It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. ~ Mark Twain
When George Gershwin composed the song It Ain’t Necessarily So, he was onto something. I’d love to have a nickel for everything I was taught or told or just accepted as fact in the course of my life. From food preservation to gardening to animal husbandry to medicine to finance, there have been a lot more ‘not-so’ things than ‘so’ things. A while back I did a post on not needing to waterbath jams and jellies; I got more than 200 comments corroborating my “not-so” position. At which point it occurred to me there are lots of other not-so things out there, and shazaam, I had an ongoing blog topic. Here’s the latest “it ain’t necessarily so” (IANS). It’s the second of a two-parter, because there is a lot of ground to cover.
Now here’s a topic that provides fertile ground for an IANS blog. The amount of misinformation, disinformation and downright lies spreading about the coronavirus pandemic is mind-boggling. It’s not surprising.
We’re having to study this thing as we go along, which means theories about what it does and how it works are constantly coming and going. It’s politicized to the hilt – in a badly divided country that means people will take positions based on party preference rather than science, facts or common sense. People are scared and willing to grasp at the outlandish if it means not having to jettison long-held beliefs. There’s money to be made from vaccines and treatments – enter Big Pharma. On the other end of the scale, the economic damage is huge. Having said all that, here are what I consider to be some IANS issues. Warning: my position on these could change in the future as more information comes in.
You’re More at Risk if You…
Smoke, do/don’t take vitamin D, drink/don’t drink alcohol, are old/young, are male/female – you name it. The one thing we can say is that people who are obese seem more likely to require hospitalization and have a higher mortality rate. Now, that might be partly because obese people also tend to have problems like diabetes and heart disease, which affect your immune system function. They may have diminished lung function to begin with; obesity hampers lung expansion. It could be because obesity and widespread inflammation in the body go hand-in-hand. I suspect that anything which has a negative effect on the immune system or the lungs increases your risk of contracting the disease and of developing complications. Eating a lot of sugar, smoking, vaping or going chronically short of sleep probably all raise your risk.
You’re Less at Risk if You…
Have a certain blood type, are younger, take certain supplements or vitamin D/C (or the rest of the alphabet). Remember this is still early days, but there are some indications that:
- People with blood type O seem less susceptible to coronavirus than those with blood type A. The primary study on this originated in China and may not be applicable to people in other countries or those of different ethnic backgrounds.
- Vitamin D deficiency may be a factor in whether people die from the disease. Mortality rates in terms of total population in Africa are much lower when compared to those in countries below the equator or between the equator and the 37th parallel. Vitamin D deficiency may also explain why those of African heritage who live in more northerly/temperate countries get sicker and have higher mortality rates.
- Taking extra Vitamin C can make a difference. Vitamin C supplementation resulted in better outcomes in the early stages of the China pandemic. No, it’s not a controlled research study, but the real world isn’t a controlled research study, either. There’s at least one US study that showed fewer hospitalizations and decreased mortality with high-dose vitamin C, plus vitamin D and other alternative therapies. By the way, the FTC made Dr. Brownstein remove his paper from his website – it wasn’t “scientific.” In our current situation, we need to pay close attention to what those clinical experts on the front lines are seeing – we can’t wait for time-consuming peer-reviewed research.
- Other vitamins, minerals and supplements may be of benefit. Zinc supplementation has amassed good data when it comes to beating back similar coronaviruses like the common cold. Elderberry syrup is anti-viral, as are garlic, oregano and sage. Animal research shows the mineral selenium provides an extra defense against influenza, another virus.
Masks Don’t Work
Actually, masks accomplish several things.
- First, if you breath, cough or sneeze, it cuts down on the droplets sprayed into the surrounding air. This protects the people around you.
- Second, wearing a mask does decrease what you inhale (i.e. those droplets from other people talking, sneezing and coughing).
- Third, any kind of facial barrier decreases the potential infective viral load – how many virus particles you inhale in one whack. A lower viral load improves your chances. Your immune system may be able to handle a few hundred virus particles. Ramp that up to several thousand or a few million and your odds have just tanked, because the virus can replicate faster than your immune system can keep up.
- Fourth, wearing a mask is a constant reminder to perform all those other protective rituals like distancing and hand washing. We humans are creatures of habit. But we are not used to the habits that can protect us from COVID-19, so reminders are helpful.
We Just Need to Reach Herd Immunity, so Let’s Have a Coronavirus Party!
The idea behind herd immunity is that if enough people contract a disease and become immune to it, the risk is much less for those who are not immune. Some problems with this one:
- We don’t know if you can become permanently immune to COVID-19. Humans have yet to achieve immunity to the common cold – also a coronavirus (or rather a number of viruses).
