Renowned immunologist warns of second wave of coronavirus

As of August 9, 2020, the worldwide death toll due to the Coronavirus has passed 730,000, and there is no end in sight to the pandemic that has ravaged the globe for six months. 

The latest research shows that the virus has undergone the D614G mutation, which makes it even more frightening. Danny Altmann, Professor of Immunology at Imperial College London, warned that the situation is “very, very scary,” and “vaccines aren’t that easy.”

Virus Now More Infectious due to New Mutation

According to a July 3, 2020, paper titled “Tracking Changes in SARS-CoV-2 Spike: Evidence that D614G Increases Infectivity of the COVID-19 Virus” published in Cell, a renowned scientific journal, scientists in the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Duke University identified a new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus strain, named D614G. This new variant has “a small but effective change” in the virus’ spike protein, a key component for the virus to enter the human cell. Such a mutation was found to make the virus more infectious when tested in the lab.

On July 6, Dr. Zhang Wenhong, head of the Shanghai expert team on the Wuhan virus and division director of Infectious Diseases at Fudan University Huashen Hospital, said in his Weibo web post, “Some researchers proposed a strong correlation between the D614G variant and death rate, although the current study remains at the stage of statistical analysis.” Because the statistics rely on large data samples, the correlation remains to be seen.

That same day, Immunologist Danny Altmann told CNBC that only around 10% to 15% of the population in those infected towns and cities have likely developed immunity, “Its a very deceitful virus, and immunity to it is very confusing and rather short-lived.”

Altmann said he was expecting a second wave and that the situation remained “very, very scary.” He also said, “The devil is in the details, vaccines aren’t that easy.” 

Second Wave in Past Pandemics Proved Devastating 

The rapid spread of the “Spanish flu” from the spring of 1918 to the spring of 1919 stunned people at the time. It infected 500 million people, roughly one-third of the global population at the time. It reached as far as the Pacific Islands and the North Pole region. The fatality rate was between 2.5% to 8%, leaving 17 to 50 million dead. 

The first wave of the Spanish flu broke out in June-July 1918, followed by the second wave in September-November. The second wave saw the highest death rate and the largest number of deaths. The third wave, in February-March 1919, saw a higher death rate in children and seniors, while the young and those 20-40 years old accounted for 50% of all deaths. Overall, 99% of the deaths were under 65 years old. 

Each of the three waves of the 1918 influenza spanned merely a few weeks and then came to a sudden halt. American author and historian John M. Barry wrote in his 2004 book The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, “After two years of extraordinary (and continuing) efforts by many of the world’s best investigators, in 1920 Welch made a frustrating prediction: ‘I think that this epidemic is likely to pass away and we are no more familiar with the control of the disease than we were in the epidemic of 1889. It is humiliating but true.’”

In the last hundred years, another example where a heavy price was paid for neglecting a second wave was the H3N2 flu that broke out in Hong Kong in 1968. 

The H3N2 flu virus broke out in the first half of 1968. Public health experts determined at the time that the general public had developed immunity to the N2 antigen and therefore believed the sub-type strain of H3N2 would not cause a large scale outbreak. That thinking turned out to be wrong.

In the second half of 1968, the H3N2 strain mutated into a monster virus that spread to Asia, Europe, and the Americas. It took over one million lives before finally calming down in 1970.

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