The world was impacted in the last year with a pathogen that radically changed our lives. Pandemic-level viruses aren’t new. History is filled with example after example where the human race’s delicate health has been afflicted, and death tolls have risen to previously unfathomable levels. If it seems like pandemics and outbreaks are happening every couple of years, it’s because they are. SARS-COV-2, Influenza, MERS, Ebola, Rift Valley fever, Cholera, Yellow Fever, Dengue, Lassa, Zika, Listeriosis are just a few of the outbreaks of the last two years. Most were contained, some spread beyond their initial borders.
Are viruses more prevalent today than in years past? Not really. As I will explain, the viruses in the zoonotic pool are numerous. Many are several orders of magnitude more fatal to humans if they ever mutate to us and make the leap. Our virus threat today is partly our own doing and somewhat our increased awareness of them. Will our ability to sequence these viruses’ DNA and combat them keep pace with our exposure to them? We can leverage science and take steps on a global level to prevent outbreaks and pandemics, but we also need to prepare ourselves for what could be wave after wave of viruses in the future.
While you can’t live your life in a bubble, you can protect yourself somewhat from viruses. In this video, we will take a new look at the threat of viruses, where we are at with preventing and treating outbreaks, and things you can do now to be prepared for when the next wave hits your community.
The Virus Threats
About 30 years ago, epidemiologist and influenza researcher, Stephen Morse, suggested that there were about one million vertebrates’ viruses. He arrived at this calculation by assuming a very modest calculation of about 20 different viruses in each of the 50,000 vertebrates on the planet. That would suggest that there are at least 320,000 different viruses in the virus pool specific to mammals. If you extend that to all known vertebrates and other forms of life on the planet, the number of viruses grows to an order of magnitude somewhere around 10 to the 31st power. That is undoubtedly a hypochondriac’s nightmare, but we can take solace in the fact that the ones most likely to impact the human species are the mere 320,000 or so zoonotic viruses specific to mammals. Most of those are safely locked away in nature. After all, you don’t usually bump elbows with a Pangolin or a Philippine naked-backed fruit bat at the grocery store. They have their habitat, and we have ours, and habitat insulates us somewhat from spreading viruses from species to species. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that we have a history of pushing the boundaries of our habitat. In fact, we assume that the entire Earth is our habitat to reign over as we please. For larger than the total area of Yellowstone National Park, has been deforested. The instance, in the Amazon forest, an area of almost 4,000 square miles, which is where wildfires in Australia burned an area ten times this. While some of this devastation is caused by natural occurrences like dry lightning, most has been caused by arsonists and developers. This type of large-scale destruction causes a complete collapse of endangered species and a forcing of many animals out of their habitats into human-populated areas. Humans come into contact with these animals or the feces of these animals. In doing so, humans become exposed to viruses they would have never encountered naturally in their environment.
Even without forcing the animals to us, we sometimes seek them out. In tourist sites worldwide, you can tour bat caves where bats hang and fly above you. Sometimes they have other natural behaviors like defecation, and that can spread their zoonotic viruses. From exotic petting zoos to exotic meat markets, we bring together hundreds of species that would typically never interact. They then shed their viruses to each other. Not every virus can leap from one species to another, but even one virus making that leap can have deadly results.
It’s not just exotic and wild animals. All domestic animals, including dogs, cats, birds, horses, cows, sheep, goats, and rabbits, can potentially spread diseases to people, but rarely does this occur. The Spanish flu is thought to have begun in Kansas with farmers in contact with pigs. Statistically, the leap from animal to human is very rare, but part of this equation is calculable by the number of viruses to which humans are exposed. It is clear that we expose ourselves to many more viruses than we have in the past.
To truly understand the threat, let me put it in a visual format for you. Imagine that you have been invited to a concert, but there have been a few outbreaks of an unknown virus in pockets around the world. You would still go to the show because, with 5.5 billion people on the planet, your odds of not seeing a person from those particular areas are pretty good. Now imagine that the promoters were going to fly in 100 random people from every country around the world for this concert. Now let’s say you have to also go around and check a thousand people’s tickets and shake their hands and introduce yourself. Maybe you would have a little pause with each new layer of increased interaction. Yet, every day around the world, we are introducing in close proximity animals, including ourselves, to habitats and virus pools that are new to us. Not every virus will leap to humans. If every virus did jump to humans, there would be no humans on the planet. But, of the millions of viruses, it only takes one that our bodies have never seen before, never developed some immune response to before. That one virus, as we have seen, can spread around the world like a wildfire.
