“What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche (or was it Kelly Clarkson?)
“Please, Addison, a bit more precision here,” our favorite critic implores. “Coronaviruses, of which COVID-19 is one, do not contain DNA. They are RNA viruses.”
While we’re still confounded by our reader’s defense of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), he does have a point here. Living cells contain DNA — deoxyribonucleic acid. The coronavirus has ribonucleic acid (RNA).
The difference is crucial, both for how we fight the virus and its propensity for mutation. But having never pored through a microbiology tome, I’d have to regurgitate a Wikipedia article to explain it in more detail.
Or I could just pick up the phone and call our science advisor, Ray Blanco.
Ray was kind enough to chat with me, despite the 13-hour time difference between Baltimore and the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. He’s staying with his wife’s family. “I’m just a few steps away from the Philippines Sea of the Western Pacific,” he reports.
He tells us COVID is a big topic of conversation on the other side of the world, too. “I only understand a few words of the local language, but they say vaccine,” he tells me. “Everybody’s always talking about vaccines.”
Ray left the United States just as Omicron started rearing its ugly head. He had to spend seven days in a Filipino “quarantine hotel” before he was allowed free access to the country.
Overall, though, he’s not too concerned about Omicron or any other variations that may crop up.
As we explained yesterday, diseases naturally mutate as they spread throughout a population. Ray confirms there can be “recombination where one virus will swap genetic material with another one.” And the COVID virus strains “are following a trend that has been observed in the past with outbreaks of viral, pathogenic, infectious disease.”
That trend is a “tendency to become less deadly over time.”
It makes sense if you think about it. All a virus wants to do is propagate — create more vessels with its genetic material. But it can only do that by hijacking the reproductive processes of living cells. “It does the virus no good to kill you,” Ray says, “because when you die, it dies.”
So natural selection favors milder forms of infection. “It’s best to keep you alive as long as possible and keep you sneezing all over everybody in sight so it can spread.”
Omicron is following that playbook. It’s “insanely transmissible, which is bad,” Ray explains. The major symptom is a dry cough and severe sore throat, as one of our unlucky team members can attest. “But at the same time,” Ray adds, “it’s not nearly as pathogenic as other strains.”
In fact, “it tends to just be an upper respiratory infection. It doesn’t get really deep down into the lungs” — where it would cause more damage. “It’s at the level of the common cold,” he says.
What’s really fascinating to Ray is how Omicron seems to have popped out of nowhere. “It’s directly descended from a B strain that no one has seen out in the wild in more than a year and a half,” Ray says.
In other words, it’s a type of coronavirus that had seemingly died out before it suddenly reappeared with “a massive number of mutations.”
Ray walks through a number of theories, from the strain quietly taking a hold in immunocompromised HIV patients… to it taking a sabbatical in mice before jumping back to humans… to the possibility it was “tweaked in a lab.”
That last one isn’t quite what you think, though. The theory is that scientists deliberately created a more contagious / less lethal form of COVID to crowd out deadlier strains of the disease.
“It’s the perfect mandatory vaccine,” Ray tells us.
We’ll talk more about that tomorrow…
Follow your bliss,
Founder, The Financial Reserve