Coronoviridae under electron microscope

I’d like to think that some have noticed my absence on this platform of late (for reasons I will reveal in the posts to come), and by some, I’d be ecstatic with just 1 whole human being.

The surfacing of COVID-19 provoked me to climb out of my proverbial hibernation and start typing frantically in the spirit of a virally-stricken South African raiding a woolworths bread shelf.

Honestly, COVID-19 is the first of it’s kind. Yes we have heard about SARS, MERS, H1N1 and other novel viruses but for me, personally, I have not had acute exposure to panic and uncertainty of this kind before.

Afterall, South Africans are so durable. Yes, we complain and fuss (rightly so) but in the end, we always survive.
I could go days without any electricity, relying on my headlight and battery-operated torches at my bedside. I have a standard white wax candle and a box of matches just for control purposes. I can heat a cup-a-soup and it would only take me 45 minutes, 3 candles and multiple wax burns.
I’m not shocked if mid-shower, while lathered in soap and shampoo, the water in the tap trickles into nothing. Obviously, I make my way outside and pindrop into the pool (a luxury not many people have), feeling the burn of cold chlorine in every orifice, climbing out without batting an eyelash and continuing my day as blasè as ever. This has become the status quo and I have no extra energy to expend on complaining about it. Might as well just get on with it.

Despite the lack of electricity and running water, I can attend to the basic human needs one way or another. I can feed, cleanse and clothe myself without second thoughts. A plan-B,C and even D can always be made. Re-routing, re-placing, re-stating, an alternate way can always be found. It’s in our blood. We are inherently opportunistic beings who can always weave our way around adverse situations.

But this is different, eery and dangerous. The pandemonium of the Coronovirus is so widespread, I can’t even safely breathe in public. Now how do I get around that?
The first 3 months of 2020 have proven to be deadly to South Africans. Firstly we have the normal baseline of loadshedding which means no electricity, power or energy for hours in the day. Then we have municipal water issues/cuts/crisis. The ever-consistent, unshakable failing SOE’s and political instability is comforting in some sad way. Then a food-poisoning bacteria outbreak of Listeria tried to wipe us out using the much loved South African Staple- Polony, as a vector (cruel if you ask me). Then we had a country wide recall of Tinned Fish cans (another South African favourite) because of defective canning processes leaving people at risk of contracting Botulinism, only the most deadly neurotoxin produced by anaerobic bacteria of which, 4 grams could wipe out the entire world’s population.

And now Coronavirus? Destroying lungs, jobs, the frail economy at large, holidays, weddings, hospitals, public gatherings, travel, schools and lives at large. I think South Africans have finally met their match. Theres no ‘make-a-plan’ around this one. And sitting back and waiting it out does not seem to be an option for most people.

Those of us in the medical field are not really surprised by the recent pandemic. Infact, I had been sitting on the edge of my seat during 2018/19 flu-season, waiting for a new strain of influenza to begin its spread. All it would take is 1 person, 1 flight and time to spread. It was never a matter of “Will it?” but “When will it?”. This entire situation may seem too sudden to be true.

Some people feel like they woke up one morning and found the world in the midst of the coronavirus saga, almost apocalyptic and incomprehensible. The truth however is that 1 person, 1 family, every community and country and then the human population as a whole is in fact an incubator for millions of viruses and bacteria. We are living, breathing and moving hosts living amongst other animal hosts. Do you expect 7 billion of us to be living virus-free?

Our body is the perfect recipe for pathogens. the temperature, nutrition and blood component is just right to coax pathogens into comfort, allowing them to form networks between themselves, breed exponentially and thrive. Think of the human body as one big Suncity December getaway for viruses. And Who doesn’t love Suncity?

The good thing about many countries in the world is that they have actual ongoing plans, just awaiting the next pandemic so they may spring into action. They have disaster management plans on the floor at ground level preparedness, training health care workers on how to respond and also how to protect themselves. They have people who have PhD’s, Masters, infectious disease subspec degrees on different pathogens, global networks, policy makers and obviously money, lots of it.

Unfortunately, in South Africa, we’re still fighting other fights. The HIV/TB fight. The poverty/malnutrition fight. The inequality/lack of resources fight. We can’t move onto proactive future planning if we are still reacting to past and current problems. So as much as we can anticipate and predict the pandemic, we really are not ready for it. But novel viruses care not for readiness now do they.

I don’t really know what kind of wave is coming our way, but it is coming and we will meet it head on when it does.