Coronavirus and Bats

I’ve been following the virus for over eight weeks now. Originally I thought that it would be very limited, but that changed about 6-7 weeks ago, when the numbers began to rise and we found out more about it. The infected seem to consist of a lot that are in recovery, but does’t seem to push the continuity risk to the average population above about 3.4% mortality.

This is good news in some way, as SARS was 10% fatal and MERS 30%, but MERS had about 5,500 cases over 7 years and SARS 8,500 cases over 7 months. This is way more infectious, having 34,000 cases in 2 months, so works out effectively as 3 times the seriousness of SARS. If it’s handled badly by the world, it may well turn out to be the deadliest epidemic as far as the numbers go in history, so 2020 may not be forever remembered in history in a good way, but with horror.

I did a previous articles on news sites over the last few weeks about similar occurrence of coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS in markets where wild bats were being sold in close quarters at domestic animal markets, expecting pigs to be found to be the stepping stone, so the pangolin or scaly anteater angle is not surprising as you can catch things like leprosy off them via the ticks and parasites that they carry, and wild ones carry a lot. Pigs still might fly, as there might be more than one animals used as stepping stone, crowded combined markets providing the required easy route. Things have changed, so I decided to put this article on my website.

On the plus side, it’s likely that there are a large number of people who are infected, but the effects aren’t considered enough to test, so the mortality rate may be lower. On the negative side, governments are prone to hide figures and deaths, as they create a bad impression of them, and people who can transmit the disease don’t necessarily show any effect, so can travel freely and infect other before they are quarantined.

Close contact areas such as ships, planes, trains, buses, shopping centres, meetings, all then become an easy transmission point. In a globally mobile society that turns a benefit into a definite disadvantage.

The mortality rate among the average population has stayed low at 2.1%, and that doesn’t seem to have changed much over the past month. Different populations may be less or more effected. The worrying thing is that virtually all those deaths are among the over 80’s and people in poor health, which pushes the mortality rate up to 50% in that group, so major contingency plans need to be made to protect them.

The mortality rate hasn’t changed much over the past 2 weeks averaging around 2.1%. But most of the cases are in China, which has a median age of about 37. This suggests it may be a localised figure. Compare it to the age structure of Japan or Germany at 47, or the UK at 40 and it makes a difference, as it shifts the risk potential if it arrives elsewhere, especially in Europe.

In a normal well ordered society 2% is probably going to be pretty standard, but if things don’t go well and the numbers take off, the hospitals and treatment centres may become overwhelmed, in which case the 10% of infections that cause major concern could suddenly be untreated, allowing that figure to double or triple.

It’s unlikely that it has been contained as the infection rate seems to be still increasing at a consistent rate of 10% per day for a couple of weeks without changing much, despite all the restrictions being imposed, but we’ll see what happens in the next 2 weeks.

February 8th, 34,500 cases. If things aren’t really done in the next 2 weeks, we will probably have 130,500 cases at the end of that time, 11 in the UK. Then it would possibly about September for most people in the UK to have had it and have gone worldwide.

This is not inevitable, or the end of the world, but doing nothing or preparing poorly, it may become very uncomfortable.

It is very similar to the common cold, surfaces not likely to be a transmission method over 24 hours on a hard surface like plastics, probably a maximum of 12. Things like cloth probably half or less than that. Viruses find skin toxic, so a virus like this on the skin is not likely to survive over about 15 minutes, but a lot can be done in 15 minutes.

Viruses are very small, so can easily pass through things like masks, but what carries them and how they are ingested mainly is not, so they are very useful, natural fibres being better than artificial. They are very dependent on a supporting structure, such as something containing moisture, so bodily fluids are ideal. Most will travel on microscopic droplets, from coughs, sneezes, drinking, eating, etc. These droplets can stay on surfaces as said previously for a while, but if you rub your nose, drink from an infected cup or plate, breathe in those droplets, then you are at risk. Fabric gloves are good, better maybe than medical ones, especially if they are dried out on a radiator. Natural surfaces work better than artificial, matte better than shiny, moisture absorbing better than repelling, especially if dried. Hot dry, or drying air is very bad news for viruses, cold moist, or warm wetting air being good for them.

