Novel Coronavirus — The Latest Pandemic Scare
Chances are you’ve heard the news about a new and potentially lethal coronavirus. Ground zero is Wuhan City, Hubei Province in China. As of February 2, 2020, mainland China reported a total of 17,187 confirmed cases, including 2,110 severe cases and 362 deaths (including a retired doctor working with coronavirus patients in Wuhan).
The first case was reported in Wuhan on December 21, 2019. According to ProMED International Society for Infectious Diseases:
“Patients’ clinical manifestations were consistent with viral pneumonia. Most patients had severe and nonproductive cough following illness onset, some had dyspnea, and almost all had normal or decreased leukocyte counts and radiographic evidence of pneumonia.
Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market has western and eastern sections, and 15 environmental specimens collected in the western section were positive for 2019-nCoV virus through RT-PCR testing and genetic sequencing analysis. Despite extensive searching, no animal from the market has thus far been identified as a possible source of infection.”
On January 21, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first U.S. case — a patient in Washington state who had recently visited Wuhan, China. A second case, in Illinois, was confirmed January 24, 2020. This patient had also recently returned from a visit to Wuhan. As of February 2, 2020, there were 11 confirmed cases in the U.S.
Since then cases have also been reported in at least 23 other countries, including Canada, Australia, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, France, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore and Saudi Arabia. Globally, there were 14, 557 confirmed cases and one death as of February 2, 2020.
January 22, 2020, China shut down all transport networks in and out of Wuhan — a city with a population of 11 million — in an effort to contain the spread of the disease.
Elderly Appear Particularly Vulnerable
So far, most of those who have died have been elderly. As reported by the Foreign Policy Journal:
“One puzzling aspect so far is the thankful lack of child victims. Usually, children, with less developed immune systems than adults, come down with one illness after another …
Yet few children have yet been reported with coronavirus symptoms. That does not mean that no children have been infected. A similar pattern of benign disease in children, with increasing severity and mortality with age, was seen in SARS and MERS.
SARS had a mortality rate averaging 10 percent. Yet no children, and just 1 percent of youths under 24, died, while those older than 50 had a 65 percent risk of dying. Is being an adult a risk factor per se? If so, what is it about childhood that confers protection?”
The Foreign Policy Journal goes on to suggest children may be protected by other vaccines given during childhood, such as the measles and rubella vaccines. It even goes so far as to wonder whether innate immunity against the coronavirus might be boosted in adults by giving them the measles vaccine.
If you ask me, that would be a significant long-shot. Vaccines have risks, so getting a vaccine on the remote chance that it might confer protection against a completely different infection than what it’s designed for seems inappropriate in the extreme. As noted in the Washington Examiner:
“Sending out coronavirus vaccines won’t make sense unless the spread gets worse … The bare facts, at least as far as anyone knows them yet, are that a global rollout of a coronavirus vaccine would kill some 7,000 people or so.
Of course, we’re never going to get everyone vaccinated. And I’m guessing here, but that average death rate from vaccination, for all things, is one in a million.
Yes, that’s including those influenza shots the old folks are abjured to get every winter — we know that some will die because of them. That we know this is exactly why we have the vaccine compensation program …
The … trade-off in this situation is how many we kill by giving them the vaccine, versus how many die without it? The coronavirus is simply not widespread enough yet to take the risk of jabbing everyone.”
Source of Novel Coronavirus Remains Unknown
Like other coronaviruses, such as the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), this new coronavirus (dubbed 2019-nCoV), is suspected of being zoonotic, meaning it can be transmitted between animals and humans.
The disease itself has been named “novel coronavirus-infected pneumonia” or NECIP. As reported by CNN:
“Both SARS and MERS are classified as zoonotic viral diseases, meaning the first patients who were infected acquired these viruses directly from animals.
This was possible because while in the animal host, the virus had acquired a series of genetic mutations that allowed it to infect and multiply inside humans. Now these viruses can be transmitted from person to person …
In the case of this 2019 coronavirus outbreak, reports state that most of the first group of patients hospitalized were workers or customers at a local seafood wholesale market which also sold processed meats and live consumable animals including poultry, donkeys, sheep, pigs, camels, foxes, badgers, bamboo rats, hedgehogs and reptiles.”
However, while media have been quick to blame the outbreak on snakes and bat soup, as of January 22, none of the animals sold at the Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market had been found to carry the virus.
Meanwhile, a number of other reports cast a disturbing light on the outbreak, raising questions about biohazard safety at laboratories working with dangerous pathogens.
