It’s a nightmare situation with a glimmer of hope: Coronavirus could become a seasonal virus like the cold or flu, but it could have a “possible achilles heel.”
The bad news comes from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the most visible member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus team.
During an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, Fauci warned that the virus was on the brink of something that returns every year, with possibly deadly results.
“Unless we get this globally under control, there’s a very good chance that it will assume a seasonal nature in the sense that even if we, and I — and I hope it’s not just if, but when — we get it down to the point where it really is at a very low level, we need to be prepared that, since it unlikely will be completely eradicated from the planet, that as we get into next season, we may see the beginning of a resurgence,” Fauci said.
“And that’s the reason why we’re pushing so hard and getting our preparedness much better than it was, but importantly, pushing on a vaccine and doing clinical trials for therapeutic interventions so that hopefully if, in fact, we do see that resurgence, we will have interventions that we did not have in the beginning of the situation that we’re in right now.”
Fauci added that while the country is closer to the three things he said it needed to roll back stay-at-home orders — testing, the ability to isolate and to conduct contact tracing — it isn’t “100 percent there yet.”
However, he said that “it’s very clear that we are much, much better off than we were in the sense that in the next week or two, we’ll have an extraordinary amount more capability of doing the kinds of testing that’s essential.”
“Because testing is not only important to be able to identify individual cases, isolate them and contact tracing. But we really do need to get a feel for what the penetrance of this infection is in society. That becomes critical when you plan to start to get back to normal or at least take those first steps to getting back to normal.
“You have to know what’s out there. You have to know what you’re dealing with,” he continued. “So testing becomes even more important than what we’ve been speaking about in the past.”
In the midst of that sobering news, meanwhile, a glimmer of hope was coming out of Scripps Research in La Jolla, California.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, researchers there say they’ve discovered a spot in the novel coronavirus that “is a possible Achilles heel” and could be targeted by drugs.
Biologist and team leader Ian Wilson told the newspaper the discovery came, in part, because he had examined an antibody from a patient afflicted with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome — the disease, known as SARS, caused by a virus similar to the one that causes COVID-19. That antibody latched onto a specific point in the SARS virus.
It turns out the antibody does the same thing to the novel coronavirus. Although it didn’t latch onto the virus quite as tightly, it means the spot could be a weak point.
“That high degree of similarity implies that the site has an important function that would be lost if it mutated significantly,” Wilson said.
Alas, it’s not the beginning of the end, or even the end of the beginning. Researchers need to do quite a bit more work to see what the spot on the virus means, if anything. For starters, it’s not a spot that’s particularly easy to find.
“We found that this [spot] is usually hidden inside the virus, and only exposed when that part of the virus changes its structure, as it would in natural infection,” Meng Yuan, who worked on the project, said in a statement.
However, the researchers are now in the process of soliciting COVID-19 survivors to donate their blood, which would be screened for potential antibodies.
There is, it seems, a glimmer of hope. It comes as we enter what’s likely to be the darkest week of this virus.
You’ve heard it a million times, and you can count this as a million and one: Stay safe, stay in your home, wash your hands, don’t go out unnecessarily. Don’t take risks.
There’s a good reason for that, as you all well know. There’s not a vaccine around the corner and, if we aren’t able to get to the point where there’s universal testing, contact tracing and quarantining of patients, this is going to become a seasonal disease. Unlike the cold or flu, we can’t countenance the return of coronavirus every single year.
It’s a race against time. We can only hope we win.
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