Friday, 20 December 2013

Going viral

This post is merely a tot of pre-Christmas speculation.

Suppose a virus such as the common cold virus were to  mutate such that the symptoms it causes become generally less pronounced and less problematic for daily life.

The obvious advantage for the virus is that we are more likely to carry on mixing with other humans and so spread the virus more widely. Staying at home for a few days does not favour virus propagation so the new strain is preferentially selected by our behaviour.

Maybe this would lead to a more widespread general and persistent level of minor debilitation. Not enough to be noticed because symptoms are generally too minor to be presented to a doctor, but enough to cause general wellbeing to sag a little.

There is already a large amount of information on subclinical infections, but how would we deal with them if they became more prevalent and more subtle in their effects? An endless series of mass vaccinations? Probably not, because how would we know they were needed?

I’ve no idea if this is a significant issue or not, but suppose it is. What if it were to occur for a number of common viral and bacterial infections such that minor debilitation becomes endemic? What kind of symptoms might become more common?

Maybe we’d just sit in front of the TV and get fat.

Perhaps we’d think less clearly even though we are still able to get on with the daily routine well enough.

Perhaps we wouldn’t be as dynamic and decisive as we were a few decades ago, but the difference isn’t noticed because everyone else is subject to the same low-level infections.


Demetrius said...

Tomorrow we are going up to London for a performance. The venue is wonderful as an international bug exchange. Also, I gather that vast numbers of people intend to fly out and fly in over the next few days. Add to them all those chasing all over the place seeing people. I suspect that your suggestion of an almost permanent subclinical infections is closer than people think.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - I agree. Because of the unknowns it's a difficult subject which is why I treated it fairly lightly.

Woodsy42 said...

How do you know we are not already subject to multiple low-level illness and infection?
How often do you get days or short periods when you are just a bit 'below par' or extra tired, or have a bit of a headache, but with no obvious reason?
Why do we see so many adverts for nail infection cures, acne treatments, probiotics and the like?

A K Haart said...

Woodsy - we don't know, that's the problem.

Sam Vega said...

Why aren't there viruses that make us feel great? So good that we want to run out and socialise with one another, make love, and spread the virus further?

Do scientists only spot viruses when they are investigating a problem illness? Could such "happy viruses" exist? Once the little chaps sus this out, there will be an evolutionary race to colonise the planet and we will even change our behaviour so that we voluntarily acquire the virus.

A K Haart said...

Sam - there may be such viruses, but they have to destroy cells to propagate which feels inherently unfriendly.

Maybe some viruses destroy malignant cells though. How would we get to know about such delightful little chaps?