death is that it must be officially recorded, and as a result the statistics are relatively reliable. In a normal year, the death rate isn’t constant. It tends to rise in the winter and there’s a trough in the summer. One factor is that viruses don’t like the heat and live longer on surfaces in cold weather.

By averaging records for a number of years, it is possible to see when the death rate is more than what would be expected. This year there was a period where there were significant excess deaths. It is important to understand that the number of excess deaths tells us…

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