Bernardo M. Villegas
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Epidemic of Fear is Worse (Part 2)

          In the Philippines in which 50 percent of the population are less than 23 years, it is also good news that symptoms appear mild in children.  Only 3 % of cases occur in people under 20, and mortality under 40 is only 0.2 %.  Symptoms are so mild in children that it can go unnoticed.  A positive news for those engaged in the manufacture of alcohol and other forms of disinfectant is that the virus can be effectively inactivated from surfaces with a solution of ethanol (62 -  71% alcohol), hydrogen peroxide (0.5 % hydrogen peroxide) or sodium hypochlorite (0.1 % bleach), in just one minute.  Frequent handwashing with soap and water is the most effective way to avoid contagion. In fact, a long-term benefit of this crisis could be the development of frequent washings and other preventive habits among the population so that the spread of future varieties of the virus, including the common flu or colds, will be lessened.

         Speaking as one of the leading researchers at CIMA, Dr. Lopez-Groni also celebrates the fact that we are now in the age of international science cooperation.  After just over a  month, 164 articles could be accessed in PubMed on COVID-19 or SARSCov2, as well as many others available in repositories of articles not yet reviewed.    They are preliminary works on vaccines, treatments, epidemiology, genetics and phylogeny diagnosis, clinical aspects etc.  These articles were elaborated by some 700 authors, distributed throughout the planet.  It is cooperative science, shared and open.  In contrast, in 2003 with the SARS epidemic, it took more than a year to reach less than half that number of articles.  In addition, most scientific journals have left their publications as open access on the subject of coronaviruses.

         Encouraged by his experiences and those of his colleagues in CIMA, he is impressed with the present ability of scientists to design new vaccines.  There are already more than eight projects underway seeking a vaccine against the new coronavirus.   There are also groups that work on vaccination projects against similar viruses.  For example, the vaccine group of the University of Queensland in Australia has announced that it is already working on a prototype using the technique called “molecular clamp”, a novel technology.  This is just one example that could allow vaccine production  in record time.  Prototypes may soon be tested on humans.

         Finally, there is the good news that antiviral trials are underway.  Vaccines are preventive. Right now, priority is assigned to the treatment of people who are already sick.  There are already more than 80 clinical trials analysing coronavirus treatments.  These are antivirals that have been used for other infections, which are already approved and that we know are safe.  One of those already tested in humans is Remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral which is still under study and which has already been tested against Ebola and SARS/MERS.  Another candidate is chloroquine, an antimalarial that has also been seen to have potent antiviral activity.  It is known that chloroquine blocks viral infection by increasing the pH of the endosome, which is needed for the fusion of the virus with the cell, thus inhibiting its entry.   It has been demonstrated that this compound  blocks the new Corona in vitro and it is already being used in patients with coronavirus pneumonia.

         All these optimistic notes of Dr. Lopez-Groni are not based on mere speculations.   They are solidly backed by scientific research both at the Centre for Applied Medical Research at the University of Navarre and in other scientific  laboratories all over the world.  To summarise, there are reasons to think positive and expect that things will go back to normal sooner than later because 1) We know what the COVID-19 is; 2) We know how to detect the virus; 3) The situation is improving in China; 4) Some 80 % of the cases are mild; 5) Infected people heal; 6) Symptoms appear mild in children; 7) The virus can be wiped clean by ordinary cleaning products; 8) Scientists all over the world are cooperating to look for a cure; 9)  There are already vaccine prototypes;  and 10) Antiviral trials are underway.  For historical perspective, the 1918 flu pandemic caused more than 25 million deaths in less than 25 weeks.  Dr. Lopez-Goni poses  a rhetorical question:  Could something similar happen now?  Answer:  Probably not; we have never been better prepared to fight a pandemic.  It is up to us to fight the ongoing epidemic of fear.  Facts, yes; fear, no. For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia