Ask Carol – Coronavirus Edition – Part 2

Happy Wednesday, Friends! As promised – here is the second part of the series. Today, I will answer a question about why viruses seem to be more dormant in the summer and then we’ll explore some of the more popular coronavirus conspiracy theories, etc., out there.

  1. JdM asked: “Why the virus is more active in the colder months and more dormant in the warmer months?”

There are many questions that remain, but here is the latest info.

But – first a little background: Most influenza infections and other respiratory illnesses – except for the 2009 Swine flu pandemic (see Monday’s post for more information) – seem to be more active in the winter months and then less active in the warmer months. These seasonal cycles are thought to be linked to humidity levels and many believe that these viruses thrive in very dry conditions, which are found during the winter (versus the summer). Also, people tend to spend more time indoors and in close quarters during the winter months, which is more conducive to the spread of infections. Other, more well-understood types of coronaviruses also seem to have these seasonal cycles.

In a recent scientific article published in March, investigators at the University of Maryland tracked coronavirus (COVID-19) cases versus temperature and humidity and found that areas with high rates of person to person transmission of COVID-19 were all distributed along northern areas of the world (i.e. the 30-50° N’ corridor) where humidity was low and temperatures ranged from around 40 to 50 degrees F.

These results, along with the fact that COVID-19 cases are now starting to appear in the southern hemisphere as those countries head into their fall/winter season suggest that COVID-19 might be more prevalent during colder weather (i.e. winter), and start to fade away when it is warmer. However, experts caution that there may still be COVID-19 cases into the summer. We just don’t know yet. COVID-19 is a completely novel (new) virus and much still needs to be done to understand it.

 

  1. KF said: “Let’s talk about conspiracy theories about the spread of the virus and debunking the myths. One example is 5G.”

What a fun idea– and without further ado – let’s discuss some of my favorites:

5G cellular networks are linked to the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

Background: As we’ve discussed previously, COVID-19 is thought to have originated at a market in the city of Wuhan, China, late last year. China also happened to have turned on some of its first 5G cellular networks around November of last year.

Verdict: Wait – there are 5G networks? I barely have 4G here! But seriously, this is an example of a false correlation – which is when two completely unrelated events are linked to each other in error. A good example of this phenomena was published here and shown below:

I think most people would agree that while fresh lemons are tasty and full of vitamin C, they don’t improve driving ability, so an increase in lemon imports would not lead to a decrease in highway deaths.

Why science says 5G cellular signals and COVID-19 are unrelated: There have been studies over the last 20 years – capped off by this 7 year study found here which basically says in 43 very densely-packed pages there are no negative health effects found for frequencies in the sub-6 GHz range (meaning below 6 gigahertz). Over 99% of 5G networks are radio signals that operate in this sub- 6 GHz frequency range, as do 4G networks and all Wi-Fi (which operates at 2.4 and 5 GHz). Given the widespread use of sub-6 GHz frequencies over more than 20 years before the COVID-19 pandemic, I think we can conclude that these events are unrelated.

There were some recommendations to limit long-term exposure to frequencies about 6 GHz, but the results were inconclusive.

COVID-19 is spread through shipments of toilet paper from China

Background: Some claimed that “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that COVID-19, had been found in toilet paper, and that people should use wet cloths instead.”

Verdict: False. A search of journal articles and the CDC website have turned up no claims and factory packed goods from any locale seem to be uncontaminated.

Now doorknobs and grocery cart handles are likely another story 😊.

The COVID-19 virus was man-made in a laboratory

Background: This is one of the most popular theories and claims out there – with one poll reporting that as many as 1 in 3 Americans believe that COVID-19 was made in a laboratory.

Verdict: False – no evidence has been found supporting this claim and in fact, experts agree that COVID-19 is a naturally occurring virus.

What scientific evidence says: At least two groups of scientists have published genetic studies on COVID-19 (novel coronavirus). One March 12 Nature article that I discussed in Monday’s post can be found here. This article reports that COVID-19 is 96% identical to a naturally occurring bat corona virus, which suggests that the current pandemic may have started with a coronavirus-infected horseshoe bat.

A March 17 article in Nature Medicine compared the genomic (DNA) sequence of the COVID-19 virus to a number of other known coronavirus strains and found many similarities. The study authors discuss several possible theories of how this disease evolved but says study co-author Kristian Andersen: “we can firmly determine that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes.”

Stay safe and stay inquisitive, Friends!

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1 Comment

  1. Jean De Muzio

    Thanks, Carol for the last post. So what’s the scoop with which universities around the global are working on finding how to create a vaccination for the Corona virus? I ask because I get news feeds from University of WI-Madison and Temple University and others talking about how much research they are doing around this virus.

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