How about some coronavirus facts for a change?

Published 5:19 pm Thursday, March 26, 2020

“I done had all I can take and I can’t takes no more…” — Popeye

Here’s a radical notion: Why don’t we — just as a change of pace, mind you — take a novel approach to a novel virus? Why don’t we examine it factually?

And no, I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but I did pay enough attention in Dr. Kitchens’ biology class (and got lucky enough within his alleged throw-the-test-papers-down-the-stairs grading technique) to not only pass it, but actually remember some of what he tried to impart to us between sips of gin.

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And, fact is, I am just flat sick and tired of folks who obviously know less about the subject than even do I, smugly pontificating on social media and trying to make comparisons between the COVID-19 coronavirus and what we have come to recognize as the seasonal flu.

They ain’t the same folks. Fact is, they ain’t near about the same.

Anybody ever heard of genetics? You know, DNA, RNA, that stuff?

Well, I don’t want to get too far in the weeds here, but we do have to wander in far enough to be able to tell the difference between viral varmints. In what makes it mighty unusual in nature, RNA is what carries the genetic information in viruses (DNA does in most living things) and the COVID-19 RNA is more than a little different than that of the old-fashioned flu.

While there have been a number of strains of it over the years, our human immune system is pretty good at recognizing what we tend to think of as the seasonal flu virus, a fact that provides us some degree of immunity to it (either from having had it before, or from getting a vaccination).

That’s because it is a virus which we humans transmit among ourselves — think of it as a human-to-human virus.

But the COVID-19 virus, ah, that’s a whole different kind of critter. That, as you may have heard it referred to from time-to-time, is a “novel” virus, which is to say that it comes from animals. And it can exist for years like that, going from one animal to another without anybody but scientists and maybe a few veterinarians even noticing.

But there’s a funny thing about viruses, the tiny lifeforms that share this planet in what is not always a peaceful coexistence with us humans, they not only have the ability but the inclination to mutate — to change.

And at some point, very likely in an outdoor market in Wuhan China back in December, the COVID-19 virus mutated in the very specific way that allowed it to be transferred not just from infected animal (in this case, likely a bat) to animal, but first from animal-to-human, and then, some 14 to 15 days later, from human-to-human.

And uh-oh, up jumped the devil. Now, the coronavirus known as COVID-19 has moved up to contagion status. First we called it an outbreak; then we called it an epidemic, now we call it a pandemic, because of the 195 nations on Earth, this virus is in 140-odd of them — as of Sunday afternoon, as this is written.

And that is a really bad thing for two reasons.

First off, as we are all too uncomfortably witnessing on a daily if not hourly basis, this baby not being a human-to-human virus before and with us humans having neither any natural immunity to it or any vaccine for it, we are defenseless against it. And since that is what viruses do when unchecked, this one, too, is spreading like the waves on the shore at high tide.

And secondarily, this one attacks us at one of our areas of greatest vulnerability — the mucus membranes of the lungs. And yes, those would be the same lungs we need in order to breathe.

That is why so many with “compromised immune systems” (like the COPD inherent within virtually all longtime smokers, or as in my case, those missing a part of lung or lungs due to surgery resultant from that most foolish habit) are dying and why the need for ventilators is so pressing.

The COVID-19 coronavirus is not like the seasonal flu (or any other strain of influenza, for that matter) because of its demonstrated ability to mutate both repeatedly and rapidly and the COVID-19 coronavirus is not like the flu because it is a much more effective killer once it sets up shop in its host’s lungs.

I know this is the subject du jour, and hence sparks an overpowering urge among some to comment, with or without facts or reason on social media, and as a fellow whose column is titled “The Different Drummer,” I certainly understand the temptation to be contrarian and stand against the flow of public opinion, but there can be some degree of danger inherent in both and it is actually a quite high degree in this instance.

This coronavirus is not the flu, folks, it simply is not.

So please, quit trying to force the comparison.

Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.