…a genius of a viral saboteur, invincible until today.
November 8th, 2022.
Started in February 2020, the SAJO blog is providing a thread through the pandemic with up-to-date information to present pandemics and infectious diseases.
Note: The series “Lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic” will be continued soon.
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Scientists, the specialists in their area, virologists, are not in agreement if SARS-CoV-2 originated in a zoonosis (i.e. transmission of a virus between species and finally man), or if it originated through a laboratory accident resulting in infection of a human being.
The arguments for a zoonotic origin are overwhelming and simply more persuasive than those of the opposing view. We ourselves are working on zoonoses, and we are convinced that this virus came from a zoonosis, just like other pandemic pathogens did in the past.
Recent trustworthy scientific publications showed that movement patterns of people in China indicated yet again the origin of the pandemic and its first hotspot to be in the Wuhan wet market.
Of course, laboratory accidents happen. However, up to now, we do not recall a “dangerous” virus simply escaping a high security lab, but rather through terrorist workers stealing vials. Such acts are criminal, are always revealed (since such labs have complete documentation) and will be punished.
We recall one example from our time at the National Cancer Institute at Frederick, MD. The building was located for historical reasons in an army facility called Ft. Detrick. One of our neighbor buildings was USAMRIID. There, a worker stole a vial of anthrax spores. Soon enough, he was caught, and he killed himself to escape punishment.
In short: SARS-CoV-2 came in a natural way (via detour through one or more as-yet unidentified intermediate hosts) from bats to humans. Of course, this sounds less dramatic than a laboratory accident or malicious release. The latter were the reasons, media were taking this up immediately.
Now let us take a look at the virus and its sabotage tactics protecting it from the human immune system.
COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, in less than three years has infected more than 640 million people and killed close to 7 million. Both dark figures are higher, the WHO estimates 3-time higher numbers. Deaths through late effects of the disease (i.e. stroke, heart attack etc.) are not even counted here. Hence numbers of deaths will be even higher. This is reflected in the excess death rates since the year 2020.
SARS-CoV-2 is a master of trickery after infection. Not only is it using a ubiquitous receptor on all cells and many species, it also is a master in counteracting the immune system on ALL levels. We know many of these reactions from other viruses; one other master of such strategies would be HIV, with a similar outcome.
If you like to see an overview of the diverse viral proteins and their effects on immune reactions, you may want to check the following link. This link also includes the viral sequence and the different reading frames (which means one RNA sequence may code for several proteins): http://www.science.org/content/article/how-sars-cov-2-battles-our-immune-system
Its complexity is high on many levels. Just as with HIV, one protein is fulfilling several functions within the human cell. Thus, the virus not only dodges antibody responses, that should neutralize it, but also disrupts the interferon cascade, avoiding its efficient defense. Even more defense mechanisms are skirted. All in all, every immune defense known to science through decades of studies is being affected and knocked out.
What makes this virus different and so dangerous to us humans?
First: The human immune system before 2019 never had encountered this virus, it was immunologically naïve. After an infection a relatively high number of people develop an immunological overreaction, often with a deadly outcome. A similar effect was seen in 1918 with the Spanish Flu, caused by the Influenza subtype A/H1N1.
Second, it is its way of transmission. Transmission via air, in aerosols, is far less prone to a control than for example through sexual intercourse or contaminated blood (as HIV does). The most efficient transmission pathway is through the air we breathe. This virus is airborne.
Now that this virus has emerged naturally through evolution, the still best and most efficient kind to generate pathogens, we have to say it is here to stay and we have to learn to live with it.
Please remember, evolution is continuing, shaped by selection pressure, generating further pathogens with pandemic potential, just like in the thousands of years before.
Nature, by way of evolution brought us the dinosaurs, and later-on the humans. Is there something more brilliant? Without evolution, dear readers, there would be no mankind, not any one of us, not you, and not us.
With HIV as an example, emergence looks like this:
To-date 75 million people had been infected with HIV, killing 32 million, with a higher dark figure. Today there are 37 million people living with HIV. This pandemic is running for more than 4 decades now. Treatments are successfully life extending, but there is no cure. Single cases of cure are limited to patients who have a matching bone marrow transplant from a donor who is missing a critical HIV receptor gene. Both happen to be very rare. The combination has saved less than 10 human lives.
The closest relative of HIV-1 is SIVcpz, a lentivirus endemic in chimps. SIVcpz itself emerged through a mixture of other lentiviruses in monkeys. Once adapted to its new host, the virus will infect the whole population and may be transmitted to other species (such as humans). With HIV-1, this happened in the beginning of the 20th century in western Africa, probably through hunting of chimpanzees for “bushmeat”.
The period could be calculated via the number of genetic differences accumulating between SIVcpz and HIV-1 with time. There are a number of publications, we are pointing to one key publication here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22229120/
SIV jumped in different African regions to humans, almost at the same time. From here two lineages developed: HIV-1 from SIVcpz and HIV-2 from SIVsm, with HIV-1 being far more aggressive than HIV-2. There is more to that: SIVcpz jumped several times, thus resulting in several HIV-1 subtypes.
Such retrospective studies could be made with SARS-CoV-2 as well.
This would require the host organism from which SARS-CoV-2 came to humans, and the closest viral relative in the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, the Chinese government is not willing to cooperate. It keeps trying to persuade the world that the virus came to China from abroad, via frozen food for example.
We should prepare ourselves to survive the coming impacts from nature and from climate change. Mankind in its current form will disappear some time in the future. For decades now, we are destroying our basis of existence with our way of life; but other life forms will prevail on this planet.
For 50 years now, we know about the effects of climate change, we had learned this at school in the 1980s already. Nothing has changed; to the contrary, climate change is accelerating, mankind is growing exponentially. Over the past 50 years our numbers have doubled.
Note: Our economy, our society, our politics developed in the way we wanted. Human influence, its decisions, its way of life are the root cause of this dramatic development.
Maybe some of you will remember our words, when it is time.
However, we want to end on a positive note. The British science journal “nature” published its “sharpest science shots” of the month.
There, you see the power of nature and great scientific developments. https://www.nature.com/immersive/d41586-022-03442-9/index.html
For the music enthusiasts among you: Sabine’s favorite concert is Vladimir Horowitz’ (1903 – 1989) concert in Moscow in 1986. The great pianist had fled from the Soviet Union to the US, and shortly before his death came home for this concert – at the time of Mikhail Gorbachev. This concert does not only unite via music, but also for peaceful politics – a stark contrast to the one of today.
Take care of yourself and stay safe.
Dr. Sabine Breun and Dr. Joerg Baumann, both PhDs, virologists, immunologists, molecular biologists and founders of SAJO. Both are specialized in infectious diseases. Since the 90s, Dr. Baumann has been working on zoonoses and how pathogens overcome the species barrier. Since 2000, Dr. Breun works on the interaction of viruses with the immune system. Both work as team. SAJO enables new antivirals – antivirals of the next generation to fight pandemics.
During their scientific carreers, both performed scientific work for 5 years at the National Cancer Institute in a US elite program on competitive US scholarships.
SAJO – for a healthy and better future!
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This is post No. 236. To our delight our blog is receiving a lot of acceptance, we love to share our know-how and expertise. Please feel free to share the link – it is an informative tool to fight this pandemic.
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