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“The Viruses Among Us”

August 14, 2022 Featured Today No Comments

By BARBARA SIMPSON

Have you grown tired of it yet? The news — radio, TV, print, Internet, and whatever else there might be — has been filled lately with information about and warnings against the monkeypox virus.
To read what is being reported, you would think that monkeypox is the only virus that humans have to be concerned about. It isn’t, but it is the “virus of the day” and given that it is virtually “new” in the United States and is pretty horrific, the warnings are necessary.
The federal government has declared it a major health emergency as have the governors of California, New York, and Illinois.
Perhaps you’d never heard of it and, given that it has not been a disease in this country, that wouldn’t have been surprising. But that has changed and now, no matter where you turn, there it is.
I knew of it and associated it with Africa, where it is endemic in several countries and usually spreads from animals to humans. That the virus has spread to the West is new, and more critical, because we don’t know for certain if there is an effective vaccine against it.
The United Kingdom warned us about monkeypox early this year and reported that it spreads primarily by skin-to-skin contact, although it can also spread from contaminated clothing or bedding.
The United States had its first case in May and now the CDC reports that there are at least 7,000 cases across the country, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. So far, no deaths are reported but cases are increasing at about 1,000 per week. We are told that those most at risk (98 percent) are homosexual men and their partners. Needless to say, that raises all kinds of political issues.
It’s reported that at least two U.S children have been infected with the virus.
The biggest challenge is having a vaccine against. It. The one that is being used in trials is TPOXX, an antiviral created for use against weaponized smallpox in a terrorism attack. The biggest problem is that it hasn’t been approved nor tested in humans for the monkeypox virus.
It is still considered an Investigational New Drug and subject to government protocols. This means that it is almost impossible for physicians to obtain it for their patients. It’s only been approved for smallpox, but it is still difficult to obtain due to government restrictions
Smallpox is another dangerous and highly infectious virus that most people know about. Children are given their shots against smallpox along with their other baby vaccines. Smallpox is a killer — it has a 30 to 50 percent fatality rate. This country has been spared an epidemic because of the vaccine. In 1980, the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated and, while there are random cases of the disease around the world, the vaccine is still available but campaigns for vaccinations in the West ended.
The disease has been eliminated in the wild but there are frozen stocks of the virus in storage in this country and in Russia.
An ongoing possible threat is that some rogue government or terrorist might get control of some of those supplies and create a smallpox catastrophe.
The CDC has reported that it has stored TPOXX doses in highly secret and safe locations across the country — making it possible for their retrieval in the event of an emergency. In the meantime, the CDC urges that children be kept up to date on their shots and that unvaccinated adults get their shots as well.
An example of how devastating the disease can be for the unprotected, scholars say that when Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere, they unknowingly brought with them the smallpox virus. It’s estimated that the Native Americans had no protection against the virus and that it killed 90 percent of them.
These aren’t the only viruses that are a danger. Remember polio? Those of you who know history will know that polio “season” was a time that this country lived in fear — spring, summer, and fall. Beaches were closed and events for large groups of people canceled. The disease was rampant and caused paralysis and death.
They will remember the “iron lung” — the large tank-like apparatus that a patient was placed in so that it would help them to breathe. I had a classmate in high school who contracted polio and was in an “iron lung.” You can see pictures of polio patients in iron lungs on the Internet.
Some patients survived, many didn’t. Estimates are that there were 35,000 cases of polio annually before the vaccine. It was the saving grace, finally giving us — children and adults — the freedom to live and not fear infection from the Polio virus.
But now that’s changed. A polio case has been discovered in an unvaccinated adult in New York City and another case in an outlying county. The virus has been discovered in sewage water. The state health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, says that based on earlier outbreaks, for every known case there are some 100-plus more who are infected. If that is correct, the prospects are grim.
New York isn’t the only location the virus has turned up — southern California has also seen it in sewage water in Orange County. At this point, there are no recorded cases of the illness, but it may only be a matter of time. Who knows?
But the success of the polio vaccine cannot be argued. This country has been polio free since 1979. The only cases were one in 1990 and another in 2013 when visitors brought in the disease — but it did not spread.
The public health emergency declarations concerning monkeypox will make it easier to gain funding to fight the disease and have access to the vaccine.
At this point, the CDC reports that New York has the most cases of monkeypox — more than 6,600. California has more than 800; Texas, Florida, Illinois, and Georgia have more than 500 each. Worldwide, there are more than 26,000 cases in 87 countries.
It is not a pretty picture, and it appears it will spread more widely before any effect the vaccine might have. The issue of the vaccine and the quantities needed are the core of government controversy. How it will be settled remains to be seen since the disease is spreading rapidly and the need for the vaccine is critical.

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