Chicken Little and Henny Penny were off on a quest: to terrify everyone and tell them the sky was falling. Close to a year later it would seem they succeeded and everyone is indeed scared witless. As the world moves in slow motion Christmas appears to have been cancelled, adding to the general gloom.

Never mind that 1.5 million people die each year of TB or that 300,000 people (mostly children) die of malaria. And some 55+ million more die annually of various and sundry causes which, on a planet with close to eight billion people, is par for the course. Honestly, you’d think that without covid nobody ever died.

For now the burning question is whether that godforsaken mask is the holy grail or a fiendish mind control plot.

A friend tells me that apparently it is illegal to enter a bank wearing a mask. Implication is that you’re a nefarious miscreant. (Come to think of it, this would be the perfect time for a heist; just melt into the masked crowd with your loot.)

Stop the world I want to get off

As always, health discourse has gone reductio ad absurdum, pared down to a basic, binary level – a topic I have whinged on about at length. In one corner the coronavirus, crowned headband and mean little eyes; at the other, the economy, pale, with quavery legs, propped up by government handouts.

Weirdly, nobody seems to notice or care that the state of the economy impacts heavily on health. It’s not a zero sum game. Stress, especially that of not knowing whether you’ll have enough money to feed your family, is especially bad for health, as is isolation and locking ourselves away from anything makes life worth living like social contact. Seeing friends and family. Art. Music. Dance. Theatre. Travel.

Immunologically, the organism, the person matters, not that you’d know it these days. You don’t just get sick because you’re exposed to a pathogen, whether that’s covid or TB. You get sick when your immune system reacts to said pathogen. In the dry, wry words of an old epidemiology text, the virus (or bacterium) is necessary but not sufficient. In other words, the TB bacterium must be present if you have TB, but simply having the tuberculosis bacterium does not mean you have TB.

With any kind of testing that becomes obvious; all sorts of people harbour microbes they never knew they had. My mother never had chicken pox but clearly had been exposed since later in life she developed shingles (when she was taking immune suppressants). Chicken pox’s revenge as one nurse called it.

The dratted virus isn’t some poison perfume chalice, the mere whiff of which can fell anyone walking by. But hey, who cares about science when you can post scolding messages on Facebook?

The big news this week is the vaccine. And how it will be distributed. Not much analysis of the actual mRNA vaccine that frankly spooks the hell out of me. Makes sense in the abstract but real people are adaptive, dynamic physiologic systems: neurologic, immunologic, endocrine etc etc. Altering the genetics of a cell: well, no reset button there. I truly hope there are no negative consequences six months, two years, down the road. What I read, even when it tries to be reassuring is awfully vague.

[And always, along the same binary lines – if you discuss vaccines in anything but glowing terms well, clearly you’re one of them lunatic anti-vaxxers. No grey in this discourse. ]

We are the Borg. Resistance is futile. 

What’s up doc?

I was asked an intriguing question a while back: if we infect others with a cold or flu through coughs and sneezes, how is it possible to transmit a virus when we are asymptomatic (or presymptomatic) and not coughing/sneezing? I had taken it on faith that one could transmit a virus before getting sick. So I tried to find out.

Turns out it there’s a process called viral shedding.

When you have been exposed to a virus and it is attempting to take hold (but your immune system is pushing back), the virus works its way into a cell, often killing it (apoptosis). And  miniscule bits of the virus can shed a bit and get into your system. Possible but highly improbable in these socially distanced times. Reminder: even the symptoms of a cold result from the immune system’s reaction to the virus, not from the virus

So, if you have somehow been exposed to a virus and it has somehow entered your system, this shedding might get passed along if you got seriously close to another person and get these shreds into their eyes or mouth. Bearing in mind that these specks of virus aren’t especially numerous. That’s a lot of ifs. This, incidentally, explains why genital herpes or HIV can be transmitted through, er, bodily fluids, even when the person is asymptomatic. It’s more complicated with a respiratory virus,  particularly since we have this enormous immune organ called the skin protecting us.

But, the numbers are rising, I hear you cry. Surely that’s worrisome.

Maybe. Numbers alone can’t tell a story. For instance, what irks me immensely is the term “case” as I can’t bloody tell whether we’re talking about people who have tested positive or people who are actually sick. (Different groups use the term differently.) Particularly since the majority of people who get sick recover. With more testing it stands to reason that more people will test positive, therefore becoming a “case’. (And do not get me started on test accuracy – as no test is fully accurate.) But with language like “cases surging” we lose all nuance.

It’s year end, furthermore, by which time statistics would, under normal circumstances, have recorded some 56+ million deaths globally from various and sundry causes. As with most things, most at risk are the poor, the dispossessed, the fragile, the elderly. Nothing new there.

