Virus update

health virus immunity safety policy Angus Soutar

Latest news on the Coronavirus pandemic

A suitably socially-distanced Angus Soutar reports

Following our recent post on virus research and our safety policy, we have continued to review both the scientific evidence and the observable patterns of the pandemic. We have been surprised by ferocity of the “second wave” in the British Isles, although hindsight makes this completely predictable.

Many of our initial suspicions (from as early as February) have been widely confirmed now.

  • CoViD is an airborne disease that can be spread by aerosols that can hang around for hours in poorly ventilated spaces.

  • Face masks work as an important barrier to infection, as demonstrated in this video and also here However, unless masks are up to FFP3 standard, and properly fitted, there are still risks to staying in an unventilated space for longer than 15 minutes with someone who is infectious, as evidenced in the video.

  • Social distancing (currently recommended at a fairly arbitrary 2m) is set to avoid picking up the virus through droplets expelled by people nearby. But it is no defence against aerosol spread in unventilated areas. If someone is coughing and sneezing, we need to remove ourselves from the area at once. It is also justifies the advice from China to have windows open and as much fresh air as possible, or else ensure that top-quality ventilation equipment is in operation. For those managing premises, the UK government’s official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) have just produced this paper on ventilation.

We are disappointed that public information in England has lagged behind the strengthening evidence, As public awareness grows, however, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Every time that people underestimate the virus, it provides almost immediate feedback. Meanwhile, we are following the WHO mantra, avoid Crowded Places, Close Contact with other people, and Confined Spaces.

WHO 3 C's
Avoid confined spaces

Predictable things

The “novel” SARS-CoV-2 virus is not completely novel - it is one of the coronavirus family.

It seems that many of us have immune systems that recognise coronaviruses and will act immediately to protect us against them. Our immune systems take a multi-functional approach to infection. We have a pre-existing immune system response to coronaviruses (such as the common cold) which seem to be at work here when dealing with SARS-CoV-2. This initiates a T-cell response in preference to the more clearly understood “antibody” strategy. With T-cells doing the work, there is not much antibody production, which has surprised those who had hoped to use antibody levels as an indicator of previous infection.

It seems likely that whether we fight off the virus or come down with CoViD depends on the initial “dose” of virus that we take in, the “viral load” or “inoculum”. This research is supporting mask-wearing as “one of the most important pillars of the disease control”. A mild initial dose, especially if it enters the mouth, nose or eyes from the skin after poor handwashing, will likely be dealt with in the upper respiratory system where the virus causes minimal harm. It is only when the virus gets deeper into the lungs and into the bloodstream or the nervous system that the disease really takes hold.

There is even some speculation that a mild initial dose may activate our immune system and help it“tune in“ to the SARS-2 virus to give us future protection, in other words, a natural form of vaccination. We await further research on this, and recommend maintaining precautions meanwhile.

Weird things

SARS-CoV-2 is a “highly Infectious” virus that may spread by people showing no obvious symptoms of the disease that it causes (CoViD-19). On average, the natural reproduction number is quoted at around 3 (one person infects 3 other people).

However, most people don’t seem to infect any other people, whereas some people can infect 7 or more others in so-called “superspreader events.” Research is continuing into this.

Hospital doctors are learning about the best ways to treat CoViD patients, after a shaky start with the novel features of the virus. As a result, death rates among hospital admissions are falling. Rather than celebrate this, some professionals are reporting a worrying trend whereby some people do not recover properly after they have been infected. This applies to patients regardless of whether they have had a “mild” attack, or have been in hospital.

There are some eerie echoes of HIV. Just as many people can carry HIV without developing AIDS, many people can carry SARS-CoV-2 and not develop CoViD. But if the SARS-CoV-2 virus is allowed to multiply deeply within the body, then there can be a whole raft of nasty consequences. These are documented under the general heading of “long covid” and some estimates suggest that up to one in five people who show systems will suffer from a whole range of “post viral” syndromes. Some of these are extremely debilitating for the people concerned, and the fear is that that this could be damaging for our society, not just the individuals themselves. Professor Nick Hart, who supervised Prime Minister Johnson’s treatment for CoViD-19 at St Thomas’s Hospital in London, is on record as saying ““Covid-19 is this generation's polio”.

Our policy

This continuing threat is making us more cautious about “opening up” at The Northern School. The balance of evidence is telling us that running events in the open air, with some safety measures, will be safe. We are actively considering this.

Permaculture Design is evidence-based and requires good skills in risk analysis. Permaculture designers are used to working with imperfect information and this will often require us to “tread carefully” in situations where we could cause significant damage. At present, we must be content with observing the situation and waiting for more evidence (particularly for evidence from the field and not from a lab or a computer model.)

Emerging research shows that outbreaks are increasingly spread through schools and colleges. This should become evident through observations of “circuit breakers” and school holidays, rather than through testing in the UK. Testing is still poor here, so we don’t know.

However, the observation that the disease spreads rapidly in educational settings at all levels in the UK is a sobering one for our training activities. We feel that this has justified our “precautionary approach”. When the evidence becomes clearer, we will adapt our policies accordingly.

Personal responsibility

National emergencies are, fortunately, quite rare in our country. However, this means that we are, generally, ill-prepared for them. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by events and to succumb to feelings of powerlessness.

But our best defence against this virus has been given to us by Nature - it is our own immune system. Many of us have been researching to find the best ways to strengthen our internal health as the winter approaches. You should do this, too. We do not offer you medical advice, but we can share with you what we have found out, and how we are responding.

wikd medicine
General immune system support for the winter

Vitamin D is a hormone that, amongst many other things, is essential in fighting off infection. Since our main mechanism for generating this hormone is to expose our skin to sunshine, many of us are supplementing Vitamin D now that summer is over, perhaps as much as 5000IU per day. (This Dr Fauci, head of the NIAID in the USA has stated that he takes 6000IU per day).

A recent study in Chicago reports that “the relative risk of testing positive for COVID-19 was 1.77 times greater for patients with likely deficient vitamin D status compared with patients with likely sufficient vitamin D status, a difference that was statistically significant”.

An earlier study on hospital admissions treated with calcifediol (vitamin D3) reported “Of the 50 patients treated with calcifediol, one required admission to the ICU (2 per cent), while of 26 untreated patients, 13 required admission (50 per cent).”

“In the group who did not receive calcifediol, two patients died while in the ICU.” Studies have shown low levels of vitamin D amongst CoViD hospital admission. (See also the British Medical Journal)

Zinc is used by the immune system to defend cells against attack. It is interesting that zinc deficiency can cause anosmia - loss of sense of taste and smell - one of the defining CoViD symptoms. Zinc has also been used in hospital treatments for CoViD.

Vitamin C is also essential for a healthy immune system. It is a powerful antioxidant and has been used in hospital intravenously to treat CoViD patients. Readily available in vegetables and fruit, Dr Fauci has said that we could supplement with “a gram or two a day, that would be fine.”

Medical Herbalist Edwina Hodkinson has drawn our attention to the seasonal plant-based medicine that Nature provides for us, and has written about the anti-viral properties of the readily-available elderberry.

We encourage you to do your own research and get advice appropriate to you - with luck our personal actions will protect us from winter colds and flu and lead us to coming out of the pandemic healthier than we went into it.

Stay safe, everyone. This will pass, eventually.

Spanish flu
Workers in Nottingham face Spanish 'flu October 1918

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