Don’t blame Spain – it’s not ‘Spanish Covid’
The medical literature reported something very interesting last week. The mainstream press picked it up and put into understandable English with the inevitable shortcuts that I fear are going to cause a lot of damage. The scientific papers showed that a particular strain of coronavirus had been identified in northern Spain and this seemed to have highly infective properties. What’s more, this very same strain seems to be the one causing so much havoc in the UK and other northern European states right now as part of the second wave. Of course, it’s been called the ‘Spanish coronavirus’ just like Spanish ‘flu and so everyone is now going to conveniently blame Spain for their ills.
First, I think it’s useful to understand a bit about viruses. They are not living things, they cannot think or make decisions. In fact, they are just small bits of genetic material, the same stuff that codes us. The only clever thing is that viruses have over time evolved so that they can easily latch onto human cells and inject their bit of code. We do all the rest. One of the things the virus code tells us to do is literally photocopy thousands of copies of the virus so they can go off and attack more cells – it’s a really good idea. However just the same as if you put a sheet on the photocopier and it is a bit wonky, something might get missed off the copy. That kind of happens with viruses, so although we copy them we also make mistakes, small ones, but enough to alter the virus enough that we can detect it. Sometimes that’s all that happens – we detect a new version and give it a number, sometimes the mistake actually causes different behaviour, like in this case, it seems to be more infective. So if viruses are not alive where does all this evolution into super smart versions come from. It comes from us. We host the virus, if we die the virus loses its host and usually stops dead right there, so by keeping people alive with fancy medicine we are actually helping the virus evolve into something stronger – crazy I know but true. It’s the reason why we all need to lay of the antibiotics because we are selecting those bugs that are antibiotic-resistant – the rest all died out.
So the reason behind lockdowns and social distancing is simple; it’s so that the virus finds it very hard to pass into a new host. Back to this so called Spanish variant, as I say these will crop up all the time it’s just the way things are, but in this case it seems it got into some holidaymakers who probably had social distancing way down their list of priorities and they took it home with them. So it jumped countries in a few hours. Years ago I did some work for the World Health Organisation and back then most of the pandemic plans were based on data collected in the 60s. Then people generally didn’t fly, they took ships. So if something nasty cropped up in Europe it would be two or three weeks by ship before it got to parts of Africa – you had time to plan and prepare. Today as soon as you identify something it has probably gone halfway around the world. Computer viruses and the internet are the prefect analogy, a computer virus is just a bit of computer code designed to do something nasty, we spread them around by carelessly sharing emails over the internet. Lockdown in this sense means taking machines off line, can you imagine the uproar if teenagers could not access the internet on their phones, even for a few days? So it really is our behaviour that determines how viruses not only spread but how they evolve.
Viruses all get systematic names, so this particular version that all the fuss is about is known as the 20A.EU1 variant of Sars-Cov-2. Sars-Cov-2 is what actually causes what we call COVID-19. All a bit of a mouthful which is why I guess the Spanish coronavirus term will stick. That’s a great shame because we know that people love to have someone or something to blame when things go wrong. Spain is now in the frame for that because of slopping naming and already articles are appearing asking if ‘Spain is to blame for the second wave..’ If this put people off visiting Spain in future then this is just one more nail we could do without. We’ve all got a responsibility to help curb this thing which does mean that we have to go off line for a while, none of us like it. But what is much worse is going through all the pain of a lockdown only to have it lifted too early, so all that pain and suffering is for nothing
Dr Marcus Stephan
My views are entirely personal and do not reflect the view or position of any organisation. You should always consult your own medical practitioner regarding any concerns that you may have.
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