Remember That Nasty Bug Going Around Earlier in the Winter?

Yeah, about what I think:

 

Now here comes a study at the University of Oxford that poses a mind-boggling question: What if half of the British population is already infected with coronavirus? What if the percentage of infected people who need hospitalization for COVID-19 is actually teeny tiny because, unbeknownst to us, the overall infected population is actually enormously large? If half of Great Britain is already infected, the country is already well on its way to acquiring herd immunity, which means they may be seeing the worst of the epidemic right now. There’s no true “mass casualty” scenario as the virus spreads. It’s already spread. And it turns out it’s harmless in virtually everyone who gets it.

If the results are confirmed, they imply that fewer than one in a thousand of those infected with Covid-19 become ill enough to need hospital treatment, said Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology, who led the study. The vast majority develop very mild symptoms or none at all…

The research presents a very different view of the epidemic to the modelling at Imperial College London, which has strongly influenced government policy. “I am surprised that there has been such unqualified acceptance of the Imperial model,” said Prof Gupta…

The Oxford study is based on a what is known as a “susceptibility-infected-recovered model” of Covid-19, built up from case and death reports from the UK and Italy. The researchers made what they regard as the most plausible assumptions about the behaviour of the virus…

If the findings are confirmed by testing, then the current restrictions could be removed much sooner than ministers have indicated.

Gupta didn’t criticize Johnson or his government for locking Britain down. It’s possible that her model is wrong, after all, and if it is, the consequences of letting the disease spread unchecked would be dire. Plus, social distancing measures are helping to limit the spread of the illness at a moment when it may be peaking, which is important to lighten the load on hospitals. Even if the virus only hits one in a thousand infected people hard, an enormous number will need hospitalization at a moment when half the population or so is infected. Locking the country down right now might be the prudent thing to do even if the Oxford model is correct.

But it would also mean the lockdowns could end relatively soon and normalcy could return.

Go here to read the rest.  From the study:

Our simulations are in agreement with other studies that the current epidemic wave in the UK and Italy in the absence of interventions should have an approximate duration of 2-3months, with numbers of deaths lagging behind in time relative to overall infections.  Importantly, the results we present here suggest the ongoing epidemics in the UK and Italy started at least a month before the first reported death and have already led to the accumulation of significant levels of herd immunity in both countries. There is an inverse relationship between the proportion currently immune and the fraction of the population vulnerable to severe disease.

Go here to read the rest.

This makes sense since the Communist government of China did their worst to keep this under wraps, with Chinese travelers unknowingly taking this pestilence around the globe before the public became aware of it.  If this hypothesis is true, we aren’t at the beginning of this outbreak, but rather nearing the end of it.  In these days of global travel, the old models of how long a disease like this takes to travel around the world should be ash-canned.

If the above study is correct, it is likely that fewer than one in a thousand infected get sick enough to require hospitalization.  Go here to read about it.

 

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25 Comments

  1. My college age son said a fellow student was sick with a fairly bad case of pneumonia back in February. Doctors would not (probably could not) do anything. She was sick for three weeks. I am guessing she attended classes on and off as she could, and there was certainly no social distancing. High fives all around after a good set. Was it Covid19? We will likely never know.
    .
    My town is a very internationally connected town, but we only have five cases? Something isn’t right.

  2. I got sick for about a week towards the end of January, with what I thought was a touch of the ‘flu. Mostly felt weak and terrible coughing. I had a dry cough for about a month after that, but I just figured I had damaged something from coughing so much and that my throat was easily irritated. My youngest two had a touch of it, but recovered much faster that I did. My husband (in his early 60’s) and our other three daughters never got anything. I’m in my late 50’s, just for perspective. I don’t know. Maybe it was corona. Maybe just the seasonal ‘flu. I haven’t been sick like that in years.
    Some of my husband’s friends were saying similar things – they had been sick earlier this year, and we all just said, “oh, lots of nasty germs going around.”
    Still, the numbers don’t add up, at least so far in my neck of the woods.
    I’ve decided to “fast” from most news except for this blog and some other Catholic sites. Mostly for my own mental health. Too much of the news on corona is skewed, in my opinion.

