There has been a lot of discussion and excitement over a new Coronavirus that has popped up in China recently. Conspiracy theories abound about it being a genetically-engineered bio-terrorism weapon developed in the Chinese Wuhan BSL4 laboratory. This theory is the result of a research paper posted to the internet in which scientists from India reported that this new Corona virus has some RNA similarities to the human HIV virus that causes AIDS. The research paper was immediately removed from the internet which only heightened the resulting hypothesis that there was some great and evil conspiracy to unleash a man-made global pandemic and that the cover-up was under way. The flames of this apocalyptic idea have, as is typical, been flamed by well-meaning folks that don’t know the first thing about viruses, virology, RNA or Chinese food.
Well…I’ll take that back. Due to the massive expansion of Panda Express in this country, some of them probably do know something about Chinese food.
As a person who likes Chinese food and has some understanding of viruses, virology and disease transmission and treatment, I’d like to offer my take on the facts of this case and perhaps clarify what’s going on. I’ll also discuss some herbs that will be helpful for Coronavirus infections.
The Scientific Study
Let’s start with the research paper that was posted to the internet. The title of the paper was:
Uncanny similarity of unique inserts in the 2019-nCoV spike protein to HIV-1 gp120 and Gag
Catchy title no? The paper was posted on a website which serves the purpose of “pre-review” for scientific research. These sorts of websites allow scientists to post their work before submitting it to a peer-reviewed publication. It’s a valuable resource for researchers because it allows them to post their paper so that lots of other scientists can read and criticize it before it finally goes to the three or four review specialists that will give it a thumbs up or down for publication. Think of it as a rough draft. The scientists are asking fellow scientists to look at their work and tell them whether it’s worth submitting.
So, what does the non-peer-reviewed-never-published paper say? The paper says that a few of the proteins in the RNA of the new coronavirus share some similarities with the some of the proteins in the RNA of the HIV virus.
So doesn’t that mean that evil scientists must have put those proteins in there to kill us all?
Nope. It doesn’t.
HIV is a Retrovirus. There are almost as many retroviruses as there are coronaviruses…in other words lots and lots. Viruses are friendly little fellows and have been genetically re-engineering themselves and each other for as long as there have be cells on this planet.They routinely swap little bits of RNA with each other when they meet at parties and such. They don’t have Facebook or anything so it’s really the only sort of social networking they can enjoy. In other words, they don’t need any evil scientists to do it for them. If we were to poll all the viruses in the world we’d find many of them that have RNA proteins from unrelated viruses.
So what is my take on the article? My take is that the use of the word “Uncanny” in the title was a grossly irresponsible attempt to get some attention for an otherwise very boring article that didn’t really reveal anything scary about this particular virus but DID get the authors a lot of attention. Apparently they realized pretty quickly that this was a pretty irresponsible move and took the article down before the rest of the scientific community gave them a lot of grief about it. I also think it was grossly irresponsible for the press to be reporting about research that hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed by responsible researchers.
Why Do All These Diseases Start In China?
Swine Flu, Bird Flu, SARS and several other exciting new disease have all originated in China in recent years. Why is that? The answer to this question is simple; population density, hygiene and exposure.
When North Americans buy food, they do it in a grocery store where the meats are offered hermetically sealed in saran wrap and displayed in temperature-controlled coolers. The American consumer in a large city is typically nowhere near the live animals that ended up in his grocery store. The Chinese certainly have nice grocery stores too (though I don’t know if they have Panda Express which seems odd) but they also have something you never see in a congested, urban center in the United States, vast open-air markets. These open air markets are full of live chickens, pigs, bats, fish and anything else you can imagine eating (not to mention lots of fun critters you probably haven’t imagined eating). If New York City had a huge open air market where most of the population went everyday to get sneezed on by chickens and pigs and bats, we’d have lots more new viruses emerging in New York than we currently do.
So How Are These Pig & Bird & Bat Diseases Getting Into Humans?
