Pandemic Persistence


We labor under a serious misconception that Corona can be eliminated, like polio. The history of pandemics tells us otherwise. The H2N2 virus likely caused the pandemic of 1890. It became the seasonal flu until it was supplanted by H3N2 during the pandemic of 1900. H3N2 was in turn supplanted by the H1N1 virus that caused the 1918 pandemic,which became the seasonal flu until the pandemic of 1957, when it was supplanted by an evolved H2N2. Of course, this became the seasonal flu until 1968, when it was supplanted by a new and improved H3N2 during the pandemic of that year. Vaccination became routine in the U.S. in the 1990’s, but none of these viruses has been eliminated.

The graphic above by Ed Rybiki illustrates this game of virus leap frog. An H1N1 genetically identical to laboratory samples from 1918 caused an epidemic in 1977, but many Americans had immunity. There can be little doubt the critter escaped. Another H1N1 variant caused an epidemic in 2009 that caused fewer U.S. deaths because older Americans still had immunity.

Corona is the new lead dog pulling this sled. It may abate as the weather warms, but it is not going away. We will get antibodies from exposure or vaccine, or succumb. Let’s hope seasonality drums it down and gives us time to develop a vaccine.

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