Tag Archives: infectious disease

A Post-Pandemic Valentine’s Day Prediction (That I Hope Is Wrong)

I’m sick of this pandemic. I know that’s a poor choice of words, but there’s no better way to say it.

I hate this goddamn virus. It has done so much damage to this world, killing so many people and causing so much suffering. I want it gone as much as everyone else.

Thankfully, the end is in sight. We now have two effective vaccines with which to end this pandemic. A third one is likely be approved very soon. This, along with other treatments, will help get this monster virus under control. It may not happen as fast as we hope, but it will happen.

I eagerly await the day when I can go to a movie theater, hang out at a bar, and not panic every time I forget my mask when I leave my house. Like many others, I find myself watching the trendline of the virus every day. I watched with the same dread as everyone when it went up towards the end of 2020. That was genuinely distressing.

Now, it’s trending downward. As more and more people get the vaccine, that trend is likely to continue and accelerate. Again, it won’t happen as fast as we want, but the data is encouraging. I sincerely hope that the worst of this pandemic is behind us.

That being said, I do have a prediction/suspicion about that trend. I’m not the best when it comes to predicting the future and I freely admit that every time I try. However, if ever there was an instance where my prediction turned out dead wrong, it’s this one.

That’s because I predict we’re going to have one last surge of COVID-19 cases before we can say the pandemic is over.

It probably won’t be nearly as big as the one we saw in late 2020. The vaccines will make certain of that. I still think we’ll see one last spike. Moreover, I think that spike will come as a direct result of Valentine’s Day.

I know those who are single, lonely, and/or not a romance fan like I am already despise this holiday. I personally have mixed feelings about it, being both single and a romance fan. At the same time, I don’t deny that some people take it seriously. Others just use it as an excuse to get frisky. It can be a beautiful thing most of the time.

There’s nothing wrong with getting extra romantic on Valentine’s Day when there’s not a pandemic going on. Unfortunately, this is not one of the times. It’s for that reason I believe the weeks following Valentine’s Day will see a surge that will frustrating everyone hoping the current trend continued downward.

Let’s face it. Being romantic on Valentine’s Day doesn’t exactly accommodate social distancing. Unless your fetish involves washing hands, it’ll probably create a few extra opportunities for the virus to spread. The same thing happened with the holidays in 2020. All the gatherings and get-togethers basically gave the virus a free ride to infect.

Valentine’s Day may not inspire as much traveling and gathering as Thanksgiving or Christmas, but it’s still an excuse for getting cozy and frisky with that special someone. Let’s face it. When you’re in love and/or horny, you’re not going to think straight. You may forget to wash your hands and cover your face for a while. Many will get away with it, but a few won’t.

Again, I sincerely hope I’m wrong about this. In the coming weeks, as more and more vaccinations occur, the end of this pandemic will draw closer. We’ll continue seeing those numbers drop. It’ll happen gradually, but it will happen. I don’t know when we’ll be able to officially declare this pandemic over, but that day will come sooner rather than later. I just worry that the various activities associated with Valentine’s Day may push that day back.

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Appreciating Dr. Maurice Hilleman: The Man Who Saved Millions Of Lives (With Vaccines)

As someone who regularly consumes superhero media of all kinds, I try to appreciate the real heroes in the real world who regularly save countless lives. Most carry themselves without superpowers, flashy costumes, or charisma on par with Robert Downy Jr. or Christopher Reeves. They just do the work that needs doing to help people who will never know their name.

A couple years ago, I made a tribute to Dr. Norman Borlaug, the famed agricultural scientist who helped usher in an agricultural revolution. This man, who most have never heard of, has saved millions of lives by helping the world produce more food, reduce famine, and combat world hunger. The amount of good this man has done for the world cannot be overstated.

In that same spirit, I’d like to highlight another individual who I doubt most people have heard of. He’s another doctor who, through his work, has helped save millions of lives, many of them children. It’s because of this man that millions of children born today don’t become ill with diseases that had ravaged humanity for generations.

That man is Dr. Maurice Hilleman. While his notoriety is not on the same level as Dr. Borlaug, I have a feeling his profile will rise considerably after the events of 2020. That’s because Dr. Hilleman currently holds the record for developing the most vaccines of any doctor in history.

In total, he helped develop more than 40.

Of those vaccines, 8 are still routinely recommended by doctors today. They combat terrible diseases like measles, mumps, Hepatitis, and chicken pox.

It’s a level of productivity that is unparalleled today. As a result of these vaccines, approximately 8 million lives are saved every year. Even though he died in 2005, he continues to save lives with each passing year through his work. Like Dr. Borlaug, his heroism only compounds with time. Even Tony Stark can’t boast that.