- Viruses mutate – in fact, mutating is something a virus is really good at. Each time someone becomes infected, the chance of a mutation increases as the virus interacts with the person’s DNA. So, sure, let’s have a COVID party. It will give the virus lots of opportunities to mutate into something nastier or more easily tranmissible. In the process of getting to herd immunity, people will die. Frankly, I would rather not be one of them. I would rather my family, friends and patients not be among them, either.
- Spending more time with someone who is infected increases the risk. Having a five-minute conversation with someone you meet while walking outdoors is much less likely to cause illness than spending several hours in a closed environment where someone is infected and no one is wearing a mask. In one Georgia summer camp, all attendees provided negative test proof. About half came down with coronavirus in the first week of camp. That little unplanned “experiment” makes it pretty clear that opening schools for in-person instruction this fall will be an excellent way to spread the virus.
- Sweden has taken heat for not locking down like its neighboring countries, in order to achieve herd immunity sooner. They deserve it. Compared to neighboring countries, Sweden’s death rate is more than twice as high as Denmark’s and five times higher than Norway’s. In fact, Sweden has one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the world. Ninety percent of those who died were over the age of 70. And the sad thing is that we don’t know if getting infected confers immunity; the whole idea of herd immunity for COVID-19 may be a complete myth. So skip the party.
Stupid Coronavirus Myths
Anyone with half a brain should be able to figure out that eating Chinese food is not going to infect you with coronavirus. Equally obviously, drinking bleach is not a cure. Ditto that the pandemic is “nothing but a hoax.” Tell that to the nurses and doctors watching their patients die. And, yes, it’s a lot worse than the flu, which has a mortality rate of about .01%. COVID’s rate seems to be running around 1% (ten times higher). As to the one about whether it’s lab-grown or a natural mutation, I see no possible way of sorting it out. It’s too much of a political hot potato. There are certainly researchers out there working on bioweapons – maybe this is one of them? Who knows? This one ranks right up there with the arguments about Jeffery Epstein’s death.
The Sky is Falling/It’s the End of Civilization as We Know It
We are currently dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, severe economic woes and a deeply divided nation. It’s enough to make all of us a little crazy. The post-COVID world (assuming we ever get there) is undoubtedly going to look different than the pre-COVID world.
I suspect we are going to have a coronavirus season of some sort pretty much forever, just as we have an annual flu season. Unfortunately, this virus doesn’t seem to be influenced by weather in the same way flu viruses are. If there is a link between vitamin D levels and COVID-19, I would expect the season to occur at the time levels are lowest – late winter. We may get to the point where the virus is always with us but outbreaks occur during certain times of the year or if you get run down. Shingles, caused by the chickenpox virus, lives in your system for years. It causes outbreaks when you get older because your immune system function naturally diminishes with aging, allowing the virus to get ahead of your body’s natural defensive mechanisms. COVID may work the same way.
Climate change is here to stay. Even if we immediately quit using all forms of fossil fuels, the damage is so great that it will be thousands if not millions of years before the earth recovers. And recovery may not look anything like what we consider “normal.”
The only reason the economy is still chugging is that central banks have dumped trillions upon trillions of non-existent money into the financial system. Basic common sense should tell you that you can’t create money out of thin air. This problem has been a long time coming. COVID very quickly made it worse, but it would have happened eventually, anyway.
The divisions in our nation have also been many years coming and are not going to go away overnight. It’s clear that we have a long way to go in such matters as racism, misogyny and sexual harassment, which are much more deeply ingrained in our country than people wanted to believe. The ubiquity of cell phones has meant that abuses of power are now front and center for anyone who cares to watch a video. Our President and Congress are fanning the flames of divisiveness in America and with other countries rather than helping us come together and heal.
Yes, it looks bleak. But at the same time, I see people working to make things better. People are helping each other – going the extra mile for those who are hungry, dispossessed or sick. I see communities working together and individuals putting the welfare of others ahead of their own comfort. There are many people helping to build rather than tear down. I believe the human heart, spirit and mind are capable of great things, and that love is the key. I leave you with two songs that say it much better than I can.
Take a Missouri Approach
Missouri is the “show me” state. The mental attitude of “you’ll have to prove it to me” is a good one. Use your common sense. When your experience or that of people you trust is contrary to accepted scientific wisdom or expert recommendations, odds are very high the scientific wisdom and the experts are out to lunch. Ask the old homicide lawyer’s question, “Cui bono?” Loosely translated as “Who benefits?” what it actually means is “To whose profit?” When big bucks, company survival or professional reputations are on the line, ethics quite often take a back seat. Circus entrepreneur PT Barnum is credited as the person who coined the sucker-born-every-minute rule. In fact, there’s no evidence that he did say it; however, there is some evidence that it was said about Barnum’s tactics, by a banker named David Hannum. Don’t be a sucker and remember: it ain’t necessarily so.