The Dark Ages of Medicine
It is, admittedly, unfair for me to compare our current advances in combating viruses to the dark ages, but it will be viewed that way one day. During the Spanish Flu of a little over a century ago, the common curative was a prescription of what is considered today megadoses of aspirin. We know that 3,000 plus milligrams of aspirin every day for several days will cause hemorrhaging. Not surprisingly, that was one of the Spanish flu-listed symptoms– an Influenza type virus. One day we may look back upon our egg-incubation of viruses to develop vaccines as the dark ages of modern medicine. Already, the sequencing of a virus’s genome, the isolation and targeting of a single spike protein, and the development of a messenger RNA vaccine make the egg method seem comical.
The question here is can science keep up. Many of these zoonotic viruses are RNA replicating. That is to say that when it replicates, it isn’t always an exact replica. Its mutations are random. Sometimes a mutation accidentally makes a virus stronger to attack hosts. Sometimes it makes it weaker. These random mutations are why we see so many variants and fear vaccine escape. The most recent potent strains of our latest virus discovered in Great Britain, California, South Africa, Brazil, and a few other places worldwide are only beginning to understand. The fear is vaccine escape. This is where the vaccine initially designed is less effective against the newer strain. Already they are discovering that these vaccines are less effective against the more recent, deadlier strains.
One recent study suggests that the long life span of a virus in an individual with a compromised immune system who never quite beats it provides an ample opportunity for the virus to imperfectly replicate into a more virulent form. The longer a virus circulates in a population, the more variants it can produce. Even the egg method was based on leading scientists working with epidemiologists to determine which of the thousands of influenza viruses were most prevalent in the coming year. At their best, they only managed to achieve about a 65% efficacy rate of their flu shots.
Just as we are seeing antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that cause infection in humans, so too are we beginning to see viruses that are escaping our antiviral medicines. I graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in Microbiology 20 years ago. During my studies there, antibiotic-resistance was one of the most significant concerns in the field of study regarding human infectious diseases. In recent years, some of these same fears have arisen with antivirals and vaccines. The development of antibiotics, antivirals, and antimalarials are some of modern medicine’s greatest successes. Still, they are costly to research, develop, manufacture, and distribute in quantities sufficient enough to create some level of herd immunity, disease prevention, or even comprehensive treatment. Also, the development of vaccines is like trying to hit a moving target. Scientists are developing according to the samples they have while the virus is continuing to mutate into other forms.
We are not likely to see any of the current viruses just going away. In fact, they will likely be circling the globe wave after wave. Some waves will be worse than others. Some virus outbreaks will be contained in regions or countries. There is also the possibility that science can move a little to the driver’s seat by quickly sequencing the DNA of an outbreak’s virus, isolating specific proteins, and developing an mRNA vaccine specific to that strain of the virus.
What Can You Do?
In light of the information presented in this blog, what can someone do to prepare for this inevitably? The first thing to do is to assess the threat accurately. That’s hard to do when information, especially about new outbreaks, is sketchy and inaccurate. Sites like the Center for Disease Control have a “Flu Activity & Surveillance” section where they list activity based upon actual reported test results. That’s great if people are getting tested and if people are getting tested for the correct virus. Google Flu Trends was a thing back ten years ago until they realized many people searched about the flu, even when they didn’t have it. Many people may have thought they had the flu but had some other common illness like food poisoning or even a common cold. This leaves the average person needing to sift through news feeds that are also full of punditry and bias. Still, if the virus you hear about is starting in another country, the news feeds from those countries may provide some insight outside of the vacuum of American media.
When you know that illnesses are potentially spreading in your community, you should prepare to limit your social interactions and activities that would bring you into contact with groups of people. You should wash your hands and use hand sanitizer as often as you can. Always wash your hands when arriving home and use disinfecting wipes on your door knobs, groceries, and mail. If things in your community are getting terrible, you should consider wearing a mask. Mask wearing during flu season is common in many countries where seasonal, large-scale outbreaks are common. Unfortunately, as with many things here as of late in the U.S., it became a political issue. In most countries, the data from the scientific community has informed the populace to help them make decisions about what is best for their health and community. Science is clearer than politics on this. Whether you wear a surgical mask, an N95 mask, a bandana, a scarf, two masks or one, a bio-contamination suit, or a gas mask, basic science shows that a viruses’ transmissible airborne droplets decrease when this layer of protection is implemented.