This is a good question. And, again, it doesn’t require any evil scientists. Viruses are very species specific. In other words, they tend to be unable to infect other species. For example, cats have a retrovirus that is very similar to the HIV virus that humans get. It’s called FIV. Humans can’t contract FIV from cats and cats can’t contract HIV from humans. In order for a virus to “Jump species” it must mutate. Some viruses have a higher mutation rate than others. Influenza viruses are crazy about mutating. In fact, the flu shot you’re getting this year, which was made from the flu that was going around last year, may not protect you because the flu that was going around last year has likely mutated.
A farmer with a flock of influenza-infected chickens is in no danger at all until the influenza virus mutates. Then the farmer starts sneezing right along with the birds. When he goes into the house for lunch and sneezes on his wife she doesn’t get sick. Why not? Because the virus only mutated so that it could infect humans from chickens. Infecting humans from other humans requires a second, random mutation. On the rare occasions where this second mutation occurs we get epidemics of new virus strains.
This is what has happened with the new coronavirus. It has been around forever in its host species (bats as I recall) and never bothered anyone. But recently it has mutated to jump from its host species to humans and then, from infected humans to other humans.
Why Is This Coronavirus So Dangerous?
Well, first of all it’s new. So that’s bad. Our global population hasn’t seen this bug before and it will take some time for us to develop herd immunity to it. It’s also dangerous because of its transmission characteristics. Most viruses aren’t contagious until the infected person has symptoms. In other words, If they aren’t coughing, they aren’t contagious. In an epidemic situation, it’s fairly easy to quarantine people that are sick until they aren’t sick anymore and thus limit the spread of the disease. With this new Coronavirus, it appears that transmission is possible BEFORE the infected person shows symptoms. In other words, someone can get you sick before they know they are sick themselves. This is a big problem as it eliminates much of the preventative power of quarantining.
So, could this new coronavirus become a serious threat and cause epidemic and even pandemic disease? Yes. Unfortunately it could.
Another reason that this particular virus is dangerous is it propensity to initiate cytokine storms. Cytokines are released by cells in response to viral and bacterial infections. They signal immune system cells to come and fight an infection. White blood cells such as macrophages and T-cells respond to increased cytokine levels by migrating to the site of infection. In response to the cytokines they, in turn, release more cytokines. If you’ve ever disturbed an ant nest you’ve seen a good analogy. One ant is irritated and starts running around frantically looking for a fight. That ant releases an alarm chemical that causes other ants to run around frantically looking for a fight. Each of these ants also raises the alarm and, before long, the entire colony is in a battle frenzy. This is all well and good when it happens on your sidewalk with a bunch of ants, but when it happens in your lungs, it can cause real trouble.
Scientists aren’t sure what it is that causes these abnormal cytokine reactions to become so intense. Most believe that it is a response to a particularly virulent or new disease. What we do know is that the stronger and healthier the immune system is, the more severe the cytokine storms can be. Young healthy people who experience severe cytokine storms can drown in their own immune response. Cytokine storms were one of the principle causes of death in the Spanish Flu Pandemic. Typically, cytokine storms come on suddenly and manifest as a feeling of the lungs filling with fluid.
What Herbs Would Doc Jones Take?
I’ve received a lot of emails lately asking what herbs would be best to fight this new coronavirus…REALLY a lot! I thought about developing a new formula but there really isn’t a reason to do so. The formulas we offer for respiratory cases are already well-equipped for fighting Coronaviruses. These are the formulas I’ll be using on my kids if Corona comes to town.
To support the immune system.
And these two which contain numerous plants that coronaviruses don’t like.
I’ll also have this one on hand for the cytokine storms should someone start feeling like their lungs are filling up.
All of these formulas plus a couple of more are contained in our Respiratory Preparedness Kits. Wouldn’t hurt to have one of those on hand.
What Else Can Be Done?
In addition to having some good herbs around, follow the basic rules of good health. Eat real food. Lay off dairy products and simple carbohydrates. Avoid large crowds. Use hand sanitizers and don’t touch your mouth, nose and face so much. More respiratory viruses are spread by touching your germ-clad fingers to your mouth, eyes or nose than from inhaling a cough. Say your prayers, go to church, be kind to others and do what you can to decrease the hectic, stressful pace of your life. In fact, do those things even if coronavirus doesn’t come to town and you’ll feel better and be less likely to get sick.