  3. Back in December folks were talking about “that nasty cold this year”– I think I even complained here about having to miss Christmas mass.

    Thinking on it– a lot of folks had the symptoms my mom was told could be walking pneumonia. (at one point she had the classic doctor’s visit when they ask when she had pneumonia, and she asked ‘I had pneumoia’? Figured it was the forest fires in Washington that year.)

    A bad-end mild case of corona that’s gone into the lungs, but doesn’t get to the point of needing aid to breath, is basically walking pneumonia.

  4. This makes more sense than most of what is being peddled to the “herd.” (I do wish the medical types could find a less offensive word to describe us proletarian folks out in the hustings.)
    I am 66, and live in the D/FW area, obviously a big air travel hub. In mid-February I too had what I thought was just a “different” cold from my usual once-a-year affliction. It began with a nagging pain above my left ear, then progressed to moderately irritated and congested sinus and nasal passages with some sniffles, but nowhere near my ordinary level, which requires keeping the tissue box close at all times. It then changed to a tightness in the chest and nagging dry cough, something I don’t recall having since my serious bout of Hong Kong Flu in 1968 (remember that one? I guess we were all racists then.) The cough/ congestion felt better each morning but worsened again each evening, and the darn thing hung on for almost two weeks, again very unusual for me. I took my temperature twice a day and never once exceeded my personal normal range of 96-97 degrees.
    Maybe the absence of fever means it wasn’t Wuhan Flu, or maybe it just means I was one of those who only suffered relatively mild symptoms. My guess is the latter. I wonder if we will all be able to undergo some kind of antibody test later on to flesh out the data?

  5. Bah! Humbug! Garbage In, Garbage Out!! This computer simulation is akin to those used to “prove” the AGW (Anthropic Global Warming) hypothesis. There’s no way to verify this scientifically other than massive testing of non-sick people and that won’t done. The trouble with computer modeling is that you can always get what you want to show by massaging the data and conditioning its treatment. I repeat: Bah! Humbug!

  6. I think I may have had it back in December / January. Got it on Christmas Eve day (or thereabouts) and had it for the next couple of weeks. It was severe, but not severe enough to keep me bedridden more than a day (Christmas Day I stayed in bed and missed out on family celebration) and definitely not severe enough for hospitalization. Nor was it severe enough to keep us from traveling to Williamsburg, VA the week after Christmas.

    But terrible dry cough accompanied by flu-like aches and pains lasting a couple of weeks. Cough was so bad that my back and rib cage muscles ached for several days. Lungs rattled with fluid, causing shortness of breath. But, again, not so severe as to require any sort of breathing device or doctor visit.

  7. Don, that’s what was at the back of my mind. We’re testing immunity. Supposedly there is a test for developed antibodies to Covid-19 (see here:
    https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/02/28/810131079/how-a-coronavirus-blood-test-could-solve-some-medical-mysteries)
    What I imagine a statistician would do (“I’m a physicist, not a statistician, Kirk”) is to do a Likelihood ratio test. You have to sample not only a “healthy” population, but also those who have recovered. Then you have to compare in those two populations the fraction with anti-bodies present–see if they’re the same or different. I would guess that if the statistical analysis says they’re the same within an order of magnitude, then you could conclude that the Null hypothesis, that the “healthy” population has been infected is statistically not disproved (that’s not the same as “proved”). My statistical analysis may be all wet, and I’d be happy to have it corrected by “real” statisticians.
    My point was that computer modeling does not lead to truth.

  8. One other point…having had symptoms in December or January isn’t really consistent with how these diseases spread, particularly if no one else was also infected. The one thing we do know about covid-19 is that it is highly contagious. Accordingly, it’s unlike that if one was infected others in your vicinity would not be infected if no precautions had been taken. Flu in its various manifestations gives symptoms similar to those from covid-19. If one has had such symptoms even after having flu shots, then one might begin to wonder but it would still be strange if no one else around you was infected.

