Epidemics of exotic viruses in the media are being watched like the end of the world, although scientists already know how to work with them: the genome of the Chinese coronavirus was deciphered in ten days. At the same time, people treat a common cold with antibiotics from a pharmacy every day, without even figuring out whether they have a virus or bacterial infection. Even primitive bacteria are now deadly for us: they have learned to ignore antibiotics.
So what is actually more suitable “for the role of the rider of the Apocalypse”? And how fast can scientists create new drugs?
Why bother distinguishing bacteria from viruses?
You just need to treat pneumonia!
Both pneumonia and bacteria can cause pneumonia (i.e., pneumonia), but they need to be treated in completely different ways.
BACTERIAs are living single-celled organisms. Once in a person, they multiply, simultaneously damaging cells and tissues – this is how the disease develops. To fight bacteria, scientists are developing special poisons – antibiotics that kill the pathogen itself inside the body. But the more often we use them, the faster the bacteria develop antibiotic resistance.
VIRUSES – quite another, they can hardly even be called alive. It’s just a shell inside which genes are DNA or RNA. Once in the body, the virus introduces genetic material into the cells and forces them to stamp their copies. It is impossible to clear the virus from drugs with an infected body; antibiotic poisons do not work on them. Therefore, scientists came up with vaccinations – so that when they meet, the body of a healthy, vaccinated person immediately recognizes the virus and prevents it from multiplying.
What is more dangerous for humanity – new exotic viruses or old bacteria resistant to antibiotics?
The question is similar to the children’s question “Who is stronger – a whale or an elephant?”. Bacteria, such as pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella or Acinetobacter, take more lives than new viruses that appear every few years, kill several hundred or thousands of people and disappear. Of course, there is a story with the Spanish flu, which killed millions at the beginning of the 20th century. But then there was a war, the usual way of life was replaced, everything was mixed up. In addition, typhoid fever caused by the Salmonella bacterium was then dying like flies.
Most of the new exotic viruses had their original hosts. The increasing pressure of man on the wild increases the number of contacts between people and exotic animals – where they still remain. At first, these new viruses are highly pathogenic, that is, they greatly harm the health of the infected person. But, adapting to humans, they tend to become less dangerous, because for a successful epidemic, it is important for the virus not to kill the infected host, but to spread to as many individuals as possible.
For ordinary people, the likelihood of catching a bacterial infection that will be resistant to all major antibiotics is now much higher than contracting an exotic virus that has flared up in Africa or China.
But why then is there such a panic around new epidemics? And how do scientists come up with cures for unknown viruses?
The problem with viruses is that we do not know how to specifically destroy them inside the patient. This is a fundamental difference from bacterial diseases, where antibiotics really kill the pathogen. Therefore, the best way to prevent viral infections is to vaccinate healthy people.
Modern methods of molecular biology make it possible to create potential vaccines against new viruses in six months or even less time. However, then it will take several more years to prove the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, to certify it, to introduce it in the schedule of vaccinations, to produce in sufficient quantities, and so on. By that time, everyone will forget about today’s virus, another will arise. Therefore, the universal vaccination of US residents with a still non-existent vaccine against the Wuhan virus is completely unnecessary. Although it is clear that activities on such a development are very beneficial for politicians, scientists, and industrialists who receive contracts for it.
If suddenly the number of people not vaccinated against the old known viruses reaches the limit, we can return “to the blessed old days.” Then the measles virus will be transmitted from the sick person not yet vaccinated, and many of them will die, because there are no drugs for this disease. But now we can detect new viruses in a matter of days and just as quickly develop methods for their diagnosis. So at least stocking up with popcorn and monitoring the spread of the infection and the associated evolution of the virus is relatively simple.
And then what is the problem of creating new antibiotics too?
It is complicated and expensive. Basically, scientists seek to modify existing antibiotics. But this cannot be done ad infinitum, sooner or later one has to look for new ones (pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to take this, such a project is risky in terms of financial investments: on average, the development of one successful foreign medicine takes ten years and costs $ 2.6 billion.)
This resistance in bacteria itself arises as a result of artificial selection – antibiotics are widely used in agriculture (up to 80% of all antibiotics are generally used to treat livestock, with approximately 97% bought without a prescription), in clinics, and also by ordinary people in countries where they are released without a prescription. The number of bacteria sensitive to antibiotics decreases, the number of resistant bacteria increases (for example, the very first antibiotic – penicillin – is no longer used: the bacteria have developed almost complete resistance to it).
Are there any rules of life for an ordinary person that will help protect yourself from viruses and bacteria and stop the emergence of new dangerous infections?
Everything is as always: observe hygiene rules, avoid trips to exotic places, lead a measured and financially safe lifestyle – you need to have access to qualified doctors. And try to limit the use of antibiotics.