Dehumidifiers and UV light can really give them a bad day.

Proximity and contact is key. A sneeze can travel up to 2 metres, more if there is air circulation. Cold tends to slow down the self-destruct of viruses, waiting for the warmer environment of a host. This is why we tend to get it more in winter, cold giving a longer opportunity for infection, so hopefully as the weather gets better the transmission rate will decrease. Add to that people congregating in more tight groups. In hot countries the infection rate is pretty steady for things like this, only in colder countries do you get this enlarged window of opportunity. It’s a statistics and probability game.

I think it unlikely if things don’t change the UK will have a problem before the end of April, so there may not be an emergency if things are done right. So there are a number of things that can be done before and if things kick off. At the moment all there is, is an undefined risk.

  1. Slowly stock up with non-perishable long date products. Don’t go mad, as you’ll make the problem worse for yourself as well. Grabbing all you can, will mean the next time stuff arrives, you may not be first in the queue and go without. Slowly and gradually, rotating dates. And do it in lax times, crowds are bad.
  2. If it does arrive, and this is not guaranteed, limit the number of trips and contacts you make, avoiding crowed areas. Don’t shop daily. Do it weekly or monthly, and somebody you consider the fittest. 20-30’s the best. 1 point of contact being less likely statistically, than 7 points of contact.
  3. Don’t spend too much time unnecessarily socialising. Coffee mornings and groups are close contact. Going out with friends similar, stick to 1 or 2 at most.
  4. Get the basics for making meals, such as flour and yeast. Not just short-lived ready meals and bread. Dried or canned is best.
  5. If you are ill don’t soldier on and go into work. When you are better, you will find a bigger number are out that you have infected. If they do the same, a lot of people may be out stopping things from running. The convoluted supply chains are very fragile in a dependent and technological society. A few bolts can be the difference between a delivery by lorry, and delivery by horse and cart, or handcarts, if at all.
  6. One case at a school, college or university will be very bad news. If that happens, stop going for a while.
  7. Water will probably not be affected, but keep bottles just in case and invest in a filter jug or something.
  8. Deliveries of food will be essential, especially for the elderly or poor health. Not preparing for this will make the problem a lot worse. If you have elderly or relatives in poor health in their own homes, set up a system to take care of them with a limited point of contact. If they are in a nursing home or hospital they could be very much in the front line. Probably live in staff will become essential. Deliveries being first scanned and checked, non-perishables left for 24 hours. Perishables being carefully handled and cooked from delivery drivers with enhanced protection.
  9. Have a drop off point set aside for anything that’s delivered, including post, into a box that set aside for 24 hours before being looked at. Replace it with another box, dry, disinfect and rotate them.
  10. If it does arrive, and you need to go into public or crowded areas, wear a mask, surgical or dust. And use gloves, putting them on something like a radiator to dry completely or in a tumble drier between uses. Don’t necessarily dispose of them, but rotate them and leave them for a number of days between use. Even if somebody did sneeze on you, after a few days, a mask or gloves would be very unlikely to transmit a virus, especially if dry.
  11. A fabric mask is probably better than a paper based one, as you can wash the mask, but consider using a brine solution to do so and drying completely. I wouldn’t be surprised if this virus has a narrow lung to lung PH conduit.
  12. One aspect that seems important is the influence of UV on the virus. Most places where there seems to be the majority of transfer cases seem to be in a covered area, such as in buildings, airports, etc., where shade or artifical lighting is apparent, and the sun doesn’t sterilise the virus into inaction or damage its RNA or DNA, or movement at night, a time that bats prefer. The animal body is one such area of cover for a virus, the open air reducing the effect. Maybe staying in the open is bad for predators, but good for stopping this new viral predator. Sunshine and fresh air?
  13. Wash exposed areas such as hands, between going out and coming back in. Make sure they are properly dry. Possibly invest in a hand held UV illuminator. Not sure if they work well, but it may be an option. Not to kill the virus, but to age it and reduce it’s infectiveness.
  14. I’m unsure as to the use of barriers, viruses needing a host to survive and can’t last for long without one. A moist or damp environment being preferable to a dry one. How much longer a surface protected from drying out would it last or less likely to transmit on such a surface is unknown. So a barrier cream is an unknown quantity. An antiseptic is there to stop proliferation, and any disinfectant strong enough to kill all bacteria is strong enough to harm the skin.
  15. Water and other utilities are unlikely to fail, but they could, so have alternative back up sources available. Fill up bottles with tap water and put them aside. Baths, showers and washing machines may become a luxury for a while.
  16. Keep informed.

