Corona Virus under a microscope
On the 30th January 2020, the World Health Organisation ‘s Director General , Dr. Tedros . A. Ghebreyesus, declared the COVID -19/SARS- CoV-2 epidemic as a global public health emergency. Little did we know by then, that the crisis will last until May2023! This tiny virus, COVID -19, took over our lives and changed everything as we knew it forever. It started in Wuhan, China, and spread to all countries in the world. Then, on 4th May 2023, the same Director General of WHO declared that the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome which killed almost 7 million people and infected almost 766 million people over three years was no longer considered a global health emergency or crisis. BUT the infection is still with us and remains a threat. It requires strict surveillance by all countries to prevent another pandemic.
According to the UN News website: https://news.un.org , the organisation considered several major factors including the Covid-19 death rates that peaked to 100,000 people per week in January 2021 to just over 3,500 per week in April 2023.
• The number of deaths had decreased world wide.
• A great decline in COVID-19 related hospitalisation and Intensive Care Unit admissions- relieving the pressure on health systems.
•High levels of population immunity to the COVID-19 virus through vaccination and infections with the virus – for over 12 months the new cases and the deaths have decreased.
•Availability of better treatment for the secondary bacterial infections and complications.
WHO warns us that though the pandemic seems to be controlled, the virus is still with us, it remains unpredictable. We have to prepare to live with it like any other infectious disease for the foreseeable future.
I wrote several posts about COVID-19 disease on this blog so it felt natural for me to update the available information.
“ Our reality is an infinite battle between what happened and what we want to remember.’’- Haruki Murakami.
One cannot help but compare the pandemic of the 21st century with the Spanish Flu pandemic of the early 20th century that lasted from 1918- 1919, during the World War 1.The Spanish flu started in Kansas, USA, and spread to Europe but the information about it was suppressed due to the prevailing world war.
According to the https: //www.cdc.gov the Spanish flu was the deadliest pandemic ever recorded at that moment in time.It was caused by an influenza virus H1N1 with genes of birds origin. Its genetic make-up was not sequenced until the 1990s in USA. It never went away. It mutated over time and its descendants continue to cause seasonal flu.
•It infected about 500 million people- one- third of the population of the time
•.It is estimated that it killed 50million people- 2.7% of world population. USA suffered the highest number of deaths: 675,000 people.
• The highest number of deaths were among healthy people of 20-40 years.
•Most deaths were due to the secondary bacterial infection- no antibiotics then nor vaccines to prevent the infection.
FAST FORWARD- A century after the Spanish flu.
•SARS CoV-2 emerged as cases of unexplained pneumonia in Wuhun , Hubei Province of China in December 2019.
•A zoonotic disease transmitted from animals like bats to humans.
•From the Johns Hopkins Corona Virus resource centre website, the last recorded figures show that by the 10th March 2023, the disease had infected a total of 676,609,955 people.
•It had caused 6,881, 955 deaths •A total of 13, 338 , 833, 198 vaccines had been administered worldwide.
•The deaths were highest among the 65+ years of age. They died of secondary bacterial infection which caused respiratory distress, pulmonary oedema and death.
Both the Spanish flu and COVID-19 infections were new diseases when they first struck and the populations had no immunity against them.Similar public health safety measures were used to stop the spread of the infections. The Spanish flu pandemic was controlled mainly by SOCIAL DISTANCING-suspects were isolated or quarantined, public gatherings were stopped.
Facial masks were worn to cover mouths and noses, to help stop the spread of germs.People stayed at home when they developed flu-like symptoms.By then,there were no ventilators, no vaccines and no antibiotics. There was neither WHO or centre for disease control to coordinate the efforts for fighting the pandemic.
The COVID -19 disease would have killed more people but new advances in Medicine and science enabled the virus identity/genome and its mutations to be identified quickly.The Covid-19 virus is closely linked to the SARS-CoV-1 that caused outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Disease in some countries in 2002-2004 .
For decades, scientists have been studying mRNA technology to develop vaccines. The COVID -19 pandemic caused severe health, social and economic disruptions worldwide, giving the scientist an opportunity to develop mRNA- based vaccines other than use the traditional methods. In hind sight, due the urgency and critical need of the vaccines, vaccines were processed quickly through the standard five stages of developing a vaccine clinical stages especially the 3rd one of Safety and efficacy in laboratory and animal models before it is tested in humans. The tests in humans were also hurried through. This is likely to have some consequences in a few members receiving the vaccines worldwide.
Between March 2020 and November 2020, four vaccines against COVID -19 had been developed. The mRNA technology had cut the 5 to 10 years for developing a traditional vaccine to eight months!The world’s first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was given to 90 years-old Margaret Keenan of United Kingdom on 8th December 2020. She received her second dose on the 29th December 2020. She received her spring booster dose 18months after her first dose.I received my 1st dose of the Oxford University / Astra-Zeneca vaccine on the 11th March 2021 and the 2nd one by the end of May, through the assistance of COVA, WHO and UNICEF to my country, Uganda.A variety of broad spectrum antibiotics are available to treat the secondary bacterial infections as well as other modes of treatment like steroids to control the complications.The Internet allowed sharing of information and experiences though in some cases it resulted in misinformation and disinformation of the public.
New technology speeded up diagnosis and treatment and how to control the outbreaks or waves quickly.Data collection and sharing was made easy by digital technology. World Health Organisation, founded in 1948 as the health agency of the United Nations, coordinated the global action to control the spread of the infection.Using lessons and practices learned from the Spanish flu pandemic, WHO set up committees and guided its 192 member countries through the pandemic; about safety measures , treatment , management, dissemination of the right information about the disease and vaccines and surveillance .
As we are living in the age of pandemics , the knowledge and skills we acquire and the partnership we create as we try to control the COVID – 19 pandemic will help us to prepare for and manage future pandemics caused by new germs, better.
As Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus rightly said :
“ We are not safe until everyone is safe.’’
We are all out and about but we cannot forget how this tiny virus disrupted practically every aspect of our lives and taught us what is most important in life: life itself , being healthy and being connected to our loved ones and friends. As we rebuild the confidence to venture into familiar activities we cannot forget those we lost to the disease, the frontline health workers in our communities and a few of us who are still fighting to defeat what has been called ‘long COVID’.
How have you adapted to the new normal after the monotony of daily life during the three years of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown?