Could natural immunity defeat COVID-19 in the USA?

Following the wisdom of mothers in the days of my childhood would be far less costly and disruptive than what is being done today to contain the Wuhan Virus, and it might be more effective.

Back then, in the late 1950s, I remember my mother sending me to play with a neighbor kid who'd broken out with chickenpox.  She wanted me to get infected so I would become immune.  Sure enough, a few days later, I developed chickenpox and a short time later, I was immune for life.  Large numbers of mothers doing the same thing helped limit the spread of the disease by developing "herd immunity," where infection rates dropped because the contagion was finding few non-resistant people to infect and transmit it.  That helped control the spread of the disease before we had a vaccine.

That's quite a contrast with the draconian public restrictions being imposed by our nation's leaders and the economic upheaval being caused by our attempt to control the spread of the Wuhan Virus, also labeled COVID-19.

Our foundational problem in dealing with the Wuhan Virus is that we have placed too much faith in our medical experts to protect us, and discovering how powerless they are against it has left us feeling vulnerable and threatened.  Complicating that, our leaders are relying on the advice of doctors who are using statistically questionable data.

The panic-buying and economic disruption we are already experiencing are highlighting our need for some sanity, so let's start by looking at how viruses operate.  When it comes to fatalities, they are like lions hunting prey.  Lions don't attack the strong animals that are fast enough to run away or large enough to fight back and possibly kill them.  Instead, they look for older animals that can't run as fast or the weak who can't fight back. This is why the people at greatest risk of suffering major symptoms or dying from the Wuhan Virus are the elderly and those whose immune systems are compromised because of their age, lifestyle-induced disease, or system suppression.

The immune systems in our bodies are amazingly powerful at defending us because they are constantly looking for invaders and developing antibodies to attack them.  Sometimes, you don't even know an invader has been detected, and you may be sick for only a few days as your immune system fights it.  Best of all, once that invader is defeated, we become immune to it for a period of time ranging from a few years to the rest of our lives.  An example of limited immunity is tetanus, so we need a new vaccination every five to ten years.  The reason we are told to get a flu shot each year is because the virus mutates from year to year, and you may have no residual immunity from the last time that variation came around.  We don't yet know how long we will remain immune after being infected with the Wuhan Virus.

Where doctors are creating fear is when they make predictions about how many people might die from the Wuhan Virus, so let's take a closer look at the numbers they are using.  Most predictions are based on the reported mortality rates in China, which are at about 3.8% of those who were infected.  (You can view the latest global numbers on the Johns Hopkins coronavirus website.) There are several problems with that number, the first being that the sample is limited to only those people who displayed symptoms and got a positive test result.  There has been no sampling of the general population to include those people who were infected but had no symptoms or did not seek medical attention.

In addition, it is not possible to use data about one population to predict outcomes for a different group where significant variances exist between the two.  That's the problem with using data from Italy to predict disease rates and outcomes for the United States.  Currently, Italy has the world's highest virus mortality rate at 7.3%, and its population is generally older, so it is more susceptible to infection.  People age 65 and older make up 22.75% of the Italian population, their median age is 45.4 years, and they have high rates of lifestyle-induced illnesses from things like a high tobacco consumption rate.  In contrast, just 16% of Americans are age 65 or older; our median age is 38; and we have fewer smokers, but our rates of lifestyle-induced illnesses are similar.  As of Monday, the death rate in the U.S. was 1.7% and, like Italy, concentrated among the oldest and sickest.  Even that rate contrasts with the 0.9% mortality rate reported in South Korea.

Our national health leaders keep telling us that mortality rates from the Wuhan Virus will be some multiple of the flu.  The CDC estimates that more than 34,000 Americans will die from the flu this season, where, as of Monday morning, just 70 Americans had died from the Wuhan Virus.  At 1.7%, that's just more than half the mortality rate from the flu and a tiny fraction of the number who die each day from heart disease, cancer, and other diseases that are largely caused by poor lifestyle.  Yet we overlook them because they are familiar, and we accept them as inevitable, so we do not allow them to cause us angst until we or someone we love must battle them.

As of Monday, the Wuhan Virus had been detected in every state in the continental U.S. except West Virginia, so it appears to be "in the wild."  Control measures like social distancing will be limited or powerless to prevent it from spreading.

One thing of which we can be certain amid all this turmoil is that the immune systems in our bodies are already working full-time to protect us by destroying this latest viral invader.  If this happens on a large scale, herd immunity will help us moderate and control the spread of the disease — and it doesn't cause economic disruption.  Unfortunately, social distancing works to prevent this from happening just when we need it the most.

