How Does a Virus Mutate?

Mutation, whether in a virus or in us, is a genetic change that can alter the character of the human or virus in terms of its phenotype (the set of observable characteristics). These characteristics will perpetuate if they give the human or virus an advantage for survival.  If your dark skin color protects you from skin cancer, the darker people will eventually be the major race where the sun shines most of the time, like in Africa.  While in the northern climates where the sun comes up late and sets early and daylight is only six hours long in the winter, and furthermore the weather blocks out even more of the little bit of sunlight, the lighter skin allows more vitamin D to be made that gives us stronger bones. In prehistoric times if you broke a leg, you became sabertooth tiger food.  Lighter skin gave you a significant survival advantage in Sweden. The same is true for the virus that can latch on to our cells to get into them and do what viruses do, use your DNA machine to replicate themselves.  The underlying mechanism for us or viruses to mutate is to replicate.  Without replication, nothing can mutate. 

The next generation of mutated Covid-19 is upon us. It is the Lambda mutation.    It surfaced in Chile about a year ago, and it already comprises 81% of the infections there. It, too, is highly infectious and may not be as responsive to the vaccines.  If you think we can keep it out, we are already too late.  The first case showed up at Houston Methodist Hospital just a few days ago. I would suspect that it came over the southern border, along with the thousands of “undocumented” streaming across, a clear, serious hole in our public health efforts.

If this variant does not defeat our vaccines, the next one or the one after that will.  It is only a matter of time. The only way to stop it is to stop the replication.  How do we do that? You ask.  We must eliminate the replicating virus gene pool.  We must eliminate the population where the virus finds cells that are susceptible, the unvaccinated population who give Covid the freedom to do as it pleases.   Let me remind you that Polio and Smallpox were eliminated from the face of the earth not by herd immunity but through vaccines. We must have been smarter at that time because we did not consider it a political or constitutional issue then!

You may call me a fear-monger, but when we have a total of 4,303,719 deaths worldwide since April 2020, and 614,291 new cases in the United States in the last 30 days, I think the term “fear-mongering” is a bit overstated. There are those that say Covid is just like the flu.  A 2% mortality is not much worse than the regular flu.  That is, however, not the entire picture.  The mortality goes up exponentially with every comorbidity: age over 60, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, chronic pulmonary disease, renal disease, liver disease, immune-suppressed individuals or taking immune-suppressing drugs, etc. In fact, the list that increases risk is quite long, and almost everybody will find an item or two on that list.  The comorbidities add up quickly, and it isn’t long before you are facing a 50/50 chance of surviving. 

I do side with the strict interpretation of the Constitution.  The right to decide what medical procedures are done to your body is your decision.  But if your decision is not to protect yourself as best as you can, you must also not interfere with my Constitutional right to remain as safe as possible from harm and disease.

That brings up the question of how to identify those who would violate your Constitutional rights to live a disease-free life.  The Nazies just tattooed those they perceived to be a danger to them. Also, remember Typhoid Mary spent 26 years in prison because she would not stop willfully spreading the disease, and no one talked about her Constitutional rights! Is asking people to carry proof of vaccination that much of an imposition? It is certainly on a lesser level than what Typhoid Mary endured. Wouldn’t an ID card be the logical, less intrusive choice?   Would you believe that we already need proof of identity to apply and prove competence to drive a motor vehicle, rent a car, apply for welfare or unemployment, vote, donate blood, get married, open a bank account, buy a gun, apply for a fishing or hunting license, get on an airplane, apply for social security, or pick up a prescription for a controlled substance, what is next? Documentation that you are not going to interfere with my Constitutional right to remain Covid free? Can anyone explain to me how that offends you or affect your freedom? The State of Hawaii seems to agree with that sentiment as they just arrested tourists and fined them $5000 for the act of forging a vaccine passport.

Now about the mask controversy.  Follow the science, they say.  What does science say? There are few studies that discuss it, most of them inconclusive. We owe the face mask to a French surgeon, Paul Berger, who in 1899 decided that not wearing a mask during the conduct of an operation exposed the wound to the potential of contamination from the mouths and noses of the people that were conducting the operation by just breathing. He concluded that it was not good to spray saliva into open wounds. That is essentially what happens when the surgeons do not wear face coverings. And it is what we do by just breathing.  Loud speaking, coughing, sneezing, and singing increase the droplets we expel.  The surgical community did not accept his idea, and laughed at him.  Later, one of the smartest and most famous surgeons of the time, Jan Mikulicz, came to his defense with a publication that changed the minds of the surgical community.  From then on, all surgeons all over the world wear masks during the conduct of any operation. No matter what you think of masks, would you be put off by the surgeon who refuses to wear a mask for your operation? Besides, the downside of mask use is non-existent except for convenience. We have learned a lot, but not everything, in the last year, and now the message is much clearer, backed by sound science that has shown wearing masks does a good job of keeping the virus from spreading from an infected person. However, masks do not seem to be as effective in keeping the virus from spreading to a non-infected person.  The most recent study was the Danish study of 6000 subjects, which showed a disappointing 20% decrease in getting infected in mask users. Despite what Senator Dr. Rand Paul says, masks do work, just not as good as we would like. 20% is still better than 0%.   The masks, however, do keep an infected person from spreading the virus. 95% of outgoing infectious particles are indeed stopped by the standard masks. Additionally, several anecdotal events have shown that to be so. Two hairstylists who both had COVID-19 did not transmit their virus to a single person of their 139 clients that patronized their business.  Both had dutifully worn masks during their encounters with customers.  Although no double-blinded controlled studies have been done, it seems fairly certain that masks are protective in keeping the virus confined to the infected person.  A mask protects the non-infected person to a lesser extent, but still 20%, certainly not as good as the N-95 masks at 95% but nevertheless not insignificant. No one knows if they are free of the virus or asymptomatic carriers, even if they have a negative PCR (Covid test) the day before. To assume that you are not dangerous to others is not only impolite and selfish but potentially threatening to others, just like carrying a loaded gun and pointing it at passers-by.

The bottom line on the mask is that it is not fully protective, especially in protecting you from getting infected, but it does stop a large percentage of infected people from giving it to you. Asymptomatic people can and do carry the infectious virus, and you cannot know if you are a carrier unless you test daily.

 With new variants of Covid that are more infectious and may be resistant to vaccines, it is too early to give up the public health measures that we know work to some extent.  Believe me, you will not want to wear an N95 mask. So “suck it up” and wear a standard mask!