One of the more interesting phenomena to watch this respiratory illness season (we historically call it ‘flu’ season) is what will happen now that COVID-19 is essentially endemic across the country. Because of the various reinforcing memetic cascades, COVID-19 is somehow treated in the human overmind as a unique illness, instead of the potentially severe, but usually mild respiratory infection it actually is.
And to be fair — COVID is, like all illnesses, somewhat unique. Just HOW unique it is could be characterized in a number of ways, of course. One could look at RNA differentials, which family the virus occupies (obviously a coronavirus, etc.) And all of this typology will make some virologist’s (or group of virologists’) careers. All the more reason, in status-driven social structures to declare COVID as unique. That’s what happens in the science-naming wars.
But here’s a different thought on how to characterize COVID’s actual uniqueness. Why not look at how unique the human immune system’s response is to the virus? Certainly the percentage of cases where we actually see COVID-19-specific antibodies might not be a bad measure. Once we understand the idea of an immune system stack — T-cells, B-cells, cross-reactive coronavirus immunity, and super-mucosal response — and others I likely don’t know about — then the COVID part that actually matters is that antibody response, since they are unique to the virus.
But the other responses are NOT unique to the virus. They’re what happens when any respiratory virus shows up on the scene. And here’s where what appears to be somewhat unique to COVID actually matters.
COVID is, without question, highly infectious, and contagious. We’ve seen this with regards to cruise ships, prisons, and night clubs. Someone who is a super-spreader shows up, and with the right combo of ventilation, humidity, and such, that sucker goes everywhere quickly. One week on a cruise ship, and everyone, essentially, is infected.
But what happens next is interesting. Not everyone may develop COVID antibodies by catching COVID first. But COVID, precisely because it is so contagious and infectious, will trigger that other range of non-specific immunities first, before the other viruses have a chance to party.
What that means is that the other respiratory viruses that show up will be Johnny-Come-Latelies to the respiratory infection wars happening in your system. COVID may indeed be worse in larger context, because of its affection for the immunosuppressed, and trigger other symptoms. None of that is off the table. But the activated immune systems, with their other nonspecific mechanisms, will tear up any influenza virus that shows up. COVID will effectively replace (at least for this year) most influenza viruses in your respiratory virome.
I already went ahead this year and got my flu shot. I still think if you have low reactivity to vaccines, you probably should go get stuck. But knowing that COVID is loose may, in this crazy, upside-down world of viruses, prevent you from catching another respiratory infection. Especially if you’ve displayed symptoms and tested positive.
Stay tuned. It’s going to get interesting.
3 thoughts on “Quickie Post — COVID’s potential to shove influenza to the side for this year”
It makes for an interesting thought experiment. But it will quickly become a real world experiment. I guess we’ll find out how it works in practice. The simultaneous mix of multiple infections complicates the picture. I was thinking the involvement of flu might depend on the order of infection.
If infected with COVID first, the flu could have little impact in the already activated immune system, as you suggest. But if you get the flu first and it suppresses your immune system, COVID might wreak havoc it otherwise would not. Heck if I know.
I must admit that I have chosen to ignore the media-driven and politicized melodrama that has been going recently. In the end, I don’t exactly have a strong opinion about the novel coronavirus. We probably agree more than disagree, even if we use a different emphasis. We both supported initial strong measures of risk reduction. Where we differ is what we focus on and the lines of thought we tend toward. Like you, I don’t support broad lockdowns.
Obviously, everyone who knew the science realized that infections rates would go up with winter. But even small rises in infections have been exaggerated in an unhelpful way. This post is suggesting that, as infection rates of coronavirus goes up, the infection rates of the flu might go down. I honestly can’t claim any knowledge of that. It might be interesting to look at past pandemics and see the relationship they had to other infectious diseases during the same period. Without such info, it feels like speculation and that is fine, as I’m a fan of thought experiments.
More generally, my attitude has been more that of wait and see. The fact of the matter is that, in this moment, there is no grand justification of mass restrictions and oppressive policies. But, as I’ve repeated, it should be left up to local communities to decide. Even if overall infection rates aren’t extreme, as far as I can tell, there are some specific populations that are or at least were being hit hard. I haven’t kept up with the data in various places. That is the problem with Iowa’s Governor Reynolds in that she is inconsistent in what she does while refusing to give local authorities the power to make decisions within their own communities.
There is inconsistency all around. Some of my liberal family members have been all over the map. My sister-in-law was constantly fear-mongering and getting righteous on social media about masks, while in person she almost never wears masks. Then she and her daughter got infected. Now they have a new lease on life. I noticed my niece had photos taken with the Biden and his wife with none of the wearing masks. In that family, my brother hasn’t been infected and he is probably the one with the most compromised immune system: overweight, probably prediabetc or diabetic, used to be an alcoholic, never exercises, etc.
Even though I wasn’t infected, I had to go into quarantine. I think these family members have fully recovered, but I’m not around them enough to really know. Some of the symptoms are not what most people would be paying attention to, such as 1/5 of Covid-19 patients within 90 days being diagnosed with mood disorders, anxiety disorder, dementia, insomnia, etc. How much of that is cause and how much triggering of underlying conditions? Further research will tell us more info. And individuals will find out what is temporary and what is long-term. Still, none of that by itself justifies a lockdown.
The University of Iowa here will be going entirely online after Thanksgiving. This town will go back to being very quiet. And the downtown will empty out to some degree, if not as much as before when almost everything was shut down. I’m not sure why the governor is still refusing to allow local officials to implement basic protective measures like local mask mandates or whatever. Simply ensuring people had access to better masks could make a massive difference. I’m not sure the cloth masks do much good. When I go to stores or am around coworkers, I always try to wear a KN95. So, far it has apparently helped me and my parents from getting infected, which is my main concern.