Let's Talk Pandemics


Last week, I read an article about COVID-19; in the US the two top age groups for hospitalizations are 65+ years old and 25-44. The 45-64 age group was third highest of the adult groups to be hospitalized a dramatic change from when it was in China. As expected the 65+ age group is 28% or so of all COVID-19 hospitalizations, but the 25-44 age group is 24% while the 45-64 group is only 18% of them. And then Sunday night came a story out of Atlanta; a 12 year old girl with no underlying health conditions such as asthma or diabetes is on a ventilator. The prognosis is good, but still, she’s 12.

The RNA* of a virus (sorry I didn’t know until last week that my phone autocorrects RNA* to DNA – viruses can have both DNA and RNA, but it’s the RNA that mutates the quickest and causes the most problems) mutates so quickly that every handful of infections there is a new mutation. Most of the mutations are harmless, but every so often one of those mutations becomes super destructive to its hosts. COVID-19 has undergone 2 of these mutations already – the first jumped it to using humans as a host and the second made it communicable person to person.

In Wuhan, COVID-19 did kill a 14 year old boy and the world hasn’t been given much information about him. But it is supposed to be a rarity. At the same time in Wuhan, the rest of China, and Korean, the 25-44 age group did not see the number of hospitalizations that we are seeing in the US. Now, obesity could account for part of it. It is a health problem and it does make you more susceptible to complications with infections and it is far more common in the US, than in China or Korea. My best friend and I discussed this and then I went and looked it up. Obesity is on the rise in China as the country gets richer and it’s citizens become wealthier. It’s still not as high as in the US, but it’s higher than most of Europe, particularly Italy. Which means if obesity was the primary cause for these numbers to be so different in the US, they wouldn’t be so different because China would have had a higher percentage of COVID-19 hospitalizations in that same age group as the US since their obesity rate is high.

And then I remembered other pandemics have taken similar turns. Spanish Flu of the late 1910s ended up affecting soldiers really badly and actually helped end WWI. Soldiers tend to be in that 25-44 age group. At the time, it was written off to starvation and malnutrition as well as trench warfare which is a horrible, horrible thing. But maybe we got it wrong in the late 1910s… maybe it’s just a turn all pandemics take, because 3 rounds of bubonic plague did the same thing. In excavations of plague pits around Constantinople (Istanbul) from the time of the Justinian Plague there were a large number of skeletons in roughly the same age range, that had died of Justinian Plague a form of bubonic plague. The same happened in the 1300s with the Black Death, although I will point out that the mutations in bubonic plague that caused the Black Death were some of the most extreme ever witnessed in history. However, bubonic plague began killing indiscriminately – age and health weren’t a factor. Now, not everyone who got the Black Death died, that is a common misconception, but the fatality rate was very high 80% or so did. But with most plagues age and wealth do play a role and it didn’t in any of the three listed above (Justinian, Black Death, or Spanish Flu).

However, all those factors were caused by mutations of the RNA* or DNA. As the rich and poor alike get COVID-19 and as those age groups that should only experience mild symptoms get more severe symptoms, I can’t help but wonder. Luckily this pandemic won’t be as extreme as The Black Death, but it could still be like Spanish Flu or Justinian Plague, both of which were bad. I read a science article that said it mutated roughly every seven infections, but again most of those mutations do nothing and hopefully like Black Death, it will mutate itself out of being harmful, but that took nearly 50 years in the 1300’s which is why enough people to fill a country died. And until it did, there were plenty of other mutations that came along and made it worse. If we are lucky, it will mutate itself out of being a danger in just a couple of years as Spanish Flu did. Or if we are super lucky just a year as Justinian Plague did.

Until then though, we have to deal with the possibility that every 7 infections could bring about a much worse version of the virus. Let me put that into perspective; Zeke gets COVID-19 version A. Zeke passes it to Nadine, Nadine passes it to Alex, Alex passes it to Sebastian, Sebastian passes it to Kenzie, Kenzie passes it to Esmie, Esmie passes it to Anthony but Esmie doesn’t pass Version A like Zeke had she passes a mutated form we’ll call Version B. In theory, Zeke, Nadine, Alex, Sebastian, and Kenzie should all be immune to getting COVID-19 version B which has a higher mortality rate, but that mutation makes it so that that is not the case and all of them get reinfected with Version B along with Anthony, Ivan, Melina, and Myrna… The mortality rate is no longer 2-3% because version B has a 10% mortality rate; Myrna because she’s the oldest is going to die from it. As does Ace and Xavier who catch it from Myrna before she dies because they both have a predisposition for it to be really really bad. So version B hits Lucas, Trevor, Ace, Xavier, Malachi, Gabriel, Nyleena, Fiona, Elle, Kyle, and Cassie. Ace, Xavier, and Malachi all die because of scarring to their lungs and other health conditions. The mortality rate is still only 10% despite the fact that more than 1 person in that group of 10 died because there will be 90 others that won’t die from it. And there is also a new version – Version C and instead of a 5% infection rate it has a 40% infection rate so 40% of the people exposed to Version C catch it.

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