Evolutionary Medicine and Flattening the Curve of COVID-19

COVID-19

Diseases process in humans differently. Evolutionary medicine helps scientists understand these processes, according to FiPhysician.com. For example, many of the chronic illnesses people deal with today are “diseases of civilization.” Humans have adapted to live in an environment where they evolved into their present state; one that does not necessarily coincide with the way many people live.

Today, there are carbohydrates and fats in people’s diets that their ancestors did not have. As a result, people deal with heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, obesity, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

The evolution of illnesses and medicine can be seen in infectious diseases and antibiotics. Currently, doctors and scientists are watching every day as antibiotics fail against infectious diseases they squashed 20 years ago.

COVID-19 From the Perspective of Evolutionary Medicine

There is the idea that “treating” the chickenpox or common cold can prolong the life of the virus. The human response to treating a viral symptom with Tylenol or ibuprofen could increase the spreading of the virus. The body responds to the infection by ramping up the immune system. This causes aches, chills, fever, and malaise. If those symptoms are treated, does it prevent the immune system from killing the virus and allow it to spread to others?

Yes, it is likely! Is it possible that treating the symptoms of COVID-19 with Tylenol and ibuprofen will cause the virus to continue to spread and prolong the pandemic? Possibly.

What does COVID-19 want? That answer is simple: To make more virus. If it did not make more of itself, it would not be here to make more of itself,” states the author of FiPhysician. COVID-19 is well-adapted to its native host.

Maybe in bats, COVID-19 causes a common cold. Then, the virus mutates and induces the receptor of COVID-19 to attach to human respiratory cells. It is from this random mutation the pandemic begins.

Viral pandemics start when a virus jumps from one species to another. COVID-19 may have begun as a bat virus but it has jumped to humans causing this pandemic. A random genetic variant caused the jump with COVID-19. Humans are often exposed to animal viruses, but the majority of the time, they cannot attach to human cells.

COVID-19 From Evolutionary Change to Pandemic

There was a genetic change in COVID-19 that allowed it to bind to human respiratory cells and enter those cells. Once it enters human cells, it uses them as reproductive machinery to make more of COVID-19. The virus is released locally and infects other human cells. At this point, there are no symptoms.

However, eventually, the virus will want to spread. This is when COVID-19 causes symptoms, such as coughing or sneezing, creating a spray of virus that enters the environment so it can attach to a new human’s respiratory cells. This is how the pandemic begins by spreading person-to-person.

Sick people cough and sneeze to clear mucous from the nose and throat. Mucous is a response to the infection. COVID-19, much like other viruses, hijacks the immune system to spread itself to others. If it did not operate this way, it would not spread and it would die off.

COVID-19 does not intend to kill its host, because a dead host means a dead virus. No more spreading. COVID-19 allows the host to walk around coughing and sneezing everywhere to spread the virus.

It pays for a virus to not kill its host. It spreads more efficiently if it can get the host to walk around coughing and sneezing, spreading it to others. Additionally, consider the public reaction: If there is a strain that causes a population of people to die, it will not gain the attention of the disease hunters that a strain that causes runny noses will. Which strain drives people into isolation and countries into quarantine?

Therefore, COVID-19 will continue to evolve because there is selective pressure from hosts and communities. Better adapted strains will be stronger when they latch onto receptors, multiply better and faster in the cells, and spread faster through coughing and sneezing.

The most aggressive strains will be hunted and isolated to extinction, however, those strains that only cause mild symptoms will continue to spread far and wide undetected.

COVID-19 is rapidly evolving. The public health and immune responses affect its evolution.

According to FiPhysician.com, evolutionary medicine studies the adaptation of life forms over time.

If there is no reservoir species, how do pandemic viruses evolve from their native hosts through their extinction, or their adaptation to become endemic infections?

In humans, the coronaviruses cause the common cold. Historically, they probably began as zoonosis and evolved over time. First, it was benign, innocent spreading throughout the human population.

Prior to the common endemic strains that evolved into cold viruses, doctors and researchers were not aware of coronaviridae; however, SARS-CoV-2 is a demonstration of what the virus is capable of.

Fundamentally, SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19. It is trying to duplicate itself as much as possible. If it does not make more copies of itself, it will die and become extinct.

As humans, people are trying to respond with their immune systems and as a society through public health precautions.

Flattening the Curve of COVID-19

The goal of researchers is to prevent the virus from killing humans and to stop poisonous, deadly strains from overwhelming the frail medical system. This is called “flattening the curve.” The goal is to lower the peak of the pandemic so the sick people can be taken care of without causing shortages of resources. Ultimately, researchers are waiting for COVID-19 to circumvent the globe and become a less poisonous form.

Scientists will not be able to eradicate the virus, so they want it to become a mild illness, only capable of causing the common cold for generations to come. If the curve is flattened now to prevent mortality at the cost of ongoing morbidity.

The curve refers to the projected number of people who will contract COVID-19 over a certain period of time. Depending on the infection rate, the curve takes on different shapes. A steep curve meaning the virus has spread exponentially and the total number of cases skyrockets to its peak within a few weeks. Steep infection curves also have a steep fall. After COVID-19 has infected everyone who can be infected, case numbers will drop as exponentially as they rose.

The faster the curve rises, the quicker the health care system becomes overloaded and they become unable to treat people. However, a flatter curve means the same amount of people are being infected over a longer time period. This slower infection rate allows hospitals to keep up with the demand and treat all those in need.

Currently, there is no vaccine and the federal government’s wonderdrug the antimalarial hydroxychloroquine is not working as believed it once would. The federal government will only allow the drug to be used on hospitalized patients, and at this late stage of the virus, it is not working. Doctors believe if the drug was to be beneficial it should be given in an earlier stage.

Dr. George Diaz is an infectious disease specialist at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington. He stated, “Generally the earlier you sue it, the more effective it is.”

Antiviral treatments reduce the amount of virus in the body. They work best when they are given early in treatment when symptoms are just beginning.

“When you give it to somebody who is already super sick, it’s likely not going to make an impact because the damage is already done,” according to Dr. Ken Lyn-Kew, a pulmonologist in the critical care department at National Jewish Health in Denver.

Dr. Hugh Cassiere, a pulmonologist and medical director of Respiratory Care Services at North Shore University Hospital in Long Island, New York said, “We’ve been using it. But we really haven’t seen any efficacy.”

Lyn-Kew said, “I’m not convinced it works. I’ve not seen anybody have anything near what I would call a miraculous recovery because of hydroxychloroquine.”

By Jeanette Vietti

Sources:

FiPhysician.com: What is the “Goal” of COVID-19
Live Science: Coronavirus: What is ‘Flattening the curve,’ and will it work?
NBC: ‘No miraculous recovery’: Some ICU doctors say hydroxychloroquine isn’t helping sickest patients

Featured Image Courtesy of Prachatai’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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