In this world you can’t eliminate all risks, as everything you do has a risk. We live in a world that is gripped in panic about theoretical and small risks, but is blasé about large and actual ones. Some things, especially if it is a pet hate are massively exaggerated, and the proposed solutions benefits are commonly overestimated and overhyped. It’s often hard to tell who is giving you the size of the fish, and in a modern world so detached from the processes, assessing risks is very hard to do. Whatever you do has an impact on this, the more you do the bigger the risk, so all you can do is reduce it as much as is practical. A 2% risk is small, but big enough to take notice and prepare, but it is not the same as a certainty.

The main two bats that have a very similar virus to the human strain of the betacoronavirus are the Greater Horseshoe and the Pipistrelle, both insect eaters. Similar viruses such as SARS has been found in both these species, the viruses being so similar that there is a bigger genetic difference between identical human twins than the viruses. A very similar virus MERS that had outbreaks in the Middle East, is also associated with tomb bats, that share some habitats with Horseshoe and Pipistrelle. Bats are the likeliest carrier as they tolerate most of the versions, rather than anthropoids that get ill. As far as we know, all these bats taken ‘illegally’ from the wild have been reportedly seen in markets where such outbreaks have occurred, but nothing has been caught in the actual act of transmission. Going into wild conditions that quite likely contain virus reservoirs and bringing back wild animals to sell in a cramped food market allowing free cross contamination is not good. It’s probably why worse things like ebola got out, the origin being either wild fruit bats or monkeys sold in similar markets, but like a detective case, months later everything’s moved on and disappeared, it’s hard to pin down. The coronaviruses are all similar to the common cold, which is one variety, and infect the upper respiratory tract, and in bad cases create a cytokine storm in people that have a weakened immune system. The Spanish flu did similar in people with a strong immune system and less healthy people survived better. Most of the dangerous ones cause an overreaction from the body creating cytokines that travel to the infected area where they produce more, so the body ends up damaging and killing itself. But hopefully the effect on the local community has been contained, or what will happen with the rest of the world if it gets out, about 2% or less mortality, mainly the already poor in health. It’s likely Kath is right about wild animals, Ebola (1976-2017) was a warning, SARS (2002-2004) was a warning, MERS (2012-2017) was a warning, this novel betacoronavirus (2019-) is a warning. Probably it will go unheeded until a MERS level virus with the infection rate of the common cold is let loose, maybe wiping out a billion or more people, before governments start to take it seriously.

In an answer to a question about London travel, I doubt restricting tube travel would have that much effect. Research into sneezes suggest that they have a maximum range of about 25 feet at maximum spread. That is the extreme range possible, but the closer you are the greater the percentage chance of infection, so that at 1-2 metres you are in a danger area. Then it’s down to chance and probabilities. Hard surfaces that have received a fluid droplet can stay infectious up to about 24 hours, porous and drying surfaces a lot less, down to skin that can carry viruses for around 15 minutes, so there is a possibility of quick contact to contact to contact on something like a bannister. In a working society keeping over 2 metres from each other isn’t practical, think of the number of places where you are closer in your daily life, ships, planes, trains, cars, coffee shops, supermarkets, cinemas, basically anywhere people are found. A typical school room is something like 30 feet by 30 feet, so it doesn’t leave a lot of leeway for 30 children, and school contact is a key distribution point.

