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Coronavirus, explaining some anomalous information

There are some unusual features of the coronavirus that have yet to be fully explained by epidemiologists, microbiologists, public health officials, and medical researchers. As I mentioned from the outset of my series of posts, I am not a medical researcher. (Let this be a reminder!) I only have a background in philosophy (PhD), public policy, and statistics. So, please accept that the following explanations reflect my naiveté about the virus, but at least hear me out.


Here is a set of facts of what we know about the virus:

  • Many people test positive for coronavirus without having any symptoms (asymptomatic);

  • Some people have tested positive for coronavirus, recovered and tested negative, and then contracted it a second time and tested positive (second-timers);

  • Some people with the antibodies never knew that they had the coronavirus (unknowners);

  • Some people died of coronavirus long before they could have contracted it from people from Wuhan and the people who died never traveled to Wuhan to have been exposed to it (not-a-"Chinese" virus);

  • SARS-CoV-2 is merely one strain of at least four different varieties of common coronavirus, such as HKU1, 229E, NL63, and OC43 (one strain); and

  • Rapid tests, i.e., the kinds performed using cotton swabs among others, may not be effective at distinguishing between the different varieties of coronavirus given how difficult it is to identify viruses that affect RNA (ineffective rapid tests).


A prominent microbiologist on medium.com has argued that the antibody test very specifically target those antibodies being made in response to SARS-CoV-2, but in light of false positives people are usually tested twice. I see no reason to doubt that, in light of the fact that I don't have a background in medicine. Still, I want to pause for a moment and consider all of the above facts. If we can't explain them, I see no reason why we ought not to consider other--perhaps unorthodox--hypotheses.


Let me suggest one hypothesis: people have been testing positive for coronavirus and for coronavirus antibodies but NOT for SARS-CoV-2. The novel coronavirus is relatively new--merely, 5 months old if we're feeling particularly generous. We don't really know what makes novel coronavirus distinct in its one strain from other coronaviruses. We just know that there is a difference between them. So, if a hypothesis like the above is correct, then that may explain why we have so many asymptomatic people testing positive for coronavirus and why so many people who have had no symptoms approaching that of SARS-CoV-2 test positive for having the antibodies.


The rapid tests may not be testing for what we believe they are returning results for because they're ineffective rapid tests. To help explain these positive results it may be that SARS-CoV-2 mimics nearby coronaviruses so well that we are unable to individuate the worse strain, let's say, from the more innocuous strain, i.e., the one that aligns more with the common cold or upper respiratory infection. It's not like having the coronavirus is similar to being pregnant--you're either pregnant or you're not. With the coronavirus, you could be suffering from one of a suite of viruses.


This would at least help us explain the second-timers phenomenon. So-called second-timers are suffering either from the novel coronavirus or from a lesser coronavirus, so they test positive after recovering from an earlier coronavirus. After all, given that it is easy to have two (or three!) upper respiratory infections or common colds in any given flu season, it seems relatively easy to infer that we could suffer from the coronavirus twice in one season.


It's possible, though highly unlikely, that the explanation could support the presence of asymptomatic people. Coronavirus needn't have any symptomatic effects on the sufferer. In fact, it's possible for one to have a coronavirus in any given season and not even realise that they have it. Sure, they may feel groggy or under the weather, with only mild symptoms. Perhaps testing positive for coronavirus is capturing that individual strain of the virus and not SARS-CoV-2.


That leaves just one unusual circumstance, the timing of the coronavirus. Everyone--in fact, even the microbiologist I spoke of earlier--assumes that SARS-CoV-2 originated in Wuhan, China. There is no question in their minds that COVID-19 didn't arrive in the US prior to January 2020. According to the best reports, the first documented case of COVID-19 in China occurred in late November or early December 2019. Like all health officials, microbiologists, etc, I have no reason to doubt the assumption is correct. As they explain it, there is genetic material in the virus that allows us to test the sequence of such material to tell how mutations accumulate. It is in this material that we may identify the origin of the virus. Unfortunately, I do not see how my hypothesis could explain the phenomenon of someone who died in the US, who had not traveled to China, and who had not had any contact with someone who traveled to China.


There is a lot to learn from the coronavirus, medically, socially, politically, economically, and morally. And it is imperative that we leave the technical matters to the experts. Still, it's nice to air some concerns I have over orthodoxy in a venue that doesn't necessarily harm others by my having said so.

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