Most people alive today don’t realize just how bad it was before these vaccines were developed. Many diseases, some of which you’ve probably never heard of, were rampant. Before Dr. Hilleman helped develop the vaccine, measles alone infected between 3 and 4 million people every year in the United states, killing at between 400 and 500 at a time.

Children and the elderly were especially vulnerable. It was once just a fact of life that these diseases would come around and kill a sizable number of children. It was as unavoidable as bad weather.

Take a moment to imagine life in those conditions. One day, you or your children would just get sick and there was nothing you could do to prevent it. That was life before these remarkable advances came along.

That’s why when people say that nothing has saved more lives than vaccines, they’re not peddling propaganda. They’re just sharing the results of basic math. It’s because of men like Dr. Maurice Hilleman that these numbers are what they are. However, his name is not well-known, even in a field that has become more prominent.

Most people know who Edward Jenner is and appreciate how many lives he saved by combating Smallpox.

Most people know who Jonas Salk is and appreciate how many people he helped by developing a polio vaccine.

Now, what these men did was remarkable. They certainly deserve the praise and admiration they receive for developing their respective vaccines. However, Dr. Maurice Hilleman still deserves to be in that same echelon. For the number of vaccines he helped develop and the legacy he left, he certainly put in the work and accomplished a great deal.

The diseases Dr. Hilleman battled might not have been as high-profile as Smallpox or polio, but they were every bit as damaging. That makes it all the more frustrating to see efforts like the anti-vaxx movement take hold, which has led to resurgences of diseases like measles in certain communities. That is not the direction we should be going right now.

In the midst of a historic pandemic, the importance of medical science and those who work in it has never been more critical. This might be the best possible time to acknowledge the work of men like Dr. Hilleman. Even after this pandemic has passed, we should all appreciate work like his even more.

None of us have superpowers like Spider-Man or Superman.

Most of us will never be as rich, smart, or resourceful as Iron Man or Batman.

Dr. Hilleman had none of this. Just like Dr. Borlaug, he came from a poor family. At one point, he didn’t have enough money for college. He still persevered and he still managed to do the work that went onto save millions of lives. It might not be a hero’s story on par with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s still a special kind of heroism.

So, on this day as we anxiously wait for this pandemic to end, take a moment to appreciate the work of Dr. Maurice Hilleman. It’s because of him that such pandemics are so rare. It’s also because of him that this current pandemic won’t take nearly as many lives as it could’ve.

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A Disease-Free World: We’re More Ready Than You Think

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It’s such a frightening thought. It terrifies parents, priests, rabbis, mullahs, monks, and conservative republicans. People, especially young people, are having sex at this very moment. If that’s not horrifying enough, they’re having sex for fun.

They’re not doing it with their government-approved, religiously-sanctioned spouse. They’re not doing it to produce more babies that will grow into tax-paying, church-going citizens. They’re just doing it because they enjoy the wonderful, toe-curling pleasure that comes with sex.

The most horrifying thought of all, though, is that they’re doing it and they’re not facing any consequences for it. They’re not getting pregnant because of modern contraception. They’re not getting sick either because of modern medicine. There’s literally no legitimate reason other than stigma to dissuade people from having sex for fun. It’s such a horrifying thought.

Okay, that’s enough sarcasm for now. What I just described is an exaggerated extreme of the mentality of those who are opposed to a society that permits or does not punish sexual promiscuity. It’s a reverse of the thought experiment I pitched last year about a world where the diseases that used to scare people out of having sex are all cured.

I don’t think people realize just how much closer we are to that world than they think. Most people alive today don’t remember a world where the biggest dread wasn’t HIV. It was debilitating diseases like syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. To give you an idea of just how devastating they were, over 20,000 people died from syphilis alone in 1939.

Like small pox, these diseases ravaged generation after generation. Also like small pox, modern medicine eradicated it from our collective fears. In fact, the rise of antibiotics has been largely credited with kick-starting the sexual revolution of the 1960s, more so than contraception.

There are still some scary diseases out there, though. In some respects, those same parents, priests, rabbis, mullahs, monks, and conservative republicans can take a perverse comfort that diseases like HIV/AIDS provides a strong incentive to avoid excessive promiscuity. That comfort, however, won’t last.

 

In a previous post, I talked about an emerging medical tool called CRISPR and how it may hold the key to ending infectious disease as we know it. I also asked a question I’m sure the anti-promiscuity crowd dreads. Are we ready for a world where we don’t have to worry about sexually transmitted diseases?

There are people who believe that our society simply cannot function in a world where there aren’t any scary diseases to dissuade people from having more sex than the Catholic Church sanctions. On paper, their fears aren’t wholly unreasonable.

