We have just woken up to the fact that, President Trump, under pressure from various corners has reversed his decision to disband the task force. His only way to reduce Dr Fauci’s influence will be to add additional members of his choice, whose task will be to dilute as much as possible the opinion weight of the scientist. Will that work? probably not. Meanwhile, even a republican in the Congress’ Education & Labor Committee has said it would be in the interest of the nation for DR Fauci to testify.

We could spend our whole time expanding the President’s decision preferences or his policies mutations, but that will be the task of the Democratic presidential campaign. As we are opening-up the country, we have many items or issues to enhance our comprehension of the problems facing our government and its team of scientists.

Readers may remember the California version in “Conspiracy Theories” published a week ago. It was referring to three different strains of the virus. You can imagine my excitement, when I was alerted that a brand new study by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory had identified a new strain of the coronavirus, that had become prevalent over the initial strain from Wuhan in most areas and more important, it appeared much more contagious. Glancing at the long study of 33 pages, I came upon a page of diagrams that showed very clearly the spread of the two strains in various countries. To my simple mid that looed like Lysol, no I meant dynamite! As this reinforced the rumors that the new strain was much more mortal, I immediately went to test my perceptions on a few of the countries and States ,which are reproduced below.

In orange, the samples with the date of infection represent the cases hit by the original Wuhan State strain “C614G”, whereas the new strain “D614G” is in blue. Here, at a  glance one could see that on all diagrams except on the one of Washington, the blue strain had quickly become the dominant. In particular, the New York one echoed so well the cries of Governor Cuomo that “the NY strain had come from Europe and not from China”. This also seemed to explain the apparent few deaths in the Washington State as compared to New York. I then took my slide rule, sorry my calculator and proceeded to calculate the death rates in proportion of the reported cases, and to my great surprise the rates did not differ that much. Surprisingly, even though the non-white population is 28% against almost 40 % for the US, the Canada national rate slightly surpassed that of the US. For New York, the death rate may be explained by the high concentration on non-white in the city (50% of the cases) about 68% as opposed to about 40% for the state overall. Realizing that, I did not have Dr Strangelove’s brains and  that my intuition had misled me, I had a look at the conclusion of some scientists who had taken the time to read the whole study and had the knowledge to understand it.

The Los Alamos study did not indicate that the new version of the virus is more lethal than the original but that is was far more contagious. So, in one way, Cuomo was right but for the wrong reason.  The death rate per infection may be similar but the contagiousness is much greater, thus bringing a higher total number of deaths. As the virus appears to be mutating, it might mean that immunity for one strain would not automatically imply an immunity for the next strain. It might also mean that specific vaccines would have to be made for each strain.

What also became apparent, when looking at the numbers, is that the study covered samples until the 5th of April. Who knows what has happened in a month? Are there more strains?

In a study published on March 3, scientists at Peking University’s School of Life Sciences and the Institut Pasteur of Shanghai preliminary results show the virus that had killed only about 3,200 people at that time had split into two major strains. They had found that 70 % of the analyzed samples were related to the more aggressive and deadly  “L” new strain that had been prevalent at the beginning of the epidemic in Wuhan. Could the less virulent “S” type have circulated earlier in California and hence account for the lower mortality rate of 4.04% there? This also gives some credence to the California story in  “Conspiracy Theories”.

A UK Government funded study that analyzed the genomes of the COVID-19 uncovered that at least a dozen different strains had spread in different corners of the UK. Another study from Cambridge University, having analyzed the first 160 complete virus genomes, found 3 variants of closely related lineage labeled A, B and C. The closest type of COVID-19 found in bats which they called A was present in Wuhan. Whereas type B was prevalent in Asia type C had been mainly found in Europe (and presumably in the US)

A Greek joint study between ITE, the renown Technology and Research Institute and the  biology department of Western Attica University, using Full-genome-sequence computational analysis of the SARS-CoV-2 genome tried to verify that the bat and pangolin genomes could have combined and contributed  to the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They even found that there could have been an additional contribution from genomes of Hedgehogs and Sparrows.

We must put a question mark on the interpretation of these findings. All these studies, driven by the awfulness of the aggressor, appear thoughtful and are most interesting but cannot be conclusive until the epidemic or at least the first wave of the epidemic is completed, and much larger number of samples become available for research. Further the doctors on the front line, confronted with practical realities have learnt to cope with the many facets of this dangerous virus, that not only attacks the lungs as initially claimed but the endothelial cells of the blood vessels. Everybody is frenetically involved in studies for vaccines which may be more complex than hoped, as the strains multiply and a single vaccine may be more difficult to be discovered. Meanwhile we will have to cope with the disease, efforts must be also directed to therapeutics, which means finding an envelope or cocktail of drugs and methods to shield the people most at risk.

By Digenis10th May 2020

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