There is every reason to say that SARS-CoV-2 has signs of a biological weapon, a Russian infectious disease doctor, MD, Professor Mikhail Bala said.
Answering the question about the possible artificial origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Professor Mikhail Bala noted that the virus primarily attacks certain categories of the population: the elderly, overweight people, patients with chronic cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, diabetes mellitus.
“There is every reason to say that the virus has signs of a biological weapon. This is not my fantasy. These are statements by very respected people, including experts on such weapons, ”the doctor said.
The doctor of medical sciences emphasized that this virus in most of its parameters corresponds to biological weapons, and a person who has recovered from COVID-19 remains a source of infection for others for a long time.
“Suppose someone needs a certain part of the population to suffer losses. What does he do. First, it creates conditions for this pathogen to penetrate into such a part of the population, no matter how far it is from the main traffic flows. Therefore, it must be an airborne transmission route, possibly supplemented by contact or food. The second is a long incubation – up to 14 days. During the incubation period, an infected person poses the greatest danger, and therefore is the most effective in spreading the virus ,” Professor Mikhail Bala said.
But the main thing, according to the doctor, is the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to penetrate into target cells:
“This excellent capture mechanism allows the virus to easily enter the human body.”
The human immune system reacts to the virus in a paradoxical way, the professor says.
“Usually the virus enters the cell and controls the replication process, and in order to prevent the virus, the body turns on the mechanism of immune antiviral defense and takes control of the situation. But in this case, the opposite is true! ” – Bala declares.
“The stronger the body’s immune response, the greater the scale of the process of destruction of the cells and internal organs of the patient. A cytokine storm begins: the immune system is racing. She not only does not fight, but begins to bring down her own mechanisms of life. The virus hits cells, disrupts their metabolism. And the more the cell has previously suffered from chronic diseases, the more damage the virus inflicts on it ,” Professor Mikhail Bala explains.
“There are all the signs of the artificial origin of the virus: long incubation, high infectivity and virulence. Plus the target audience: people with chronic diseases, ” the doctor of medical sciences said.
Rapid disappearance of immunity?
In late June, Sanne de Jong developed nausea, shortness of breath, muscle pain and a runny nose. At first, she thought it was the effects of covid-19, which she contracted in the spring.
On April 17, 22-year-old de Jong was tested for coronavirus, which gave a positive result. Mild symptoms persisted for about two weeks. On May 2, she again passed the test, and the result was negative. She managed to say goodbye to her dying grandmother and returned to work at the Rotterdam hospital, where she was doing an internship.
But when she had symptoms again, the doctor suggested that the girl take the test again. “Re-infection so soon is strange, but possible ,” said Dr. de Jong, who had by then lost her sense of smell again and was suffering from stomach pain and diarrhea.
On July 3, she received a call from the municipal health service to inform her that the test result was again positive. “Are you joking!” The girl exclaimed.
Scientists are very interested in such cases. They are rare, but more and more of them. Re-infection indicates that immunity from covid-19 may be weak and disappear rather quickly. The danger lies not only in the fact that recovered patients risk getting sick again. We don’t know how long future vaccines will protect humans.
“Everyone wants to find an answer to the question of whether the second infection will be more severe in most cases than the first,” said Derek Cummings, who studies Infectious Disease Dynamics at the University of Florida. “And they are eager to know what re-infection can tell us about immunity from SARS-CoV-2 in general . “
South Korean scientists first reported possible re-infections in April, but this diagnosis was officially confirmed only on 24 August. The 33-year-old man was treated at a Hong Kong hospital in March for a mild form of SARS-CoV-2, and on August 15, he was again diagnosed with the infection during an examination at a Hong Kong airport when he returned from a trip to Spain. Since then, at least 24 cases of reinfection have been officially confirmed, but scientists say there are actually many more.
To confirm reinfection, the patient must have a twice positive PCR test result with an asymptomatic one month break. But virologist Chantal Reusken of the Dutch National Institute for Health and Environment explains that a second test can also be positive if the patient has residual non-replicating viral RNA in the patient’s airways from the first infection due to simultaneous infection with two viruses or because the virus was suppressed, but not completely destroyed. Therefore, most scientific journals want to see two complete virus sequences from the first and second diseases, significantly different from each other. Paul Moss, a hematologist at the University of Birmingham, talks about this. “The bar is very high,” he says.
But even if there is, many laboratories do not have enough time and money to tackle this closely. As a result, the number of genetically proven re-infections is many times less than the number of suspected re-infection. Holland alone has 50 such cases, Brazil 95, Sweden 150, Mexico 285, and Qatar at least 243.
The second infection in the Hong Kong patient was milder than the first. Immunologists suspected that this would be the case, because the first infection creates a certain immunity. This helps explain why re-infections are rare, says Maria Elena Bottazzi, a molecular virologist at Baylor Medical College and Texas Children’s Hospital.
In the next two months, re-infections may increase if those who have been ill earlier begin to lose their immunity. Re-infections with the four coronaviruses that cause the common cold occur on average after 12 months, as recently demonstrated by a team of researchers led by virologist Lia van der Hoek of the University of Amsterdam Medical Center. Van der Hock thinks covid-19 may have the same pattern.
