Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Perspective on Covid-19 from an Unexpected Source

Growing up in the 1980's, the virus making headlines was HIV/AIDS. An audio book I recently listened to mentioned how early treatments to this virus were developed. This inspired me to look at how the AIDS epidemic unfolded and I was surprised to see similarities with our battle against Covid-19.

Consider these milestones:

Milestone AIDS/HIV Covid-19
#1 The virus is identified. A rare lung infection is noticed in a cluster of previously healthy gay men. Reports of a 'viral pnuemonia' are detected in Wuhan China.
#2 The virus is named, with some false starts. AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is used to describe the disease. The name 'Gay-related immune deficiency' is used, but quickly discarded. Covid-19 is named, though phrases like the 'Chinese Flu' are also used and discarded.
#3 Develop an early understanding of how the disease is transmitted. It's understood that AIDS can be transmitted through sex. More importantly, fears that AIDS could be transmitted through casual contact are debunked. Covid is thought to be transmitted primarily through respiratory droplets. Concerns that Covid can be transmitted through mail and other common touch surfaces are shown to be unlikely.
#4 Develop early public health measures to combat the disease. The first needle exchange programs are setup and businesses with high-risk sex activity are shuttered. We get our first mantra: Stay home, wash your hands, socially distance.
#5 A celebrity contracts the virus and makes headlines. Rock Hudson dies of AIDS, being the first celebrity fatality Tom Hanks and his wife contract Covid-19.
#10 The virus claims the lives of over 100,000 Americans

Looking at the above chart you could be forgiven for being unimpressed. Those milestones would match up with countless diseases. What's the big deal?

The mind blowing part for me: in the case of HIV/AIDS each milestone above represents one year. In about half the time it took name AIDS, Covid-19 has killed nearly 150,000 Americans.

Put another way: AIDS killed 100,00 Americans in 10 years; Covid-19 did this in 5 months.

I was a kid in the 1980s, but even I understood how scary AIDS was. In the early days, to contract the disease was to be given a death sentence. And yet, despite experts understanding and reacting to Covid-19 at comparably breakneck speed, the disease is killing at rate that far exceeds AIDS. Amazing.

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