In part one of this three part series, we discussed the new normal in an unusual way due to being inundated by news, political figures, scientist, etc about how the world is gonna die. In part two, I want to shed light on what are common viruses that the worlds population of humans and animals – You read that right. Humans are not the only one that gets sick yearly – get infected with on a yearly basis.
First, I’d like to start off with what are the common viruses that we are used to being infected with and what they actually look like vs the scary images that we see on the TV.
Using the term “coronavirus” can cause confusion. COVID-19 is a coronavirus, but not the only one. COVID-19 specifies a certain strain of a coronavirus. CO-rona VI-rus D-isease-2019 = COVID-19.
Human coronaviruses were first identified in the early 1960’s. Seven of them can infect people, including the three that made headlines over the years:
* MERS-CoV. The beta coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS.
* SARS-CoV. The beta coronavirus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
* SARS-CoV-2. The novel coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19.
People around the world often get infected with four other common human coronaviruses – 229E, NL63, OC43 and HKU1. In fact, most people get infected with one of these at some point in their life. They present like the common cold, with mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses.
There are four types of influenza viruses: A, B, C and D. Human influenza A and B viruses cause seasonal epidemics of disease (known as the flu season) almost every winter in the United States. Influenza A viruses are the only influenza viruses known to cause flu pandemics, i.e., global epidemics of flu disease. A pandemic can occur when a new and very different influenza A virus emerges that both infects people and has the ability to spread efficiently between people. Influenza type C infections generally cause mild illness and are not thought to cause human flu epidemics. Influenza D viruses primarily affect cattle and are not known to infect or cause illness in people.
Influenza A viruses are divided into subtypes based on two proteins on the surface of the virus: hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). There are 18 different hemagglutinin subtypes and 11 different neuraminidase subtypes (H1 through H18 and N1 through N11, respectively). While there are potentially 198 different influenza A subtype combinations, only 131 subtypes have been detected in nature. Current subtypes of influenza A viruses that routinely circulate in people include: A(H1N1) and A(H3N2). Influenza A subtypes can be further broken down into different genetic “clades” and “sub-clades.” See the Influenza Viruses graphic below for a visual depiction of these classifications.
Now that I have you confused – and the reason we have scientist – about all this virus stuff. How are viruses named and what does the structure of a virus really look like? Looking at the two graphics below, you can see that viruses – not all of them mind you – are named by Virus type, The origination point of the virus, The strain number, The year it was observed and the virus subtype. It is important to note that I used the word “observed” above and not “discovered”. The stark contrast lies between the first time a patient sees a doctor to complain about being sick and the time a lab discovers what the patient is complaining about.
Now that we have taken a look at what viruses really are, how they are named and what the true structure of a virus really looks like, I’d like to move along to some of the better known and not so well remembered virus outbreaks that we have lived through in our history on this planet.
The Bubonic Plague
It’s safe to say that I can skip the Bubonic Plague that was caused by Bacterium Yersinia Pestis that was transmitted by fleas and caused – by some estimates – 200 million deaths.
The Spanish Flu
The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic was the deadliest flu season we know of, infecting about one-third of the world’s population. It was first discovered in March or 1918.
The 1918 pandemic strain of influenza was new and “novel” for most people under the age of 40 or 50, but that’s where the death rate really was high.
Back then, scientists didn’t know viruses caused disease, and we didn’t yet have a vaccine or antivirals to help prevent or treat influenza, nor did we have antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections.
Life was also very different back then — for one, we were in the middle of a war and soldiers carried the virus with them all over the world. People were also living in very crowded conditions and had extremely poor hygiene — this helped the disease build and build.
Global cases: 500 million
Global deaths: over 50 million
Transmission: spread through respiratory droplets
Most affected groups: otherwise healthy adults ages 20 to 40
Hong Kong Flu
In 1968, the Hong Kong virus came to light and many experts believe that the first cases of the Hong Kong flu, otherwise known as the H3N2 virus, appeared in mainland China sometime at the beginning of 1968, but the first official case was recorded in July of that year in Hong Kong, where the pandemic got its name.
The estimated number of deaths was one million worldwide. The most excessive deaths were in people 65 years and older. The H3N2 virus continues to circulate worldwide as a seasonal influenza A virus. Seasonal H3N2 viruses, which are associated with severe illness in older people
In 1976, Ebola was discovered and proved to be an extremely deadly virus, killing up to 50 percent of those who got sick. But because it predominantly spread through bodily fluids like sweat and blood during the last stages of the disease, it wasn’t as contagious as COVID-19.
Plus, because symptoms were so severe, health officials were able to quickly identify those who’d been in contact with people who had it and isolate them.
You don’t have relatively healthy people with the Ebola virus walking around shedding the virus, like going on the bus, going shopping or going to work.
Global cases: 28,652
Global deaths: 11,325. The death rate was 50 percent
Transmission: spread through bodily fluids and close contact
Most affected groups: 90 percent of all cases occurred in children
SARS – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
In 2002, SARS came to light as another type of coronavirus that came out of China and spread quickly through respiratory droplets. Though the SARS death rate was higher than COVID-19, COVID-19 has already claimed more lives.
The SARS virus didn’t have the fitness to persist in the human population, which eventually led to its demise.
Overall – this is only to date and not a final count – though SARS’ death rate was higher, COVID-19 has led to more fatalities, more economic repercussions, more social repercussions than we had with SARS.
Global cases: 8,098
Global deaths: 774
Transmission: spread through respiratory droplets and contaminated surfaces
Most affected groups: patients 60 and older had a 55 percent higher death rate
The H1N1 Flu – The seasonal flu
In 2009, a new type of flu — an H1N1 strain — popped up and people panicked because we didn’t have a vaccine and the “novel” strain was spreading fast.
Like COVID-19, there was no immunity at the start of the outbreak. We did have antivirals to facilitate recovery and by the end of 2009, we had a vaccine which — combined with higher levels of immunity — would provide protection in future flu seasons.
Global cases annually: One Billion infections. 5 million of which are severe
Global deaths annually: 291,000 to 646,000
Transmission: spreads through respiratory droplets
Most affected groups: older adults and people with compromised immune systems
Novel coronavirus – COVID-19
Early evidence shows COVID-19 may be more contagious than the flu.
And some early reports say COVID-19 may have a higher death rate than the seasonal flu. But we may soon find out if it’s less deadly than initial reports since so many people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic and therefore don’t see a doctor and are largely unaccounted for.
The death rate really is something we just have to take with a grain of salt until we have enough information. This is a rapidly evolving situation, and numbers and estimates are likely to change as we learn more.
Global cases to date: Over 127,000 cases
Global deaths to date: Over 4,700. The death rate is estimated at 3.4
Transmission: spreads through respiratory droplets along with feces and other bodily secretions; each person passes it to 2.2 others which will likely fall as containment and quarantine efforts increase
Most affected groups: adults over 65 with underlying health conditions; children seem to be spared and are experiencing milder symptoms
Now that we have covered a lot of viruses – mind you, this is only a very short list of the viruses that have been recorded – and statistics about the viruses that millions of people around the world remember and survived without issue, I’m going to move on to part three of this series in which I’m going to ask “why are we locked-down.”