It baffles the mind whether it’s willful blindness or anterograde amnesia but while drawing parallels with coronavirus outbreak, mainstream media appears to vividly recall Spanish flu of 1918 from a century ago and doesn’t seem to have an inkling about a much more pertinent example of H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009-10, even though it shared a lot of common characteristics with COVID-19 pandemic.

Although official statistics are much lower, according to subsequent peer-reviewed studies [1], H1N1 swine flu outbreak of 2009 infected 700 million to 1.4 billion people world-wide and caused 1,50,000 to 575,000 fatalities only in the first year of the outbreak in 2009.

Cumulative number of fatalities in subsequent years could be well above a million of which hundreds of thousands of deaths could have occurred in the worst affected countries, the US, Mexico and Brazil, though unreported because extensive testing wasn’t done at the time of the outbreak.

Even though vaccine was invented in 2010, the H1N1 virus was eventually defeated, particularly in the developing world, by natural immunity and not be medical remedies. WHO reclassified it as “variant of seasonal flu” and the dreaded designation “pandemic” was removed in August 2010.

The reason why corporate media and international health organizations shirked their responsibility to create public awareness on the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in the US, Mexico and Brazil was due to the fact that the US economy was going through economic recession that began in 2008 and lasted into 2009, whereas the swine flu epidemic began in March 2009 and lasted into 2010.

Extensive media coverage of the outbreak could have further exacerbated the recession, which it did in part, but thankfully no sweeping lockdowns or quarantine measures were enforced then. Mainstream news outlets were hushed up from reporting on the H1N1 epidemic by then newly elected Obama administration, and self-censorship from a decade ago appears to have restrained corporate media from mentioning the name of swine flu pandemic even now.

Whether it’s swine flu of 2009 or coronavirus outbreak of today, pandemics are like a deluge that can be managed to minimize the damage but cannot be contained. All it takes is a small crack in the embankment for the force of nature to unleash its fury and eliminate all obstacles coming in its way.

When the epidemic is surging exponentially, the contagion infects millions of people within the short span of several months, of which only a minuscule fraction exhibits symptoms and is diagnosed with the infection, while the rest are asymptomatic and go unnoticed. But they develop resistance against re-infection, thus contributing to achieving herd immunity.

Had political correctness been the remedy, designating coronavirus outbreak as seasonal flu would solve the dilemma, as WHO reclassified swine flu pandemic as common cold in August 2010 and gave the international economy breathing space in the aftermath of 2008-9 global recession.

Technically, a patient tested positive for HIV virus isn’t said to be suffering from AIDS. AIDS is the severe form of the infection when dormant HIV virus becomes active, begins replicating and starts causing harm to the body tissues and organs. Similarly, a patient tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 isn’t actually suffering from COVID-19, unless the patient develops symptoms of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Treatment and hospitalization is only needed for severe cases of COVID-19, and asymptomatic and mild cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection simply have to be quarantined for a couple of weeks either at homes or at quarantine centers until their natural immunity overcomes the virus so they don’t pose a risk of spreading infection among communities.

Periodically, epidemics come and go. They are defeated by body’s natural immune system and don’t need treatment. Certain contagions, like Ebola with case fatality ratio of 90%, require preventive measures, such as quarantines and lockdowns, but the rest, like H1N1 swine flu, H5N1 bird flu and SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19 with infection fatality ratio of less than 0.2%, are treated like common cold that causes tens of thousands deaths every year in the US alone. Common cold influenza spreads across the world in yearly outbreaks, resulting in about three to five million cases of severe illness and about 290,000 to 650,000 deaths.

Even though the infection fatality rate of H1N1 swine flu was lower, at 0.02%, compared to COVID-19’s 0.2%, if the total number of cases in the calculation is reduced from 1.4 billion to a few hundred million and the actual number of fatalities caused by swine flu in 2009-10 is accurately calculated, then H1N1’s infection fatality rate would probably be comparable to COVID-19’s fatality rate. Infection fatality rate of COVID-19 could even be less than 0.1% once the outbreak subsides and accurate number of infections and fatalities are correctly known.

Even the most accurate COVID-19 test RT-PCR only has an accuracy level of 50-60%, especially in asymptomatic individuals or if the virus has penetrated deep into respiratory tract. Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, RT-PCR (viral testing), is considered the gold standard of diagnosis for COVID-19 and other viruses. Although it has high sensitivity and specificity in a laboratory setting, chances of finding virus in specimens are: 90% in Bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, 70% in sputum and 50-60% in nasal swabs, though used most frequently.

