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Mudsock Heights

Credit: Timothy R. Butler based on a photo by NIAID-RML (CC-BY 2.0)

Playing with Matches

By Dennis E. Powell | Posted at 11:46 PM

We’ve all just about had it with hearing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the organism that produces the disease called COVID-19. But, sadly, we’re not done with it yet, nor it with us, nor are we likely to be anytime soon.

Did you see the news reports this week? It seems that some bright folks at Boston University thought it would be interesting to do some engineering on the SARS-CoV-2 virus, to see what happens if you lop off its spike protein and stick it someplace else. I have no doubt that their work is worthwhile, or at least they believe it is. To me it looks like part of an inadvertent “die American” campaign — why import our deadly lab-created viruses when we can make ‘em up here at home?

When the story broke, the coverage centered on how the B.U. scientists had cooked up a “new, more lethal” version of the virus. Boston University denied this, saying that the original virus killed 100 percent of the lab mice infected with it, while the new concoction is fatal to them only 80 percent of the time. So I guess its value in rodent control has not been improved. Perhaps its batting average would be higher if it were tried on people.

Which is something we’d like to avoid, the best I can tell. But the scientific community’s record in dealing with this and other deadly pathogens hasn’t been sterling. And already there’s a bit of blame being passed around. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a government agency recently improved through the upcoming departure of Dr. Anthony Fauci, forked over your money to the B.U. researchers so they could do their experiment. But apparently that agency didn’t bother to find out what the B.U. people at the lab bench were up to.

“[I]t has become apparent that the research team did not clear the work with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which was one of the funders of the project. The agency indicated it is going to be looking for some answers as to why it first learned of the work through media reports,” writes Helen Branswell in STAT. But, hey, the experiments had the approval of — I’m not making this up — the Boston Public Health Commission. Feel better? Me neither.

But we learned our lesson and except for the little hiccup noted above we’re not going to be throwing money at people who hold the view that scientific knowledge is worth it even if it might accidentally cause millions of people to die gasping for air. I mean, surely that’s true, right?

Sure, yeah, that’s the ticket. There’s no reason to be suspicious when in a time of economic crisis the government found it it your heart to give two-thirds of a million of your dollars just last month to the outfit that best I can tell for all intents and purposes laundered money for the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the place suspected of formulating the original SARS-CoV-2 (henceforth to be called “COVID Classic”). The Eco-Health Alliance, whose head, Dr. Peter Daszak, went to enormous lengths to stifle inquiry as to the origin of SARS-CoV-2, was given the money as the first part of what is scheduled to be $3.3 million over several years. Make no mistake: if the Wuhan labs engineered the virus that has killed 6,572,816 people as of last night, we paid ‘em to do it.

(“[T]hey will work on the preparation of their own suicide,” Lenin said of the West. His words seem propetic.)

Ah, but do we really need a new version of COVID-19? Has the old version become too 2020 to be fashionable? Probably not, in that the old version is proving it’s in it for the long haul.

That’s because the original COVID-19, it turns out, has real staying power. “Nearly One in Five American Adults Who Have Had COVID-19 Still Have ‘Long COVID’” reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Other reports put the incidence at at least 40 percent, maybe higher — as with illnesses such as Lyme disease a generation ago, physicians seem inexplicably unwilling to make the diagnosis.

Not that diagnosis is easy. “Long COVID” is, usually, when you have COVID-19 and get better but never quite get well. But there’s more. It sometimes afflicts people whose SARS-CoV-2 infection was asymptomatic or involved only minor symptoms.

Further confounding the situation is that people suffering long COVID may or may not test positive for the virus, because the symptoms of long COVID may appear weeks or months after the initial infection, or in the view of some researchers may hide in parts of the body where testing would be complicated.

Based on the studies that have been done and extensive anecdotal evidence, it seems that long COVID strikes some of the time by exacerbating pre-existing issues. For instance, it can activate other viruses that had been dormant in a person’s body, such as Epstein-Barr, which causes mononucleosis. SARS-CoV-2 has been known to damage internal organs, leaving them damaged or weakened. And it’s been thought all along that the virus could cause inflammatory autoimmune diseases.

A comprehensive rundown was published not long ago in The Scientist. It’s a little terrifying.

Says the CDC: “Post-COVID conditions can include a wide range of ongoing health problems; these conditions can last weeks, months, or longer. . . . While most people with post-COVID conditions have evidence of infection or COVID-19 illness, in some cases, a person with post-COVID conditions may not have tested positive for the virus or known they were infected.”

Indeed, looking at the literature one finds stark evidence of just how little we know about long COVID. “Many ‘Long Covid’ Patients Had No Symptoms From Their Initial Infection,” reported The New York Times. A study of 33,000 people in Scotland that was published a week ago reported that 6 percent of those infected didn’t get better and 42 percent got only partially better. “Previous symptomatic infection was associated with poorer quality of life, impairment across all daily activities and 24 persistent symptoms including breathlessness, palpitations, chest pain and confusion” — the famous “brain fog” — the report said. “The WHO defined long-COVID as ‘a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection … with symptoms that last for at least 2 months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis’” the study’s abstract continued. “The imprecision of this, and other, definitions reflects our poor understanding of the nature of long-COVID and its underlying mechanisms.”

I don’t think it’s overstating things to say that long COVID is a big deal and will continue to be. Read the links above, especially the one on the Scottish study.

U.S. life expectancy has over the last two years dropped by 2.6 percent. The unchecked abuse of fentanyl has played a part in that, but COVID-19’s role is bigger. I think it would be foolish to think that no one is going to die of long COVID; certainly, it reduces its victims’ quality of life. And it is likely to be with us for a very long time.

If giving money to the people suspected of helping bring us SARS-CoV-2 in the first place — or at least aiding in the cover-up by those who did — is the answer, or funding universities to poke and prod at the virus while located in major metropolitan areas, I can’t see it and I doubt you can, either.

It’s a little like giving kids matches to play with it. No, it’s worse: if the fire got away from the kids, only Boston would burn down.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large at Open for Business. Powell was a reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio, where he has (mostly) recovered. You can reach him at

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