The COVID-19 Expert Myth factory

ONE MONTH AGO the National Institute of Communicable Disease (NICD) was telling South Africans not to gargle with saltwater or wear face masks. The changing COVID-19 case definitions issued by NICD, various Heath MECs  and the World Heath Organisation (WHO), amidst global debates over vaccines, antiviral medication and therapies during the course of the pandemic have bewildered all and sundry.

At the beginning many experts and officials were telling us the symptoms would be mild, this was ‘simply the flu’, but ‘complications could lead to pneumonia’ and there was even such a thing as ‘herd immunity’.

We covered the story of how case definitions and posters  issued by the Western Cape MEC for Health Nomafrench Mbombo ‘excluded the possibility of local transmission’. We also covered the story of the controversy over Chloroquine Phosphate.

It is now almost three and a half months since news broke of the lockdown in Wuhan. It seems the more we know about the COVID-19 pandemic, the less we know about the actual disease. Many doctors in New York are observing a change in the way the disease presents itself: “Is this a lung disease causing blood problems, or a blood disease causing lung problems?” asked one doctor.

It is important in such a dynamic and ever-changing situation to keep an open mind, to follow what works, what makes actual sense and to avoid hunkering down and closing ranks when it doesn’t.

Today there are many articles speaking of the need to wear face masks. Explaining that “despite repeated advice from the World Health Organisation that wearing a face mask to protect against Covid-19 is necessary only for health workers who are in direct and prolonged contact with people who are infected with the virus, humans everywhere are clamouring for just about any version of a face mask available.”

What we predict is that there will be many more such articles in the future extolling the humble face mask in public situations as one of the ways we can get out of lockdown and return to normal. So too will there be other low-cost remedies available which deal with the fact that a significant proportion of those infected report a ‘sore throat’ as one of the symptoms. This is because the coronovirus replicates in the throat making transmission by respiratory droplets relatively easy.

Gargling with vinegar or salt water is a common sense precaution and should not be discounted, even though organisations such as the NICD and WHO continue to maintain there is no possible benefit from doing so.

Last night I sat down with the ‘Germ theory of Disease’, apparently the official theory on why micro-organisms known as pathogens or ‘germs’ enter the human body, and realised that our understanding of this theory is also partly to blame for the problem with our response. Firstly, we are dealing with a particular virus, not a protist like a slime mold. It’s a Coronovirus, a member of the Coronaviridae, not a fungus like Candidiasis nor a bacterium like Streptococcus.

It’s not Hemorrhagic Fever, its not ripping into us like a sneaky insect. It doesn’t sting and it hasn’t got any real fangs. What all Coronoviruses possess however, alongside their spike proteins, is the exact same logic, the exact same common sense as the Common Cold.

Covid-19 is really nothing more than a nasty respiratory disease. Its vectors and modes of transmission are predominantly respiratory droplets, and it is aiming for your throat and alimentary canal, and killing many of us via the lungs, or via the heme, or via the blood cells, who really knows? (see Coronavirus infection may cause lasting damage throughout the body, doctors fear)

But unlike the NICD we can do a lot more than recommend social distance, self-quarantine and an extended lock-down. To get back to a semblance of normality, and acceptable risk, let’s just cover our mouths with face masks. Let’s wash our hands, and clean our teeth and gargle often.

Respiratory health starts off with oral health, and ending the lock-down starts with charting a rational step forward.



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