“I think we better prepare for the wave of re-infections that will rise in the coming months ,” she says.
This is bad news for those who still believe in herd immunity from natural infections, the virologist adds. It’s also a wake-up call for future vaccines.
Other scientists are less pessimistic. Antibodies can be significantly weakened over several months, especially if the patient has a mild disease, but sometimes they are still effective. Neutralizing antibodies, as well as memory B cells and T cells, appear to be fairly stable for at least half a year, according to a paper published in a preview on Nov.16. “For the vast majority of people, this will certainly help avoid hospitalization for illness and severe illness for many years to come,” lead author Shane Crotty of the Institute of Immunology in La Jolla told The New York Times.
And there are also hints that people with severe illness from covid-19 have the strongest immunity, as is the case with two other serious diseases caused by coronavirus – SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome. In both cases, the level of antibodies is so high that immunity lasts up to two years. And the T-cell response to SARS can be detected even later. Because the immune defenses are so robust, “I believe most re-infections will be asymptomatic,” says infectious disease specialist Antonio Bertoletti at the National University of Singapore. According to him, it is even useful to be infected again, because this way “you will continue to strengthen and train the immune system.”
But not all repeated infections recorded to date are mild. “We see all sorts of combinations,” says Rusken. When Luciana Ribeiro, a surgeon from Rio de Janeiro, fell ill for the second time, the illness was much worse. She first contracted the infection in March from a colleague, her symptoms were mild and tests came back shortly thereafter. Three months later, the woman again developed symptoms of coronavirus infection. She did not smell while eating, but did not immediately take tests, believing that she had immunity. However, the woman began to get tired more and more and asked for a CT scan. “It showed that half of my lungs were affected,” Ribeiro said. – The radiologist said it was definitely covid.
Ribeiro thinks that she was reinfected by a patient in the intensive care unit where she works, and that the second illness could be much more serious, as during the medical procedure, an airborne mixture with a high content of viruses entered her lungs. But she has another theory: “Perhaps during this time the virus has become more dangerous.”
So far, there is no evidence that the virus mutates, becoming more pathogenic, and mutations help the virus bypass immunity. But recently, scientists at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle published preliminary data from a study and suggested that mutations exist. Scientists talked about a man who became infected in March and fell ill again four months later. The second virus had a mutation that was widespread in Europe. It causes small changes in the spike protein of the virus, which helps it enter human cells.
Although the patient’s symptoms were weaker the second time, neutralization experiments showed that the antibodies that appeared in connection with the first virus fight the second virus rather weakly. The authors note that this could have important implications for vaccination programs.
And some scientists are worried about another scenario in which the second episode of the disease could get worse. This occurs when an unsuccessful immune response to the first infection exacerbates the second response. For example, in dengue fever, antibodies produced in response to an initial infection help dengue viruses and other serum types enter cells, causing a more severe, sometimes fatal, second infection. In some other diseases, the first infection results in ineffective antibodies and T cells, which prevents an effective response a second time.
In a paper recently published by Chinese scientists, it is said that patients with very severe first covid-19 infection may have ineffective antibodies, so they are prone to re-infection in the same severe form. But so far, observations of re-infected patients do not give grounds to assert that with covid-19 the disease intensifies, although scientists cannot rule out this.
Vaccination against certain diseases can also worsen the patient’s condition later. Complications are known to arise from vaccines against dengue and respiratory syncytial virus in humans, as well as against coronavirus diseases in cats. But, according to Cummings, there is no indication yet that future covid-19 vaccines could cause such complications. “After working with dengue, I can say that there is simply no empirical basis for aggravating the disease, and dengue is very strong,” said Cummings.
The virus samples taken from de Jong were sequenced in both cases in Rusken’s laboratory. The result was unexpected. The sequences were not identical, but there were so many similarities between them that virologist Harry Vennema said: “Probably, in April, the virus did not completely disappear from her, and in June it began to replicate again.” “After my first illness, I was very stressed by the death of my grandmother,” says de Jong. “Maybe it affected my immune system.”
In this case, she had a fake re-infection, although Vennema says there is not much difference, because in both cases, the immune system was unable to provide a protective response. His lab has identified at least one similar case, suggesting that some of the unconfirmed re-infections are actually the result of the virus re-emerging from the first infection.
Other coronaviruses can also cause persistent infections, according to Stanley Perlman of the University of Iowa. In 2009, his team proved that the mouse coronavirus, which causes encephalitis, can persist in the body and trigger immune responses for a long time, even if it does not replicate. In a study published on November 5, a group of American scientists showed that SARS-CoV-2 can persist in the intestine for several months. They suggested that such persistent infections explain the symptoms, which persist for an extremely long time and bother those who have recovered from covid-19.
De Jong has some of these symptoms. The September tests were negative and the girl has a high level of antibodies. So she’s protected for at least a couple of months. However, she has complaints of gastrointestinal problems, fatigue and impaired cognitive functions. De Jong says her case should serve as a warning to those who have had the virus and who, after illness, consider themselves invulnerable. “Please, be careful. You could get sick again, ”she warns.