As for your prepping supplies and since these viruses are likely to get worse rather than better, consider some type of UVC bulb. Ultraviolet bulbs come in A, B, and C, emitting wavelengths. Only the UVC bulbs will give you the germicidal and virucidal protection you want. I have seen some people use these as wands, place them in rooms for a couple of minutes while they are out of it, even install them in the return air vents of their air conditioning units. How do they work? Scientifically speaking, the short-wave ultraviolet light disrupts DNA base pairing, causing the formation of pyrimidine dimers, leading to the inactivation of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Be warned that UVC light is harmful to your skin cells, as well, so you will want to limit your exposure to it. The other reason you should have a bulb in your prepping inventory is that if you couple it with a small solar battery, you have an effective means to treat water for the wild and kill any viruses, bacteria, or protozoa that may be in it.
You should also have the means to care for and treat the sick in your prepping supply. Often, preppers rely entirely upon a first aid kit and consider their medical preps done. To fight the spread of germs, bacteria, and virus infections; however, you will need garbage bags, disinfectant sprays like bleach or isopropyl alcohol, a plastic tarp to seal off rooms and create a quarantine zone, a thermometer, a pulse oximeter, gloves, masks, eye protection, over the counter medicines, and some knowledge and supply of herbal remedies. You will want to create a sick room for any individuals who become ill. Keep the windows open if possible and the air circulating. Some studies indicate that using a humidifier can decrease the virus aerosols in human exhalations by weighing them down.
You will also want up to 3 weeks of food and water in case a community lockdown occurs. You may want to consider other items depending upon how extreme the virus’s wave appears to be. I will link to two videos about what you should have to prepare your home for a pandemic I released on the channel in 2019 and 2020 in the cards above and the description section below. Those, combined with our now very realistic hindsight (don’t forget toilet paper), should provide you with what you need to prepare yourself for a second, perhaps more virulent, wave.
If you feel like you are coming down with something and no one can competently care for you, time is of the essence. Isolate yourself as soon as possible. Immediately prepare yourself a large batch of broth, Gatorade or electrolyte drink, saltines, oatmeal, or some other generic, bland type of food. If a virus hits you hard, even getting out of bed or off the couch will be difficult. Keeping your hydration up and at least a few nutrients will hopefully buy you enough time to allow your immunity system to do its job. If you catch it early enough, some people have had good results with antiviral drugs prescribed by doctors or herbal remedies like Elderberry syrup. Whatever you do, when a virus hits, your time is limited. Make sure someone else knows who can check in on you if you live alone.
If you can choose one caregiver in a family unit, do so. You will want to prevent the virus from spreading throughout your family unit. Wear a mask and eye protection when around the sick individual, wash hands and clothes frequently. You cannot over sanitize.
The reality is that this may be the beginning of a new era where we face these types of illnesses regularly. When the next giant pandemic virus or the second or third wave of an existing virus, or a more virulent strain of a current virus hits, the closest guarantee to survival that you have is to do all you can to isolate yourself from the general population. With the recent advances in gene sequencing and mRNA vaccinations, a vaccine specifically designed for the specific pathogen is more a matter of weeks or months rather than the years it was before. Your best bet is to wait it out. There is no such thing as complete immunity. The number of viruses in the world far outweighs our body’s capabilities to protect itself. When an illness is around you, your best strategy is to take your body out of the battlefield as best you can. Ensure that you have what you need in your prepping supplies, and prepare what you will need to survive a week or two on your own with essential nutrients and proper hydration. One thing I didn’t mention in the video, but it is probably your best defense is prepping your body for battling viruses by being as healthy and hydrated as possible. The effects of a virus can be devastating on other pre-existing conditions and comorbidities. Get healthy for the battle we face.
What is your go-to flu remedy or preventative? What have you learned to keep you and your loved ones safe during peak virus spreading times?
As always, please stay safe out there.