Unless there are drastic measures taken we can expect it to arrive and go around the population quite quickly. The worst affected and need for really severe restrictions and contact are hospitals and nursing homes.

There isn’t a real method for avoiding it, maybe broad-spectrum aerosol disinfectant sprays at entrances may disrupt the infection cycle, but I don’t know if it has been tested.

Viruses spread easier where the surface doesn’t rid itself of moisture as they need a medium to survive, and especially keep their replicative ability when they are not in an animal body, also UV light is particularly bad for them, so it might be better for everybody to wear sunglasses or goggles and have UV illumination.

The Chinese government is a very restrictive and almost ‘Civil Service’ like regime, which was evident on their actions when the outbreak first started, one of official denial and suppression, but they are also the only ones to realise the proportions when it got started, hence the initial draconian actions and preparations. The trouble is, it doesn’t matter how many certificates and letters of ‘there’s no outbreak’ or ‘it’s being dealt with’ the administration produces, the natural world ignores it.  It’s working to a plan that was doomed to fail from the start, because nobody there really understood the problem. They are still a restrictive regime and they still think that they can solve it on their own when it is a whole world problem and it is out of control, but the leaders think they can manage it under collateral damage, but it’s clearly not being done so.

There are too many unknowns, this helped by the secrecy of the Chinese, as very little information is coming out about the impact on the population. It’s very likely that it will spread to the rest of the Chinese population.

But we can work on generalisations, in depth detail being pretty useless, trying to calculate precision being like measuring using a micrometer between each hammer hit.

The mortality rate still is around 2%, and cases increasing at +10% per day. This has been happening for nearly three weeks and doesn’t seem to be changing much. The median for fatalities still is around the 75-age mark, and most cases being in the elderly or those with a previous serious medical condition, for which the elderly figure prominently. There is said to be a risk for men over 40, but it may just be that men are more socially active in the current areas of where it is found, so it might cause more cases in that group by number of contacts, rather than simply being an extra risk.

The problem is temporarily contained mostly within the local population, but it’s likely that this is just a matter of time.

There are three main worries with the demographics:

The Chinese population of the area has a median age of about 37.

It is not a very globally active group.

And it’s an area that can receive considerable support from other areas.

It’s likely that since this is such a novel form of coronavirus that there would be little expected toleration or genetic familiarity, but you cannot guarantee that.

The other aspect is that virtually every case reported has come from close contact with another infected person. There is very little evidence that a person passing through an area has left traces that shortly after a person has become infected from. If this were the case, then there would be a faster increase in infection as an average person touches about 500 surfaces a day, half of them touched by other people, so the increase would be exponential. The current rate of transmission is estimated at 3-5 ongoing cases from a contact. If surface contact was likely that would be more in the range 30-50.

I think there may be a problem with the virus dying out over the summer as some people have suggested. This virus seems capable of transmitting in hotter latitudes, Wuhan being warmer than the UK at the moment, and Singapore there a number of connections were made being +80°F, so it is quite likely that summer may cause little barrier. The extra UV may help though.

In every case it’s been bats thought of as the origin. SARS, MERS, and the latest virus has been found in as much as 95% of its DNA in bats in the wild, where nobody has been before the researchers. The best carrier of a disease is something that has an immunity to it, the best transmitter is something similar in both respects to the animal before and after. Let’s give it a proper name, something like ECURT, East China Upper Respiratory Tract virus or something as just calling it a novel coronavirus doesn’t work. The common cold is a coronavirus, so an unusual version would be a novel coronavirus, even if SARS and this novel coronavirus are betacoronoviruses. It would be interesting to know what part of a bat gets infected first between 2 bats, my guess is with close proximity it’s their respiratory system.