If extensive sero-epidemiological studies are done, it would be found out that actual prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 is much higher than 25 million reported infections, perhaps comparable to H1N1 swine flu’s 700 million to 1.4 billion world-wide infections.

At the peak of the outbreak in March and April, Italian doctors reported the actual number of cases could be as high as 6,50,000, particularly in the worst-hit Lombardy and Milan regions, though total cases in Italy until August are still reported to be only 2,67,000.

Similarly, Iranian epidemiologist Ehsan Mostafavi recently said: “About 15 million Iranians may have experienced being infected with this virus since the outbreak began.” That amounts to 1 in 5 Iranians or 20% of Iran’s population.

Coronavirus may have infected ten times more Americans than reported, according to a report [2] by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Thus, the actual number of infections in the US as well as Europe could be ten to twenty times higher than the official statistics, which is enough for the viral infection to reach endemic steady state and for the population to develop herd immunity against the contagion.

An extensive study [3] in Spain shows 5% population has developed antibodies, which means number of infections is ten times higher than reported 4,40,000 cases. People in urban areas have up to 10% prevalence of antibodies.

Though widely believed to have originated in Wuhan in January, the exact date and place of origin of SARS-CoV-2 are also doubtful. A Spanish research team found [4] traces of the virus in a March 2019 sewage sample whereas the outbreak began in the Chinese city of Wuhan in January 2020. In fact, several Chinese diplomats recently cast doubts over the widely accepted theory that the flu virus mutated by consuming bats in wet markets of China.

Coronavirus outbreak is fundamentally the failing of highly commercialized medical science. Billions of dollars are invested in Big Pharma. But for what purpose, to make skin care products and aphrodisiacs, for performing needless cosmetic surgeries; and hundreds of billions are spent on manufacturing state-of-the-art weapon system as deterrence against adversaries. Yet no preparations were made for dealing with a contingency as catastrophic as a pandemic. That’s criminal negligence, and we have nobody to blame but the capitalist social order and commercialization of essential public services.

Even though corporate media promptly declared Trump’s “drug of choice” antimalarial chloroquine for treating a viral infection to be a hoax, its own prescriptions fared no better than placebos. For instance, dexamethasone would be as effective against coronavirus infections as it is in treating arthritis. Competent orthopedics seldom prescribe it because it’s a steroidal drug having more adverse effects than therapeutic ones. Apparently, the manufacturers of remdesivir and dexamethasone in Big Pharma paid millions of dollars bribes to the mainstream media to market the drugs, which in turn is inclined to sensationalize any news story pertaining to COVID-19.

The only remedy that has proved effective in treating COVID-19 thus far has been convalescent plasma therapy. Plasma therapy works on the principle that antibodies contained in the blood of previously infected person would provide resistance against infection through transfusion of convalescent plasma into a COVID-19 patient’s circulatory system.

Thus, it basically works on the same principle that vaccination does, though plasma therapy would be classified as therapeutic vaccine instead of more common prophylactic ones for treating widespread epidemics. A word of caution, though, it should only be used in severe cases of COVID-19 as prescribed by physicians. Because the treatment is still in experimental stages and antibodies could prove potentially harmful in patients with mild symptoms of the disease.

Globally, the leading causes of 56 million deaths every year are: 15 million deaths from heart diseases and strokes; 5 million from lung diseases; 2 million from dementias; 1.5 million from diabetes; over a million each from diarrhea, tuberculosis and AIDS; and 1.5 million deaths in road traffic accidents. In comparison, coronavirus pandemic has claimed less than a million lives thus far but is getting undue media coverage due to politicization of the pandemic debate.

Footnotes:

[1] H1N1 swine flu caused 1,50,000 to 5,75,000 fatalities:

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/spotlights/pandemic-global-estimates.htm

[2] Coronavirus may have infected 10 times more Americans than reported, CDC says:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-cases-idUSKBN23W2PU

[3] An extensive study in Spain shows 5% population has developed antibodies:

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/06/health/spain-coronavirus-antibody-study-lancet-intl/index.html

[4] A Spanish research team found traces of the virus in a March 2019 sewage sample:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-spain-science-idUSKBN23X2HQ

Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and Middle East regions, neocolonialism and petro-imperialism.


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