  9. What Frank describes happened to him earlier this year is what also happened to me, and describes accurately what my wife is currently going through, albeit with more severity than I – she is in bed most of the time:

    “In mid-February I too had what I thought was just a “different” cold from my usual once-a-year affliction. It began with a nagging pain above my left ear, then progressed to moderately irritated and congested sinus and nasal passages with some sniffles, but nowhere near my ordinary level, which requires keeping the tissue box close at all times. It then changed to a tightness in the chest and nagging dry cough, something I don’t recall having since my serious bout of Hong Kong Flu in 1968 (remember that one? I guess we were all racists then.) The cough/ congestion felt better each morning but worsened again each evening, and the darn thing hung on for almost two weeks, again very unusual for me. I took my temperature twice a day and never once exceeded my personal normal range of 96-97 degrees.”

  10. One other note: What I had did hit all of the members of my immediate family, and was prevalent throughout our town with people reporting similar symptoms. More severe cases lasted several weeks and led to pneumonia. It was early January so, yes, that argues against the official line. But it was something completely different from anything people suffering from it had ever experienced before.

    Have received several reports from others around the country from around the same time period. Could be a strain of flu. But, if so, different than any I’ve ever experienced before.

  11. Bob, I think you’re overlooking a few things there. A lot of the people who had “that really nasty cold that’s going around” — in January or significantly earlier — had something that was really going around, in which case other people were definitely infected. Moreover, there’s all this business about asymptomatic infections — either we’ve got a ton of false positives, or nobody else seeming to catch it isn’t definitive.

  12. PK, Jay and LCQ: you and the english epidemiologists may be right and what you’ve experienced was a variety of Covid-19…supposedly these pandemics (like the Spanish Influenza) come in waves, and the more deadly variety now current may be a mutation of an early strain. However, what I’ve read is that the Covid-19 virus has a “stable genome.”
    Moreover, if the early strain was genetically different (RNA-wise)fromthe current, then current testing of recovered and healthy would not be meaningful.
    One question: did you or folks in your family have flu immunization shots?
    In any case, I’ll stick by my original point on the non-validity of computer models that aren’t verified empirically

  13. My husband and I in JANFEB both had trouble breathing, copious runny noses, day and night coughing, fatigue. He had a slight fever, I had none. Initially he was given an AlbuturoI inhaler and a z pak. The antibiotics did nothing for him so after 2 weeks he had a chest x-ray and was prescribed steroids which cleared up the symptoms. His diagnosis was bronchitis. When the flu test was negative my doctor prescribed antibiotics for a sinus infection. At the tail end of the antibiotics I came down with the same symptoms (excepting low fever) my husband had plus wheezing and low oxygenation. I had a chest x-ray. No pneumonia but old scarring from bouts of it in FL and Philippines. Supposedly I had RSV. Steroids were prescribed and Albuterol inhaler. After 6 days the symptoms were gone.
    We both had never had anything like it before and of four weeks duration. Trouble breathing was what was alarming. So much so my husband gave up cigars.

  14. Bob — Yes, we had flu shots.

    Not arguing about the need to validate models. Existing data collection is unfortunately a mess — very late start in the US to the point that the rate of increase in known cases still reflects the pace of testing more directly than it reflects spread; more comprehensive in South Korea; Italy seems to be focusing on getting as complete as possible a count of deaths.

    The Imperial College model, as far as I’ve been able to find out, may be relying on outdated numbers from China.

    This one is interesting not just because it’s another model but because (1) the severe cases identified in Wuhan are now reported to go back at least to November, last I checked; (2) travel continued normally for several weeks thereafter; and (3) the majority of cases (even symptomatic ones) seem not to be bad enough to make people cancel planned travel in the absence of warning klaxons that something special is going on. Therefore, it seems reasonable to investigate the possibility that it went a-roaming back before the alarms were sounded.

  15. –I will note that I would be pretty surprised if it’s actually as low as 1 in 1000 infected needing hospitalization. This one strikes me as too shiny where the Imperial College one went almost to the point of “The necessary restrictions might be impossible/even more damaging than the disease.”

