I’ve been having a lot of conversations about both the lab leak and are lockdowns harmful questions recently and also found some interesting new takes on both, meaning we had enough for a pod. Plus there was some fascinating new Ebola news that needed to be shared. Here are the references and some thoughts on this episode.
Both the lab leak and lockdown issues are waaaayyy to politicized. Hot take I know. Thankfully, I’ve felt the temperature decrease since the shitstorm in chief left office and it appears as though the discussion may be able to take place more rationally. Wishful thinking? Maybe. When looking at both questions though it becomes clear to me that no one can say definitely if lab leak or natural spillover is more likely or acccurately quantify the harm from lockdowns. That’s right, this episode is some classic fence sitting. As it should be with these contentious issues.
When it comes to lab leak there are two recent pieces I found helpful. One is from Undark magazine, by Charles Schmidt titled Lab Leak: A Scientific Debate Mired in Politics — and Unresolved. The other which Charles links to and references in his piece is an opinion pieces by Dr. David Relman (a legit doctor and disease researcher) published in the academic journal PNAS. His piece, Opinion: To stop the next pandemic, we need to unravel the origins of COVID-19, does a really nice job laying out what we know, what we don’t and how that missing information is essential to determining the origin. Without it, no one can say for certain how SARS 2 entered the population. Until then we wait and question anyone who says they know for sure.
On the lockdown issue, I came across epidemiologist, writer (he has written for such publications as The Guardian and The Observer) and podcaster Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz. Give him a follow on Twitter at @GidMK. He also writes a blog on Medium and he has looked into some of the available regarding the harms of lockdowns. Two blogs you should definitely check out are What Are the Negative Effects of COVID-19 Lockdowns? and Have Lockdowns Caused Suicides During COVID-19?. The short answer to the question of harm caused by lockdowns is that, at least in the short term, there doesn’t appear to be an increase in suicide or death. Gideon covers this quite nicely and uses data from this preprint paper The World Mortality Dataset: Tracking excess mortality across countries during the COVID-19 pandemic to demonstrate that “lockdowns” such as the drastically restrictive one in Australia didn’t lead to excess mortality. Remember the caveats of preprint papers of course that we discussed with Martin Nielsen in the last TBFY In Conversation episode. Gideon also explains how it is incredibly difficult to tease out the cause of any increase in mental health issues or disruptions to health care. Are they from being locked down or a consequence of the raging pandemic itself. Point being, again, we can’t say they are harmful or harmless.
Finally, the Ebola update!! There is unfortunately a new outbreak as of February 14th in Guinea. If you remember Guinea was the source of the huge West Africa outbreak in 2014-2016. This current one is so far small and efforts are underway to vaccinate people in the area. The interesting and alarming new piece of data is that it appears as though this outbreak was started by an yet unidentified individual who was still carrying virus from the 2014-2016 outbreak. We have discussed post Ebola syndrome several times on the show, most recently in Episode 65. Post Ebola syndrome is when survivors of the disease are found with virus hiding out in the body, particularly in tissues that the immune system has trouble reaching, the eyes, the testicles and central nervous system. Now, it looks as though this virus can in some cases revive itself and be infectious once more. This obviously has huge implications for Ebola prevention and management and is a new attribute of the virus. We will follow this of course and keep you Ebola updated. For an overview of this new finding check out this NY Times piece or coverage from The Scientist.
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