COVID-19 has turned the world on its head. A major problem we have faced since the beginning is that it had already been spreading like wildfire for a few months since the end of 2019 — before most of the world realized that it was time to take action against this respiratory virus. We’ve therefore been on the back foot from the very start.
Research has estimated that up to 80 percent of people (and it may be more) are completely asymptomatic with COVID-19. Not even a sneeze. This is actually a similar statistic to the flu and is common to many respiratory viruses and how they spread among populations. For most affected, coronavirus is a mild respiratory illness that people can recover from at home. For those who unfortunately become seriously ill, we already know from the data that three of the biggest risk factors include: advanced age, other comorbidities including diabetes or immunosuppression, and obesity.
What this means on a biological level is that for the majority of people, the immune system has done its job and identified and killed coronavirus — stopping it from spreading within their bodies. We hope that these people, and the people who have already had it, have some degree of lasting immunity to COVID-19.
But here’s the rational and logical conclusion if we think about this: Any virus with an 80 percent asymptomatic rate is simply impossible to contain once it has spread.
The only way you can do so is to either keep people in lockdown or away from each other indefinitely with severe restrictions (no more gatherings, sports stadiums, concerts, large weddings, conferences), or test everybody in the country every couple of weeks. And even if those billions of dollars were available, it still wouldn’t work because no test we do is 100 percent sensitive, so it would miss many cases! I’ve seen many suspected patients return COVID positive on their third or fourth swab test in the hospital!
Vaccines won’t be the end of the story and magically make COVID-19 disappear, any more than the flu vaccine has made influenza go away. Respiratory viruses mutate, and rarely does a vaccine eradicate the illness.
This coronavirus has got us all in a trap. Start moving and resuming life again in two weeks, and it’ll start spreading in two weeks … do it in two months, and it’ll happen in two months … and in two years, and so forth.
At some stage, people will have to return to their work, education, and everyday lives.
There’s a fair chance that if you were to sample a large random group of people across the country right now, many would show up positive without having any symptoms whatsoever. Once a respiratory virus has spread, it’s often colonized in many people, ready to find its next host. It’s almost an impossible situation.
The most we can do if we think about this logically is to mitigate risk, protect vulnerable groups, have our health care systems prepared and ready for if and when localized outbreaks occur, and boost our own immune systems by trying to eat a healthy diet, exercise, and stay in shape.
Any doctor will tell you that you can implement a lot of lifestyle changes to lower your chances of becoming sick dramatically. But zero risk is impossible.
As Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, recently said: “Coronavirus is something we will have to learn to live with.”
That’s the blunt truth, and any authority figure who claims that this virus can be completely contained or eliminated is either unfamiliar with how respiratory viruses operate, or worse, is lying to you.
Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician, author, and co-founder, DocsDox. He can be reached at his self-titled site, Suneel Dhand, and on YouTube.
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