Coronavirus virologist Q-and-A

USAMRIID at Ft. Detrick, Maryland

There is still a lot to learn about the strain of coronavirus wreaking havoc in the U.S. But John Dye, the chief of viral immunology at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Ft. Detrick, Maryland, is one of those looking at the evidence. 

Listen to Sharyl’s “Full Measure After Hours” Podcast on this topic.

Dye points out we have fought previous bouts with coronaviruses: SARS-1 and MERS.  He adds, “…and there are other four coronaviruses that are actually circulating in the population, the United States population, on a yearly basis, they just aren’t lethal.”

I asked him what makes Covid-19 so different.

“It has to do with the genetic makeup of this particular virus. So those coronaviruses that are circulating in human population, they actually have been in humans for a long, long time. This particular coronavirus jumped from an animal species out of that species and spilled over into humans. Those are the type of viruses that are possible pandemics or epidemics that can lead to large scale lethality. So when you have something that goes from an organism that it is normally living in and pops into the human population, those are the type of viruses that we have to be worried about,” says Dye.

While Covid-19 and flu share similarities in terms of symptoms and may even have similar fatality rates according to scientists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, there are some key differences.

Dye says scientists theorize that this coronavirus can be passed around among people more easily and quickly. 

“The transmission of the flu is normally about on a scale of what they call it, two, which means if I have it, I can spread it to two people,” says Dye. “They’re talking about this particular virus as if I have it, I can spread it to four people. So you’re talking about doubling that and when you exponentially create that out, it provides a much larger web of infection.”

That means even if coronavirus turns out to claim victims at a similar rate to flu it could actually kill more people overall.

“You would have more lethality because it’s reaching more people more quickly,” says Dye.

With all that America has been through I asked Dye if we will have to go through this all over again if a different virus emerges next year.

“If it’s a totally different virus, we would,” he says. “But I would hope that what we would do is we learn from this particular outbreak and this particular pandemic so that we would be better prepared for the next virus that comes along.” 

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