We still aren’t sure of the exact infection path that transfers from human to human, is it just airborne droplet transmission, somebody sneezing or coughing it out, and somebody with close proximity immediately breathing it in. The transmission and infection timing form of close very recent personal contact and proximity seems to suggest that, the contamination of surfaces a lot less, but nobody can be sure.

What isn’t know are the jump vectors, or path the virus takes, it is quite possible that it is more than one, all of them conveniently being found together in the close confines of a market. A bit like salmonella. Raw meat, close to cooked meat, eaten in sandwiches, onto humans. That sort of link. Pangolins carry a lot of parasites, snakes not so, but we are looking at a virus that attacks the respiratory tract, and due to the limited number of cases that seem to be contact infections, virtually all being of a form that is direct person to person proximity, sneeze and cough droplets seem to be the best idea of transmission. Contact with surfaces doesn’t seem to do a lot, as the average person touches around 500 surfaces, of which 250 are touched soon after, and we aren’t seeing a 1:100 ratio increase in cases. People have passed through areas 24 hours later and so far there doesn’t seem to be a case of delayed infection. Do pangolins or snakes sneeze or cough a lot or expel easily transmitted fluids, that the next stage in the line picks up?

With MERS, camels have been shown to have a similar virus, but the link between the bats and camels environments have not been shown. It may be the case that the camels actually get the disease from infected humans and not the other way around.

Bats have also been suggested as a source for ebola, but not so close, and the evidence is still out on it.

Just found out that the WHO have called the virus Covid-19, presumably Coronavirus ID number 19. Sounds a bit like Corvid, which a group that includes Ravens and Crows, birds known to be of ill omen. I happen to like them, being one of the most intelligent group of birds, so maybe this is apt.

February 14th, 63859 cases. 1383 deaths. Still +10%, 2.3% Mortality.

There are a number of factors affecting the outcome. Type of virus, method of transmission, infection rate when exposed, mobility of contact, time of year, occupation, severity of infection, susceptibility of group by age and medical circumstances, health care available, numbers involved, informed and active government, informed and careful public, they all play a part.

What we seem to guess:

~+5% infection rate per day. There doesn’t at the moment seem any hope for it being controlled, all you can go on is day to day figures, but it hasn’t changed for 3 weeks. So at the moment unless there is a big improvement it’s likely to arrive here in the next 2 months, possibly peaking over the next 6.

~75 years of age median mortality level.

~2-7% mortality rate. This varies day by day, but the trend at the moment is 3.4%.

~92% complete recovery rate. So far the numbers are too few to really predict it long term, but this is what it is looking like.

80% of those dying are over 75, 20% are under 75.

The numbers are confused by previous serious medical conditions, a thing that happens with age, but all ages with unstable or precarious conditions will have a major risk. In hospital terms you might come across the term ‘stable.’

So a rough guess is:

~1 in 200 chance for those under 75,

~1 in 12 chance for those over 75.

~1 in 7 chance for those with a serious medical problem. By that it’s meant not particularly controlled, just stable.

For the average person there isn’t much of a risk, no more than flu, so it shouldn’t be that much of a worry. For the elderly or seriously ill there is very much a risk, it’s real and tangible, but if precautions aren’t in force they should be worried. Fear is there for a reason, it’s a sign that you should be careful, but it shouldn’t drive your life as everything you do is a risk.

February 16th, 69289 cases. 1671 deaths. +3.2% since yesterday, but still averaging +9.5%, now 2.4% Mortality, probably as medical facilities are straining. The Chance of it being under control 35%, which has steadliy gone down over the past 2 weeks. Chance of it being out of control 65%, which has steadily got worse over the last two weeks.