  16. The odd thing is, we all had similar. I’m hearing people say there is no connection, and yet not just us, but people in church, people we worked with, kids in my boys’ college classes, all had the same thing. It was some bad cold like thing, not flu, but coughing, sneezing, sometimes shortness of breath and fever and sore throat. Not everyone had all the symptoms, but all the symptoms were noted when everyone’s experience was put together. That was sometime around December/January. Again, it wasn’t the flu. My second went to the doctor and she said it didn’t seem to have all the signs of the flu. And while I hear others say the same thing, I’m also hearing people saying it’s not related. I don’t know. Like everything with this, we’ll have to wait and see.

  17. One other point…having had symptoms in December or January isn’t really consistent with how these diseases spread, particularly if no one else was also infected. The one thing we do know about covid-19 is that it is highly contagious. Accordingly, it’s unlike that if one was infected others in your vicinity would not be infected if no precautions had been taken.

    In those cases where they’re testing entire populations, it runs 50% with no symptoms at all, even “eh I have the sniffles” level symptoms.

    In an environment that should have had it spreading like wildfire– a cruise ship where a full third of the population is the most vulnerable– it didn’t even reach 18% infection rate.

    About 10%, in a situation where everything was tilted to make a perfect storm, got sick at all. 45 of the 700 who tested positive needed critical care–in a situation where the sample population is massively tilted to the most vulnerable, and there should have been an insanely high rate of infection.

    China is KNOWN to have known about the disease in early November; I know that the folks who run the Asian grocery in town visit China yearly (as do several of their “oh what cute baby!” customers), I had friends who were in Italy– which has 300,000 Chinese nationals making leather products, and most of those folks are from the infected area– recently, and my father in law works in an office where they have at least three people who regularly go to China. (at least once a quarter)

    Here’s Korea testing everybody:
    https://www.cdc.go.kr/board/board.es?mid=a30402000000&bid=0030

    and here’s the article mentioning a spike in flu symptoms with negative flu results:
    https://www.amgreatness.com/2020/03/19/dangerous-curves/

    Sorry poorly formatted, I have to go teach.

  18. Well, Don, Foxfier, and others. I hope you’re right and that its an overblown crisis. But the evidence for that still seems to be largely anecdotal and death rates in densely populated areas (NY, Southern California, New Orleans, Seattle) seem not to be consistent with the hypothesis.

  19. But the cruise ship doesn’t count because the passengers, all 4000 of them, either went in hid in their cabins, or were locked away by the crew, so they were social distancing!

    Except for the crew.
    And mealtimes, because I don’t see how a crew of a couple of hundred manages 24/7 room service for 4000 guests.

    But that doesn’t count, I am reliably informed by all the former Constitutional experts who’ve newly minted themselves as epidemiologists, so never mind about the cruise ship, okay?

  20. “Overblown” is a relative term, isn’t it? I think this is serious. I think it’s possible we may lose 100,000 lives to it. But I doubt very much we’re going to lose a million, let alone millions, like the doomsayers have claimed.

    People who say this is comparable to a really bad flu, H1N1, the Hong Kong flu back in the 50s, whatever went around in the Carter years, aren’t wrong. Those were bad. But this is not Ebola outbreak bad or bubonic plague bad. Not by a longshot.

    Meanwhile, 3 million new unemployment claims. We need to start keeping track of that too. How many jobs have been lost for every life lost?

    A round number is 3000.

  21. foxfier, could you please give the source for the

    “In those cases where they’re testing entire populations, it runs 50% with no symptoms at all, even “eh I have the sniffles” level symptoms.”

    I don’t doubt you, I just want to look at the full report.
    Thanks

  22. Bob-
    here’s the cruise ship:
    https://www.niid.go.jp/niid/en/2019-ncov-e/9417-covid-dp-fe-02.html

    The Korea link has several reports of how commonly they get asymptomatic cases, though I can’t use my history to find it because I’ve been visiting them too often.

    Here’s a news story mentioning it:
    https://nypost.com/2020/03/17/86-of-people-with-coronavirus-are-walking-around-undetected-study-says/

    and we don’t have a death rate for New York and Seattle. We have deaths, which they then tested, and then started testing people who were already very ill.
    That’s why people started looking at the ILI and negative rates on flu tests, because those cases where they are testing folks who aren’t already sick kept finding people who were positive but weren’t sick.

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