In a society with so much promiscuity, fewer people will get married. Fewer people will form the stable, nuclear family that every 50s sitcom championed. Without disease, why would anyone forge any stable family units? Then, there’s the children. How traumatic would it be for them if they grew up in a world where people just had sex for fun?

 

That’s not entirely sarcasm. That is a very real concern and I can empathize with it to some extent. A society without disease, but full of rampant promiscuity is just so different. Our society has always had to content with these horrible diseases. The idea that they would no longer be a factor just seems unnatural and uncharted for our species.

However, empathy or not, it’s also a sentiment that I believe is misguided. It’s rooted more in flawed assumptions about a specific cultural ideal than actual human biology. I would argue that human beings, as well as society in general, is more prepared for a disease-free world than the Vatican would have us believe.

I believe this because there is a precedent, sort of. In fact, this may be one of the few instances where caveman logic works in favor of our emerging future and not against it. To understand this, we have to go beyond the ways our hunter/gatherer ancestors functioned. We have to look at the practical aspects of these nasty diseases.

For a disease to be real nasty, it has to both spread easily and within a population of hosts that are able to infect as many potential hosts as possible. When you look at our modern infrastructure, or even our ancient trade routes, it’s easy to see why a nasty disease would choose humans.

It’s also easy to see why diseases would use sex to spread. Like eating, it’s a hardwired drive that built into every human being. The desire to mate is every bit as powerful as the desire to eat. Unlike foodborne disease, though, sex provides more opportunities to infect other hosts. On top of that, rubbing body parts together is a lot more direct than simply sneezing on someone.

However, while modern and even pre-modern infrastructure made sex an ideal mechanism for spreading disease, we have to remember that this situation is actually very recent. The ability to simply travel to other regions, meet other people, and possibly have sex with them is very new in the context of our evolutionary history. For most of that history, though, the story was very different.

That brings me back to the hunter/gatherer lifestyle from which all our ancestors evolved. Books like “Sex At Dawn,” which I’ve mentioned before, describe in great detail the particulars of this lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle that, ironically to some extent, makes sex a pretty lousy method for transmitting disease.

This is because during those hunter/gatherer days, we humans roamed and foraged in small bands of closely-knit tribes. These tribes rarely interacted with other tribes because most were spaced out over large areas. Naturally, roaming lands and foraging for food makes it hard to stay in one place, stake claim to a territory, and fight over it.

On top of that, these close-knit tribes had very low population density, a limited ability to travel long distances, and no elaborate trade networks. That means that within these tribes, a sexually transmitted disease is rightly screwed. Sure, it can infect a tribe, but not much else. If that disease is fatal, it may kill the tribe, but it also kills itself as well. So if a disease as nasty as AIDS did emerge, it never had a chance to spread.

If there were any diseases, they couldn’t be fatal and they couldn’t seriously affect fertility. Like the common cold or the flu, it could only ever be so nasty. Otherwise, it never would’ve survived into the modern era.

Keep in mind, also, that the hunter/gatherer lifestyle was the lifestyle of choice for our species for nearly 90 percent of its existence. Our evolution and biology emerged within this lifestyle. That lifestyle was also conducive to some fairly loose sexual practices, many of which would make the Rick Santorums of the world faint. That’s why it’s not unreasonable to say that our ancestors had better sex lives than we do.

Those sexual practices were rarely conducive to the world of white picket fence type families that is so idealized by western civilization. It’s also not conducive to the world of kings and his multiple wives/concubines/sex slaves. That kind of rigid structure or hierarchy just doesn’t work in in a hunter/gatherer society. That’s why many practice strong egalitarian traditions.

This makes sense in terms of sheer pragmatism. In a society of hunter/gatherers where you’re only working with small tribes, you can’t be too much of a bigot. Everyone has to pitch in. Everyone has to share. You can’t be too big an asshole because you won’t survive without your tribe, nor will you have a chance to have sex. From an evolutionary and society perspective, it’s a pretty good deal.

In this context, human beings are already well-wired for a more promiscuous society. In fact, as “Sex At Dawn” argues half-jokingly, it may be better for us overall. You need only look at the happy, sexy lives that Bonobo chimps live. They have a lot of sex. They rarely fight. Even by hippie standards, they’re pretty chill.

At the moment, we humans can’t live those lives. Our world is too developed, too connected, and too vast for our caveman brains to make sense of. Add nasty diseases that can now use sex to effectively spread and it just isn’t pragmatic anymore, even if our biology favors it.

That may change very soon though. Once tools like CRISPR and contraceptives like Vasalgel are refined, those barriers are gone. We can safely exercise the same libido that our ancestors got to enjoy. What will that do for society? What will that do for the dynamics between men and women? It’s hard to imagine, but it’s a damn sexy idea that’s worth imagining.

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