We have become nonchalant about viruses for too long.
The war on viruses was declared over in 1969 according to one quote: “it is time to close the book on infectious diseases and declare the war against pestilence won.” We had defeated the invisible killers. Now the focus should be on chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Guess what? Viruses are not some distant threat. They are back with a vengeance.
image: Los Angles Times
The above quote was wrongly attributed to U.S. Surgeon General William H. Stewart. No one is sure just where the quote came from but as we let our guard down, a seemingly ordinary virus punished the world with the COVID pandemic.
How blithely we forgot the pandemic of 1918 when the microscopic killer circled the entire globe in four months and claimed the lives of more than 21 million people.
For the longest time, we didn’t take viruses (and other pathogens that cause infectious disease outbreaks) all that seriously.
Now a deadly assortment of viruses is raining on our parade of indifference.
For example, Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), human metapneumovirus, rhinoviruses are taking their toll writes medical reporter Andre Picard (Globe and Mail, December 27, 2022)
And while HIV/AIDS has been quietly forgotten, it’s still with us. Polio, which was on the verge of eradication, has popped up in New York. Ebola reared its ugly head anew in Uganda. Monkeypox is spreading in strange new ways. Measles and other vaccine-preventable illnesses are making a comeback.
We may want to forget COIVD-19 but the coronavirus has not forgotten us. We long for “prepandemic” normalcy, but 2022 was actually the deadliest year yet for COVID-19. In 2022, Canada surpassed 17,000 deaths, more than the 14,642 deaths we recorded in 2020 or the 16,489 in 2021.
We still don’t know if SARSCoV-2 will mutate further. A fifth wave of Omicron is just beginning.
One misconception is that exposure to COVID-19 may actually provide a benefit of immunity. Antivaxxers hope exposure will protect them against further infection. Now it’s becoming evident that the opposite is true.
COVID-19 infections cause “immune dysregulation” in which the body either underreacts to foreign invaders, causing infections to spread quickly, or it overreacts to foreign invaders.
Even at the best of times, we know that viruses mess with the immune system, making it easier for secondary infections to strike. Pathogens interact with each other in strange ways.
We had become nonchalant about coronaviruses. Ordinarily, they only cause colds. That COVID-19 could kill 6.7 million globally was unexpected.
The pandemic changed the way we interact with the world in ways that only events such as the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon did on September 11, 2001.
The attacks on 9/11 spawned conspiracy theories and denial in a way that the pandemic has.
In addition to strict boarding procedures on planes put in place by 9/11, there is the additional threat of viral invaders while flying.
The pandemic has shifted our view of foreign threats. Before 9/11, attacks on North America were incomprehensible.
With COVID-19, the threat is closer that we imagined.