There has been a lot of confusion concerning the latest corona virus to spread globally among the human population. Misinformation concerning (COVID -19) has been spread (like a virus itself) by ‘vectors’. The main vectors for the current epidemic of mixed messages have been the media and some of their chosen ‘experts’ informing us about the coming contagion. The most obvious confusion is revealed by the in-your-face daily presentation of the allegedly anti-virus (!) face mask!
How viruses live.
There is disagreement among some scientists whether a virus is a life – form or not. I personally think it is. For we know, that although, unlike bacteria, it cannot replicate itself by its own means, it can do so by infiltrating cells in animals, plants and humans utilising their hosts reproductive biology. We also know that viruses can evolve. The vast majority of the thousands of viruses so far accurately identified, are so tiny they cannot be seen by the most powerful optical microscopes. It requires an electron scanning microscope to even note their general shape.
This means that the mesh of all but a few of the thousands of face masks you see on the news channels are incapable of filtering out a virus. Only specialist face masks will do that. It follows that the cheap masks on show are mostly useless to stop infected people from spreading many vector-born viruses, but also mostly useless to prevent non – infected people from ingesting them. Those masks may soak up some, but will not prevent all the viruses expelled by sneezes and coughs from dispersing onto wearers hands and into the air around them.
That is not the only problem with wearing face masks. Irritation of the facial skin, due to long-term use of face masks, can cause skin problems leading to face and neck infections.
A virus needs to be carried to a host by a vector (air-born, food-born or liquid-born particle or by blood). Between leaving one person and infecting another, the virus is protected by a sheath or coating (a capsid or lipid envelope) which allows it to survive. In that interim condition it is known as a viron. Hence keeping hands and fingers properly and frequently clean is important to clear away the vectors and their virons and prevent their direct contact with our noses, mouths and eyes.
Where people are in close proximity (trains, planes, ships, supermarkets etc.), and share commonly used buttons (eg. on Cash machines), door handles, (supermarket baskets) banisters (on stairs and escalators), water taps (in public toilets), etc., then without frequent hand washing, community contagion of a virus is highly probable.
On gaining entry to a new host via nose, mouth, eyes, wound (or another orifice) the virus attaches itself to a cell wall and gains entry into it (by uncoating and penetration). It then uses the host cells biology to, reproduce itself. Replicated viruses then exit the damaged cell (lysis) and migrate to penetrate another cell and so on. This continues until the immune system fully kicks in and seriously deals with the invaders.
In the very early stages, the body may not manifest any obvious symptoms, but when the viral expansion reaches a certain point, the body may start to ‘feel ill’. Where the immune system is up to the task and the body is rested and nursed, then, recovery will follow and the virus will be either eliminated or become dormant. However, the elderly, the young, or adults with impaired or deficient immune systems are more vulnerable. Yet it is worth remembering that humanity has been shrugging off viruses for millions of years. So no need to go into panic mode.
How viruses go global.
A pandemic is the term used to describe a contagious infection which has started to go global. Since the development of international trade, the chances of a local source of transmittable infection spreading beyond its place of origin has increased considerably. The 20th and 21st century phases of neo-liberal economics and financialisation has seen this trading network expand to include the whole world. By structuring the global economic system to cater for the needs of profit-seeking, it has not only increased the likelihood of infectious contagion, but also the speed in which these can spread. This tendency increased when 20th century neo – liberal production methods introduced ‘just in time‘ supply chains.
The expense of stockpiling raw materials and parts in vast warehouses was abandoned by many producers of goods and replaced by continuous stock flows. This system created greater profits but the suppliers have to ensure that the day to day supplies arrive just in time for any repeating cycle of production. The frequency and global reach of this frenetic economic activity, by means of shipping, aircraft and road haulage deliveries, has obvious contagion consequences. It means that in the weeks prior to obvious ‘flu-like’ symptoms breaking out, vector and virus dispersion from an original source can have repeatedly reached even the farthest trade or holiday destinations.
These constant supply chains also mean that pandemics which interrupt these daily or weekly supplies through sickness, quarantines and cancellations, also reduces economic demand, depresses sales, lowers production volumes and creates general shortages. This in turn effects the financial stability of many firms because sales generate the income to pay wages, debts, interest and loans. So, any widespread biological contagion can now quickly lead to economic and financial contagions in which global economic and financial activity is severely fractured. And the survival of the weakest of these capitalist enterprises may be seriously threatened by this economic or financial contagion just as the currently weakest people are by biological contagion.
Capitalism has undoubtedly enabled epidemics to spread wider and faster. It has also multiplied the polluted and adulterated conditions which may increase the likelihood of extremely dangerous pathogens developing. However, the micro – biological entities which inhabit our internal and external bodies and immune systems (our good bugs) have also evolved and are capable of evolving further to deal with attacks. So consistent hygiene and self – isolation if ill, will be more effective in reducing the spread than more confusion and panic.
Roy Ratcliffe (February 2020)