Season of Fear and National Budgeting Go Hand in Hand
Whatever the source, the hysteria being drummed up follows a now well-worn pattern where the population is kept in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear about microbes so that drug companies (aided by federal health officials) can come to the rescue with yet another expensive (and potentially mandatory) drug or vaccine.
Back in 2005, headlines warned the U.S. was facing a cataclysmic extermination event with a calculated 2 million Americans succumbing to the bird flu; the best-case scenario had a calculated death toll of 200,000. The same scare tactics were used during the 2009 swine flu outbreak.
Both pandemics turned out to be grossly exaggerated threats, but that didn’t result in a more conservative, cool-headed approach to subsequent outbreaks. If anything, efforts to drum up fear and hysteria have only escalated.
In 2014, we were told Ebola might overtake the U.S. and then it was pertussis outbreaks. In January 2015, it was measles in Disneyland. In January 2016, it was zika, followed by more news about pertussis outbreaks. In 2017 and 2018 it was influenza, then back to measles again in 2019. Now we have coronavirus.
January and February appear to be a favorite time to launch a global disease scare with the dutiful assistance of corporatized media. It’s convenient, seeing how usually by the first Monday in February every year (Feb. 3, 2020), the president sends the U.S. Congress the administration’s budget requesting funds to be allocated to federal agencies for the next fiscal year’s budget (Oct. 1, 2020 – Sept. 30, 2021).
Each time there’s a public health scare, the Pharma and public health lobby is able to vie for a larger slice of taxpayer money to pay for drug and vaccine development.
January 23, 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, announced a coronavirus vaccine is in the pipeline, with human trials set to start in about three months. Stock prices for makers of coronavirus vaccines experienced an immediate upswing in response to media reports of impending doom.
Moratorium on SARS/MERS Experiments Lifted in 2017
As mentioned, a number of reports raise questions about the source of the 2019-nCoV. For starters, a 2014 NPR article was rather prophetic. It discusses the October 2014 U.S. moratorium on experiments on coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, as well as influenza virus, that might make the viruses more pathogenic and/or easy to spread among humans.
The ban came on the heels of “high-profile lab mishaps” at the CDC and “extremely controversial flu experiments” in which the bird flu virus was engineered to become more lethal and contagious between ferrets. The goal was to see if it could mutate and become more lethal and contagious between humans, causing future pandemics.
However, for the past decade there have been red flags raised in the scientific community about biosecurity breaches in high containment biological labs in the U.S. and globally. There were legitimate fears that a lab-created superflu pathogen might escape the confines of biosecurity labs where researchers are conducting experiments. It’s a reasonable fear, certainly, considering that there have been many safety breaches at biolabs in the U.S. and other countries.
The federal moratorium on lethal virus experiments in the U.S. was lifted at the end of December 2017, even though researchers announced in 2015 they had created a lab-created hybrid coronavirus similar to that of SARS that was capable of infecting both human airway cells and mice.
The NIH had allowed the controversial research to proceed because it had begun before the moratorium was put in place — a decision criticized by Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at Pasteur Institute in Paris, who pointed out that “If the [new] virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory.”
Others, such as Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist and biodefence expert at Rutgers University, agreed, saying “The only impact of this work is the creation, in a lab, of a new, non-natural risk.”
Wuhan Is Home to Lab Studying World’s Deadliest Pathogens
In January 2018, China’s first maximum security virology laboratory (biosecurity level 4) designed for the study of the world’s most dangerous pathogens opened its doors — in Wuhan. Is it pure coincidence that Wuhan City is now the epicenter of this novel coronavirus infection?
The year before, Tim Trevan, a Maryland biosafety consultant, expressed concern about viral threats potentially escaping the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, which happens to be located just 20 miles from the Wuhan market identified as ground zero for the current NCIP outbreak. As reported by the Daily Mail:
“The Wuhan lab is also equipped for animal research,” and “Regulations for animal research — especially that conducted on primates — are much looser in China than in the U.S. and other Western countries … But that was also cause for concern for Trevan.
Studying the behavior of a virus like 209-nCoV and developing treatments or vaccines for it requires infecting these research monkeys, an important step before human testing.
Monkeys are unpredictable though, warned [Rutgers University microbiologist Dr. Richard] Ebright. ‘They can run, they can scratch they can bite,’ he said, and the viruses they carry would go where their feet, nails and teeth do.'”