Following the wisdom of mothers in the days of my childhood would be far less costly and disruptive than what is being done today to contain the Wuhan Virus, and it might be more effective.

Back then, in the late 1950s, I remember my mother sending me to play with a neighbor kid who'd broken out with chickenpox.  She wanted me to get infected so I would become immune.  Sure enough, a few days later, I developed chickenpox and a short time later, I was immune for life.  Large numbers of mothers doing the same thing helped limit the spread of the disease by developing "herd immunity," where infection rates dropped because the contagion was finding few non-resistant people to infect and transmit it.  That helped control the spread of the disease before we had a vaccine.

That's quite a contrast with the draconian public restrictions being imposed by our nation's leaders and the economic upheaval being caused by our attempt to control the spread of the Wuhan Virus, also labeled COVID-19.

Our foundational problem in dealing with the Wuhan Virus is that we have placed too much faith in our medical experts to protect us, and discovering how powerless they are against it has left us feeling vulnerable and threatened.  Complicating that, our leaders are relying on the advice of doctors who are using statistically questionable data.

The panic-buying and economic disruption we are already experiencing are highlighting our need for some sanity, so let's start by looking at how viruses operate.  When it comes to fatalities, they are like lions hunting prey.  Lions don't attack the strong animals that are fast enough to run away or large enough to fight back and possibly kill them.  Instead, they look for older animals that can't run as fast or the weak who can't fight back. This is why the people at greatest risk of suffering major symptoms or dying from the Wuhan Virus are the elderly and those whose immune systems are compromised because of their age, lifestyle-induced disease, or system suppression.

The immune systems in our bodies are amazingly powerful at defending us because they are constantly looking for invaders and developing antibodies to attack them.  Sometimes, you don't even know an invader has been detected, and you may be sick for only a few days as your immune system fights it.  Best of all, once that invader is defeated, we become immune to it for a period of time ranging from a few years to the rest of our lives.  An example of limited immunity is tetanus, so we need a new vaccination every five to ten years.  The reason we are told to get a flu shot each year is because the virus mutates from year to year, and you may have no residual immunity from the last time that variation came around.  We don't yet know how long we will remain immune after being infected with the Wuhan Virus.

Where doctors are creating fear is when they make predictions about how many people might die from the Wuhan Virus, so let's take a closer look at the numbers they are using.  Most predictions are based on the reported mortality rates in China, which are at about 3.8% of those who were infected.  (You can view the latest global numbers on the Johns Hopkins coronavirus website.) There are several problems with that number, the first being that the sample is limited to only those people who displayed symptoms and got a positive test result.  There has been no sampling of the general population to include those people who were infected but had no symptoms or did not seek medical attention.

In addition, it is not possible to use data about one population to predict outcomes for a different group where significant variances exist between the two.  That's the problem with using data from Italy to predict disease rates and outcomes for the United States.  Currently, Italy has the world's highest virus mortality rate at 7.3%, and its population is generally older, so it is more susceptible to infection.  People age 65 and older make up 22.75% of the Italian population, their median age is 45.4 years, and they have high rates of lifestyle-induced illnesses from things like a high tobacco consumption rate.  In contrast, just 16% of Americans are age 65 or older; our median age is 38; and we have fewer smokers, but our rates of lifestyle-induced illnesses are similar.  As of Monday, the death rate in the U.S. was 1.7% and, like Italy, concentrated among the oldest and sickest.  Even that rate contrasts with the 0.9% mortality rate reported in South Korea.

Our national health leaders keep telling us that mortality rates from the Wuhan Virus will be some multiple of the flu.  The CDC estimates that more than 34,000 Americans will die from the flu this season, where, as of Monday morning, just 70 Americans had died from the Wuhan Virus.  At 1.7%, that's just more than half the mortality rate from the flu and a tiny fraction of the number who die each day from heart disease, cancer, and other diseases that are largely caused by poor lifestyle.  Yet we overlook them because they are familiar, and we accept them as inevitable, so we do not allow them to cause us angst until we or someone we love must battle them.

As of Monday, the Wuhan Virus had been detected in every state in the continental U.S. except West Virginia, so it appears to be "in the wild."  Control measures like social distancing will be limited or powerless to prevent it from spreading.

One thing of which we can be certain amid all this turmoil is that the immune systems in our bodies are already working full-time to protect us by destroying this latest viral invader.  If this happens on a large scale, herd immunity will help us moderate and control the spread of the disease — and it doesn't cause economic disruption.  Unfortunately, social distancing works to prevent this from happening just when we need it the most.