April 21, 2020
Hope In the Time of COVID-19
The world is embroiled in the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have all heard many times how bad the pandemic is, how slow the response was, how contagious the virus is, how dangerous gatherings could be, how little data there are to recommend any effective treatments, and how comorbidities such as diabetes increase the risk for mortality. What we have perhaps not heard enough is that COVID-19 is actually a global success story — albeit one that is still being written.
100 years ago, there was another viral pandemic with many similarities to COVID-19, attributed to the Spanish flu, caused by the H1N1 influenza virus. 500 million people were infected, and estimates of lives lost were as high as 50 to 100 million, indicating a mortality rate as high as 10 to 20%. The virus itself could not be seen in 1918, its genome could not be sequenced, and effective anti-virals were not developed at the time. The contrast with COVID-19 is dramatic: the responsible virus, SARS-CoV-2, was identified and its genome sequenced rapidly, its highly contagious nature discovered very quickly, vaccines and anti-virals were immediately in development, rapid repurposing of drugs such as hydroxychloroquine and supplements such as vitamin C (which have demonstrated at minimum an anecdotal efficacy) occurred, a massive global response was set in motion, and the exponential rise that would otherwise have occurred has been curtailed by millions, resulting in less than 1% of the number of lives lost due to the Spanish flu.
Furthermore, the importance of risk factors such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and metabolic syndrome demonstrates that the resilience critical to avoid a poor outcome with COVID-19 is very similar to what is needed to avoid Alzheimer’s — the timeline is simply compressed by years with COVID-19. Therefore, another effect of the pandemic is likely to be the renewed interest in optimal health parameters, with the effect of reducing chronic illness and enhancing longevity.
For those who have lost loved ones, of course even a 99% success offers very little consolation. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that it could have been far, far worse. We are all working together to reduce the global burden of dementia, and COVID-19 has made it clear that our efforts are very likely to help reduce susceptibility to the next pandemic, as well. Congratulations to the world community — what a truly remarkable, cooperative, lives-saving response to a grave threat.