At today, 18/02/2020, there are signs of the spread being limited, as the past week has changed to a +9% per day increase that is steadily reducing daily, giving a trend of +8.5% case increase per day, but that may simply be down to mass isolation being imposed on the originating area, I expected it to show 89,072 cases and 1781 deaths, with 9 cases in the UK from an estimate of +10% per day and 2% mortality on 20/01/2020 and the figure is 73,436 cases, 1874 deaths and 11 UK cases. The trend for mortality seems to be heading for a levelling off at about 2.7%, mainly based on the original population.

At today, 20/02/2020, the spread has changed to about a +7.3% with few new cases compared to earlier. I expected 107,777 cases, 2,156 deaths and 11 UK cases based on the original estimate and there are only 75,752 cases, 2,130 deaths and 9 UK cases. The trend for mortality still is trending to 2.7%, and recovery after 16 days at about 80%. The containment/non-containment ratio is now slightly favouring contained.

As today, 23/02/2020, the spread has changed to about a +6.5% with fewer new cases, but the trend is still there and originally minimal figure countries are showing larger outbreaks. I expected 143,451 cases, 2,869 deaths and 13 UK cases based on the original estimate of +10% per day, and there are only 78,997 cases, 2,470 deaths and 13 UK cases. The trend for mortality is now trending to 2.8%, and recovery after 18 days at about 90%. The containment/non-containment ratio is now even, but recent outbreaks in other countries suggest that it isn’t being contained, the figures in those countries just not catching up by dint of comparisons to the start of the Chinese outbreak.

As today, 26/02/2020, there are 80,000 cases and 2,800 deaths. Some areas are experiencing the initial fast China growth in numbers. Mortality is now trending 2.9%, containment in China even, but in other countries unlikely as restriction and checking have only just started.

As today, 28/02/2020, there are 84,200 cases and 2,870 deaths, but as much as two thirds of the new cases are now occurring in countries outside China. Mortality is trending to 3.1%, and recovery after 18 days about 88%.

As today, 02/03/2020, there are 90,000 cases and 3070 deaths, with about 50% still recovering or never will, as about 7,000 people are in a critical or serious condition, but the majority of cases are occurring outside China. Mortality is trending to 3.4%, and recovery after 19 days about 85%. We now have 40 cases in the UK, which is in line with predicted figures suggesting that it will really expand in the UK from about May. Completely worldwide has shifted to late September.

As of today, 05/03/2020, there has been 95,500 cases and 3,280 deaths, with about 44% still recovering or never will, as about 6,500 people are in a critical or serious condition. The increase rate is about 4.38% per day. Mortality is trending to 3.6%, and recovery after 19 days about 87%. We now have 90 cases in the UK.

There has been suggested that the mortality rate is a lot lower, between 1-1.4%, and that the majority of cases are unnoticed or not declared, but that would imply a much lower contamination rate than has been experienced. There have been 80,000 cases in China and 3000 deaths. That comes out to 3.75%. I’ve been following the virus since the start of January and it is now trending to 3.6%, but been averaging 3.4% for the past 9 days. At 40 the risk starts to increase, roughtly doubling each additional 10 years. As for infection rates, they are very low, so we can assume that there aren’t that many cases that are undetected. To produce a figure of 1.4% there would need to be 117% more undetected cases, which is 18,000 undetected people contaminating the world.

If you take the increase in cases overall, that in itself means that there should be at least 117% more undetected cases, or 18,000 people worldwide, which should produce at least 5,000 new cases a day at this moment in time. The actual figure of about 2,000 suggests that most are detected, but there are about 7,000 people in the world wandering about with the disease that hasn’t manifested itself yet.

The initial slow start in each country and increase based on small numbers arriving tend to support this view, otherwise you would get an initial effect of something like 100 cases suddenly appearing as a starting point.

This is only a rough article. I’ve been updating it every few days. If there are any glaring errors or mistakes please let me know. It’s now 05/03/2020.

This is now continued on Coronavirus and Risks

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