ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — For more than a year, COVID-19 continues to impact the world. The virus was declared a pandemic in March 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO), but does it eventually become an “endemic?”
The answer is, “yes.” Nowhere on earth is it at an endemic level as of now. “But, it could become that,” said Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) Medical Director for Immunizations Dr. Jennifer Dillaha.
An endemic belongs to a a particular people or country, whereas an epidemic is a disease that affects a lot of people within a region. Just to be clear.
Pandemic definition, per Merriam-Webster: occurring over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and typically affecting a significant proportion of the population.
The novel coronavirus that caused SARS-CoV-2 is spread by respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, another person can inhale the droplets into the lungs causing damage. There are documented cases where people can also get COVID-19 more than once, according to Dr. Dillaha. “The immunity for coronavirus is not to wane over time. For example, the common cold, we get again and again.”
In the 1950s, polio was an intestinal virus and spread through the stools of infected people. Today, there is a polio vaccination that children get usually beginning at age 2 months.
Smallpox (1870-1874) was a viral pandemic that was brought under control by a vaccine and the WHO declared it “completely eradicated.”
Of the three mentioned “viruses,” the novel coronavirus is extremely easily spread because it’s respiratory, “making it more difficult to stop the spread, whereas, smallpox and polio are not [spread by respiratory],” said Dr. Dillaha.
Virus definition, per Merriam-Webster: any of a large group of submicroscopic infectious agents that are usually regarded as nonliving extremely complex molecules, that typically contain a protein coat surrounding an RNA or DNA core of genetic material but no semipermeable membrane, that are capable of growth and multiplication only in living cells, and that cause various important diseases in humans, animals, and plants.
1918 Spanish Flu
This pandemic has been the most serious in history, and there is no real way to compare it to the current pandemic, COVID-19. “With the 1918 flu pandemic they [doctors] didn’t know what caused the flu,” said Dr. Dillaha. “No vaccines, no treatment, they did not know much, so it is not fair to compare these two pandemics.”
Spanish Flu was caused by an H1N1 virus with the gene of avian origin, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It spread globally from 1918 through 1919.
It is estimated that one-third of the world’s population (500 million) contracted the virus, per CDC.
Infectious disease experts claim the Spanish Flu did not go away and instead the H1N1 strain is now the regular seasonal flu. New strains of the 1918 flu have happened in 1957, 1968, and 2009.
The flu from 1957 swapped genes from another bird flu, creating the H2N2 pandemic. The 1968 “Hong Kong Flu,” was an H3N2 virus. Both of those cases of flu killed about 2 million people.
The 2009 “Swine Flu” also has 1918 flu connections, which was originally bird flu but was also passed on to pigs. The swine flu strain swapped genes with both human and avian influenza and created a new H1N1 flu, according to the CDC.
In July 2020, WHO and China began to study the origin of COVID-19 “to better understand it.”
On March 30, 2021, WHO collaborated with several organizations, international experts, and countries to try and trace the steps of how SARS-CoV-2 evolved. The top goal was to prevent reinfection of the virus and to figure out where, how, it was introduced to the human population.
The molecular epidemiology and bioinformatics working group examined the genomic data of viruses collected from animals. Evidence from surveys and targeted studies so far have shown that the coronaviruses most highly related to SARS-CoV-2 are found in bats and pangolins, suggesting that these mammals may be the reservoir of the virus that causes COVID-19. However, neither of the viruses identified so far from these mammalian species is sufficiently similar to SARS-CoV-2 to serve as its direct progenitor. In addition to these findings, the high susceptibility of mink and cats to SARS-CoV2 suggests that additional species of animals may act as a potential reservoir.WHO final joint report
While scientists continue to research this deadly virus people can only follow recommended health guidelines to help control the spread of COVID-19.
To complicate the situation, there are new variants spreading internationally and nationally, including Arkansas where 35 cases have been reported. “I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Dillaha.
More cases of variants are seen in children and adolescents, said ADH Health Secretary Dr. José Romero at Tuesday’s, April 20, COVID-19 briefing.
It is unknown how long the effectiveness of the vaccines will last. “The Pfizer-BioNTech and others last at least six months,” said Dillaha. Also, “Some people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will still get sick because no vaccine is 100% effective. Experts continue to monitor and evaluate how often this occurs, how severe their illness is, and how likely a vaccinated person is to spread COVID-19 to others,” according to the CDC.
The Biden administration is preparing for the possibility of a COVID-19 booster shot. It may be needed between nine months to a year after the initial vaccination to help prevent the rise of variants.
As of Wednesday, April 21, 215,951,909 vaccine doses have been given in the U.S.