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The good news

An electron microscope image of the SARS-CoV-2 virus/NIAID

Amid concerns about new, vaccine-resistant variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the U.S. and Alaska, and with the disease it causes ravaging India, it’s easy to overlook the fact that humans appear to be winning the war against the worst pandemic in more than 100 years.

New and sophisticated, albeit still experimental, mRNA vaccines are proving amazingly effective in blocking COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2.

And nature appears to be doing its part the old-fashioned way through evolution, according to a study from researchers at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

After looking at 2,531 variants of the virus – “484 of which were unique” – collected between March and April 22 of last year, scientists there reported, finding most of the variants growing weaker instead of more deadly.

“Our findings demonstrate that the continued evolution of SARS-CoV-2 leads to less virulence,” their study published at JAMA Networks Open on Monday said. “Given that our study period was during the initial weeks of the pandemic, it is unlikely that differences in survival were due to differences in patient care protocols, limitations of supplies or equipment, ICU (intensive care unit) bed space availability, or the use of antiviral medications.”

JAMA is the journal of the American Medical Association.

The Cleveland Clinic was among the first hospitals in the U.S. to start screening patients for SARS-CoV-2 in 2020. As the pandemic has spread and grown – as of this writing more than 152 million are reported to have been infected and nearly 3.2 million have died – there has been a heavy focus on identifying new, more contagious variants with a special focus on those that might prove more deadly.

Constant change

Less attention has focused on weaker variants, though evolutionary history points toward a weakening virus becoming endemic as was the case with the Spanish flu that infected an estimated third of the global population in 1919 and 1919, and is believed to have killed 20 million to 50 million.

When the journal Nature polled more than 100 epidemiologists, virologists and infectious disease experts back in February, just shy of 90 percent thought the virus here to stay.

“Eradicating this virus right now from the world is a lot like trying to plan the construction of a stepping-stone pathway to the Moon. It’s unrealistic,” Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota told the journal.

But the scientists were mixed on whether SARS-CoV-2 goes the way of four coronaviruses that now lumped among the pathogens that cause the common cold, or remains a sometimes serious disease like the flu, or can be nearly eradicated by vaccination, as was measles.

The latter disease was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but later re-emerged.

A 2019 outbreak infected 1,282 people in 31 states, according to the CDC. The number of confirmed cases dropped to 13 in 2020, and there have been cases reported so far this year.

The measles vaccine is one of modern medicines’ great success stories. Without it, the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated the disease would kill about 2.7 million people per year.

COVID-19 killed about 1.85 million around the globe in 2020, but very few of those deaths came before March. Globally, deaths peaked near the end of January of this year, fell until mid-March and then began another rise.

Alaska has been particularly lucky throughout the pandemic. The state death rate of 46 per 100,000 people is near a sixth that of New York state, and the third-lowest in the country, according to the Worldometer tracker.

For unknown reasons, the state has also experienced an unusually low case fatality rate of about 0.6 percent. The global and U.S. average is about 2 percent, according to the Worldometer tracker.

Among U.S. states, Washington state has done a good job of controlling the spread of the virus -the state’s rate of infection is about half that of California –  but Washington has a case fatality rate near 3 percent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 replies »

    • Steve, they will declare a new deadly variant. They will blame it on those who rightfully question injecting their body with an emergency authorized gene editing tool.

  1. Alaska might be experiencing a lower death rate due to the average age (younger) and probably not as fat.

    • Joe: Yes and no.

      Those things are key factors, but we’re pretty fat. And Utah now has a younger average age, but a higher death rate although they remain low by national standards.

      I’d like to think it’s because we’re just fitter, another factor, but I find that hard too believe.

  2. Try telling all that to the “Blue” states. Seems the dictators aren’t listening. As for India, one of the dirtiest, germ filled countries on the planet. One would expect a rise in any infectious rate.

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