Okay, it was almost unanimous! You want more on Covid-19… Oh well clearly no one listened to my plea for “no more”. So you asked for it and here it is, more on Covid-19…grrrrrrr….
Okay so we’re all bored of Covid-19 right, but like-it-or-not it hasn’t gone away and whilst many think we are now in the second wave I would argue it’s still the first wave… it never disappeared, we just went into hiding and now we are “out” again nothing has really changed since the last big peak of cases. Or has it? Surely, we have learned something about this new disease this year… haven’t we?
One of life’s unsolved mysteries is “how did life on Earth begin?” Did it start here spontaneously as “God created us” or did Darwin get it right with his “evolution theory”? And are we alone in our universe? Let’s skip the God versus Darwin bit and jump straight to the question “did life arrive from outer space” and “can life survive in space?”
When times get “trying” here on planet Earth ECIC wishes she was on Pluto with her cats, her rules and no people! But she may not be alone!! The newest research suggests that bacteria can survive in the hostile environment of space; maybe the dream of living on Pluto with remote “homeworking” for a Consultant Microbiologist might be a reality (our hospital computer system is called Enterprise after all!)
No, No, No, stick with me!!! It’s true, those pesky microorganisms have been found to survive on the outside of the ISS (International Space Station). There’s even a named theory… the theory that living organisms can survive and transfer through space is known as “panspermia”.
Back in November last year I wrote a blog about tick borne encephalitis (TBE) in the UK caused by viruses under the title “Deadly brain disease passed by ticks now in Britain”… not my title but rather the Telegraph newspaper. This was related to the discovery of deer ticks in Thetford Forest which showed evidence of infection with the TBE Flaviviruses. However this isn’t the only cause of TBE in the World, there are others such as the parasitic disease babesiosis… and you’ve guessed it…. we now have it here in the UK! Wonderful!?
More and more of us are being affected by imposed quarantine measures (sometimes at very short notice!). Holiday plans are all over the place (we are not going to the Drakensberg’s, our flight is cancelled, UK residents are banned and there is 14 days of quarantine even if we could get in! Boom, our holiday’s gone BUST!). There is mass quarantining on a global scale. But added to this is the fact that in the UK you must also quarantine yourself if you are exposed to a person with Covid-19. No ifs, no buts, do not pass “Go”, do not “collect £200”. But where does the term quarantine come from, what does it mean and are we “actually” using it correctly?
Okay, you don’t really need me to tell you that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a bit of a nightmare; medically, socially and psychologically. As of the 12th August there have been 20.4 million cases reported worldwide with 744,000 deaths. These are pretty scary numbers but large scale death and destruction from infectious diseases is nothing new.
Infectious diseases have been the leading cause of death for the human species, and over recent centuries there have been some horrendous pandemics that make Covid-19 so far look pretty small. In this blog I’m going to look at just 3 infectious diseases whose pandemics give Covid-19 some perspective…
Cue wavy lines and wobbly music as we go back in time to the 6th Century…
The first of our “recent” plague pandemics is known as the Plague of Justinian (541-542), which affected the Eastern Roman Empire, especially Constantinople and the Mediterranean region. It is estimated to have killed 50 million people during the initial pandemic and in the 200 years after when it continued to circulate. This was up to a quarter of the World’s population at this time! Justinian I was Emperor of Rome when the pandemic started; apparently he caught the plague but survived.
The next plague pandemic was the Black Death (1347-1353) which killed an estimated 30-60% of the population of Europe, about 100-125 million people! There are thousands of ossuaries (bone collections) in Churches around Europe full of the remains of those killed by the Black Death. The Black Death resulted in a number of social, religious and political upheavals that shaped the future of Europe including movement of people in to cities, decline of the power of the Church and increased power of governments.
One of the most striking features of the Covid-19 pandemic from my perspective has been the massive volume of scientific papers released on the internet. There have been 10’s of thousands of papers which is both amazing and worrying. But why is it worrying, surely the faster we have more information the better? Well maybe not…
According to recent studies 2% of researchers admit that they have committed fraud in their work, but they thought that 14% of their colleagues had also committed fraud… fraud is basically lying…. Also in a study of 20,000 biomedical research papers 2% contained deliberately falsified images… this was reported on BBC Inside Science - Science Fraud & Bias, Immunity to COVID-19. [My wife told me about this radio broadcast she heard whilst cuddling our two new Cats Protection foster kittens (Toes and Splodge)!]
I came across a story this week about a patient from Florida, USA, who had been diagnosed with a really unusual infection caused by a microorganism called Naegleria fowleri. It caught my attention because firstly it is very rare and so I was intrigued and secondly because during a lockdown it should be extremely difficult to catch it! So I had to investigate further…
What is Naegleria fowleri?
Naegleria fowleri is a free-living amoeba found in freshwater and soil throughout the World, preferring temperatures between 30-45 oC. It does not survive in seawater. The most common risk factor for acquiring N. fowleri is contact with water through sports such as swimming, water skiing and diving as well as messing around in mud or bathing in contaminated hot springs (it is “free-living” after all!). So this explains my curiosity as to how this patient had acquired their infection as it should be very difficult to “get exposed” to N. fowleri during a lockdown, because there wouldn’t be any water sports or other exposures going on at this time!
Bats are getting a hard time at the moment. They seem to be being blamed for all of the infections threatening our species, from Ebola, Marburg, Rabies, Nipah, Hendra and now SARS Cov2. The name for these animal-related human infections is zoonoses. I can just imagine the bats cringing every time the news comes on wondering what they’re going to be blamed for next.
You have to admit, it’s not great PR to be associated with the scariest viruses known to cause deadly human infections. But is this fair? Are bats really MORE likely to be the source of infections in humans? Do bats harbour more nasty viruses than other animals? Or are they just getting a bad press and we should cut them some slack?
So we have been let loose and lockdown is being de-escalated slowly but have we gone too soon? We don’t have a vaccine, treatments give only modest benefits and we’re not so good at social distancing on a beach! “Experts” are a little alarmed at the pace of release and I think we’re going to be stuck with Covid-19 for a while yet, so what shall I blog about this week?
One of the stories that keeps grumbling along in the background of Covid-19 is the potential to use antibodies from patients who have survived the infection to treat patients with active infection. It’s known as plasma therapy and it’s not as crazy it might at first sound.
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