So, yes, this appears to be a bad flu but keeping one’s distance and keeping your hands clean should keep the worst of it at bay. Have there been massive numbers of excess deaths? I’m not sure. I suspect not but honestly, life’s too short to try and dig up those statistics that nobody’s keen to publicize.

In any event, when it’s cold more people get colds and flu. We just don’t usually keep track of them with such eagle-eyed negativity.

Alas what is on the rise, along with the freakout factor, is stress, depression, anxiety, gloom. Especially hard hit are those living alone, especially the elderly, cut off from  human contact. Ah, just asking: did anyone actually ask these individuals what they wanted? Guess not.

Lost in the mist of misinformation is the dynamic nature of organisms, viral and human. Forgotten is immunologic adaptation. Things evolve. Long before there was a vaccine for polio or smallpox the incidence of those diseases was well on the wane. I hate using the term “herd immunity” as it sounds more like animal husbandry but it really is a thing. Places where there were outbreaks last spring are now virtually covid free (e.g., Lombardy in northern Italy). Immunity is not static.

Post viral stupid pills

Now I read that – gak! – post covid complications seem to happen in people who’ve recovered, particularly those who were in hospital. Several months later these individuals are not back to “normal”.

Really? A bad viral infection didn’t totally clear in a few months? Shocker. Um, ever hear the term “post viral fatigue” (or post viral syndrome). There are always individual differences but for many people recovery post infection is slow. This isn’t new and scary. We used to call it life.

Bodies aren’t high tech devices you can reboot. Homeostasis takes times.

Yup. Stupid pills. It took over six months for some genius to figure out that in those people with covid who had had an inflammatory over-reaction steroids might help. We’ve known for over 100 years that steroids reduce inflammation but  it didn’t occur to anyone to give dying patients prednisone or something along those lines, to reduce the inflammation that was killing them? (See what I mean when I say the immune system appears to have disappeared in this virus discourse altogether.) Yes, I get that steroids aren’t good for an infection – but see “dying” line above. Still, best not to stress about all this. Stress is really bad for immunity – and wearing that damn mask is stressful enough.

What I will not do is let the buk-buk-buking of those Chicken Littles get me down. There have always been viruses, some worse than others, this too shall pass. In any event, I am bored with this particular fairy tale. So my new hero is Bugs Bunny and like him I plan to munch on carrots, sing my songs and bounce along being as silly as I can.  Just because the world’s gone nuts is no reason to follow suit. B-dda B-dda B-daa.

That’s all folks.


12 thoughts on “Masquerade

  1. Karen

    I’m with you questioning the safety of the mRNA vaccines. After 2 months, they figure they are safe? Whoaaa big boy. Am kinda happy I will be near the end of those eligible for a vaccine. By then the Astrazeneca and Johnson & Johnson should be available based, I believe, on the old tried and true 50 year method of making a vaccine, will be cheaper …. and we will have a better idea of how the mRNA affected the millions. I see today children, pregnant women and immunocompromised will not get the Pfiser vaccine in B.C. cause those kinds were not in the clinical trials. Hmmm …

  2. Brigitte

    You are so so so so right,Susan! This virus is among us…there will be others…let’s live our lifes!!! Vaccine?????Mmmhhhhh….

  3. mark dwor

    Dear Susan
    Always a pleasure to hear from you
    I am again happy to disagree with you — most importantly I thank you for you well considered Point of View

    1. susan Post author

      hi Mark – and I am always happy to have you disagree as I think the universe would tilt on some distant axis if we agreed.

  4. Stephen Edwards

    A few random thoughts: Where does the Gates Foundation figure in all this? Why is something called “animal husbandry” rather than “animal wifery”? Would Dr. Who’s massive scarf count as a super duper filtration mask? How about Dracula’s cape? We all know about “social distancing” by now. Is this having any effect on anti-social distancing, such as unwanted fondling and general over-familiarity?

    Are there any sane, inquiring minds left or are they all befuddled by the pandemic panic?

    1. susan Post author

      These are all excellent questions and other than Dr. Who’s scarf, which I recall with affection and think would indeed count as a super duper filtration mask, I have no idea.

  5. Stephen Edwards

    Now that Covid masks have become a fashion item, available in colourful multi-packs at Costco, I expect to see matching masks and bikinis at the beaches this summer. Or perhaps hoodies that cover the nose (from the chin up, of course).

    Any idea how Merrill is doing, or has everyone moved on since our younger days?

    1. susan Post author

      I probably would be less cranky about masks if I didn’t find them so uncomfortable – breathing with a mask is a problem for me between allergies and sinus, er, issues.

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