Coronavirus Outbreak Simulation Took Place in October 2019
Equally curious is the fact that Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sponsored a novel coronavirus pandemic preparedness exercise October 18, 2019, in New York called “Event 201.” The simulation predicted a global death toll of 65 million people within a span of 18 months. As reported by Forbes December 12, 2019:
“The experts ran through a carefully designed, detailed simulation of a new (fictional) viral illness called CAPS or coronavirus acute pulmonary syndrome. This was modeled after previous epidemics like SARS and MERS.”
Sounds exactly like NCIP, doesn’t it? Yet the new coronavirus responsible for NCIP had not yet been identified at the time of the simulation, and the first case wasn’t reported until two months later.
Forbes also refers to the fictional pandemic as “Disease X” — the same designation used by The Telegraph in its January 24, 2020, video report, “Could This Coronavirus be Disease X?” which suggests that media outlets were briefed and there was coordination ahead of time with regard to use of certain keywords and catchphrases in news reports and opinion articles.
Johns Hopkins University (JHU) is the biggest recipient of research grants from federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and Department of Defense and has received millions of dollars in research grants from the Gates Foundation. In 2016, Johns Hopkins spent more than $2 billion on research projects, leading all U.S. universities in research spending for the 38th year in a row.
If research funded by federal agencies, such as the DOD or HHS is classified as being performed “in the interest of national security,” it is exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
Research conducted under the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) is completely shielded from FOIA requests by the public. Additionally, agencies may deny FOIA requests and withhold information if government officials conclude that shielding it from public view “protects trade secrets and commercial or financial information which could harm the competitive posture or business interests of a company.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that its mission is “to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S.” Clearly, it will be difficult to obtain information about government-funded biomedical research on microbes like coronavirus conducted at major universities or by pharmaceutical corporations in biohazard labs.
How likely is it, then, that the coronavirus outbreak making people so sick today “suddenly” emerged simply because people ate bats and snakes in a Wuhan market? It looks more like a biosecurity accident but, until more is known, inevitably there will be more questions than answers about whether this latest global public health emergency is a more ambitious tactical “sand table exercise,” echoing unanswered questions about the 2009 swine flu pandemic fiasco.
This time, there could be a lot more bodies left on the field, although some statisticians conducting benefit cost analyses may consider 65 million casualties in a global human population of 7.8 billion people to be relatively small when advancing medical research conducted in the name of “the greater good.”
Signs and Symptoms of NCIP
According to the WHO, signs and symptoms of NCIP in its initial stages include:
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
- Dry cough
In more severe cases, the infection can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome and kidney failure.
WHO’s “rapid advice note,” detailing how to care for patients presenting mild symptoms of NCIP in the home can be downloaded here. Recommendations include:
- Placing the patient in a well-ventilated room
- Limiting the number of caretakers. Ideally, designate a healthy younger person who has no underlying risk factors to care for the patient (older people appear to be more susceptible to severe disease)
- Keeping other household members in a different room, or keeping a distance of at least 1 meter (3.2 feet) from the patient
- Limiting the movement of the patient and minimizing shared space. Make sure shared spaces such as kitchen and bathroom are well-ventilated by keeping the windows open
Instructions on protective gear, such as protective masks and gloves, and the safe handling and disposal of them are also detailed, as are special instructions for how to maintain good hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus throughout the home.
General recommendations for how to reduce your risk of contracting an infection at home, work or when traveling can be found on WHO’s Novel Coronavirus Advice for the Public page.
A key recommendation — which applies to all infections, both bacterial and viral — is to frequently wash your hands with soap and water. Also, be sure to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and avoid close contact with anyone exhibiting symptoms of cold or influenza.
According to Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the Centre of Tropical Medicine and Global Health at the University of Oxford, NCIP has the hallmark signs of “classic viral pneumonia,” and since there are currently no antivirals available for NCIP, the focus of care is to support the lungs and other organs until the patient recovers.
During this time, I recommend boosting your immune system with regular sensibly controlled sun exposure and, when unable to do that, taking oral vitamin D3. Adding liposomal vitamin C and quercetin supplements can also be helpful.
All three help protect against infections in general, and quercetin may offer benefits as a treatment for SARS coronavirus infections. According to a study in the Journal of Virology, “quercetin offers great promise as a potential drug in the clinical treatment of SARS.” Resveratrol is another antioxidant that could be useful. It’s been shown to inhibit MERS-CoV infection, at least in vitro.
There are some events that happen, which are not in our control, but one thing we can do is learn how to better respond to bad news that causes stress, which can depress the immune system.
Living in a constant state of anxiety and fear is not healthy. Finding ways to lower stress through regular exercise, spending time in nature, practicing meditation and getting plenty of sleep on a daily basis all help optimize immune function and decrease the effects of stress that are all too often a part of our lives today.