Echanges viraux

Ça faisait longtemps… Je viens de finir le fameux mémoire mentionné (j’y consacrerai bientôt une petite bafouille), et en faisant ma petite revue de presse matinale, je suis tombé sur un article très clair et étayé sur le tristement fameux variant Omicron, et sur des échanges édifiants dans les commentaires, qui m’ont motivé à rédiger ce billet.

Alors, déjà, tu peux lire l’article ici :

Citons les auteurs pour la qualité de leur travail de vulgarisation et de clarification, et l’honnêteté de leur propos :

  • Prof. Wolfgang Preiser : Head of Division of Medical Virology, Stellenbosch University
  • Cathrine Scheepers : Senior Medical Scientist, University of the Witwatersrand
  • Jinal Bhiman : Principal Medical Scientist at National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), National Institute for Communicable Diseases
  • Marietjie Venter : Head of Zoonotic, Arbo and Respiratory Virus Programme, Professor, Department Medical Virology, University of Pretoria
  • Tulio de Oliveira : Director of KRISP – KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Comme d’habitude, je pique les illustrations sans aucune pitié, de l’article et d’une source citée en commentaire :

So far, pas grand-chose à dire, si ce n’est que l’article est de très bonne tenue.

Là où ça devient intéressant, c’est dans les commentaires. Entre les théories du complot et la bêtise crasse, ça fait douloureusement écho à l’émergence de l’irrationnel à l’œuvre un peu partout, qui fait qu’il devient difficile d’avoir une conversation sereine. Je me permets de citer quelques extraits, ne serait-ce que pour mémoire. Et puis parce que parfois, la connerie déclenche sinon la réflexion, du moins l’humour. Voire, ça ouvre des réflexions philosophiques inattendues.

Comme je ne cherche pas à épingler les cons (ils le font très bien tout seuls), je m’en vais changer leurs noms. En revanche, je donne le nom entier des auteurs des réponses intelligentes.

Morceaux choisis…

Un bon schéma…

Commençons avec cet échange à propos de l’image d’illustration :

Bob : I’m puzzled by the illustration. I’ve never heard of viruses having different colours or differently coloured parts. Otherwise they look much the same.
The caption is unhelpful so I’m asking what exactly is the illustration trying to tell us?
This is yet another example of pictures that don’t advance the story being inserted into the text. At best they waste my time. At worst they are misleading.

Et la réponse intelligente :

Stevie Wiley : Viruses don’t have colour because they are smaller than the wavelength of visible light. SARS-2 virions are about 100 nm (0.1 micron) across, whereas visible light is in the 380-740 nm range. The colours added to the cartoon are to emphasize differences that the human eye can’t see. It does not detract from the scientific rigidity, nor is it misleading.
Information on SARS-CoV-2 morphology, along with another artificially-coloured image can be found here in an article published in Nature, one of the World’s top scientific journals.

Il suffit d’un wu-mao

Jane : I think it’s another virus. Maybe SA was the country that initially released it in Wuhan? It could be some South African’s Chinese wife who is connected with the Chinese Communist Party? Who knows? At this point, one thing is clear. There’s a lot of blood on the scientific communities hands rights now

Et la réponse du Pr. Preiser (auteur principal de l’article), qui montre que les scientifiques ne manquent pas d’humour :

Pr. Preiser : You have looked right through us – spot on! I have been trying to wipe the blood off my hands but your sharp eyes caught me. (I am trying to pretend my hands are bleeding from the hard work in the lab that we do – but of course that’s just an excuse) Seeing that China is so good at keeping the old Covid at bay, we are now trying again with a pimped-up version of the virus. 😉

De la Nature et de ses intentions

Sam : Have you considered that this is nature’s way to cull the human population? I think human population has reached a point whereby it is detrimental not just to the earth but to its own survival. I think COVID19 is a good thing if it can half human population on earth within the next 10 years – so that there will be less pollution and green house gas emission.

Et la réponse, à la fois érudite et claire :

Stevie Wiley : Nature doesn’t think “it’s time to kill some humans’. Neither Nature nor viruses think anything at all. All life wants is the opportunity to reproduce. Viruses just wanna have babies, exactly like humans and trees and rats and fungi and coral and everything else. That there will be casualties along the way is absolutely essential to how the whole wonderful system works.
Every human (and every other non-viral) species on Earth has suffered innumerable viral epidemics during the course of their evolution. This is but the latest in our species. Pigs are also suffering one at present called African swine fever. No doubt other species are dying in vast numbers right now from other viruses. That’s life. The good news is that every single one of your ancestors survived all past viral epidemics long enough to reproduce.
25,000 years ago they survived a massive coronavirus epidemic in East Asia, for example. Our genomes still bear the scars.
The difference is today we can assist the viruses to move around the globe by providing them more efficient transport in the form of planes, trains and automobiles and better transmission conditions in the form of humid rooms packed with naive hosts.

Et une autre contribution, un peu plus cynique, de Jon Richfield (qui commente beaucoup sur The Conversation) :

Jon Richfield : With due allowance for reification and anthropomorphism, yes, it has occurred to me, but neither the likes of HIV nor CoViD is of sufficient virulence to have much effect on the volume of the population or its composition within a few centuries. Now, if it were say, Marburg or the like…
But even if the disease were sufficiently deadly, that would be a hell of an unconstructive way to cull a population. Nature has other, more effective, ways, as the planet will see, but they are no nicer and no more constructive.

Complots et pseudo-science

Joe : Another ‘variant’ of an virus yet to be isolated. People around the world under freedom of information requests have been repeated told there is no documented isolation of Sars Cov-2 or any ‘variant’. So we get another variant released in various press releases – and what do you know – it’s released and the same ‘the science’ is that this one attacks younger and healthier People more easily than the original that was worse for the aged. Amazing how they worked that out so quickly…

Jack (qui plussoie) : Oh, how I would love to hear the esteemed Prof Wolfgang’s response to your comment, Mr Joe.Why do the images of these so-valled isolated viruses (which they never purify and isolate in the true sense of the word) always need to be illustrations?Can the good professor confirm that they follow the simple scientific principle of using A CONTROL when culturing these viruses?

Evidemment, malgré son sens de l’humour, le Professeur Preiser s’emporte un peu, et je le comprends…

Pr. Wolfgang Preiser : Wow – finally the real experts are speaking out! Thank you, Mr Joe and Mr Jack, for your valuable contributions. (As an aside, could it be that you missed a few lectures during your “Biology 101” undergraduate courses? Oh, you are conducting your “research” on Facebook and Youtube? Maybe that’s where this deep wisdom comes from).I cannot but be cynical when reading such nonsense. Repeating utter crap forever does not make it any more intelligent. Worse, this nonsense confuses people who then may not follow the advice that would keep them safe. Shame on you! (Yes, I am fed up – we keep wasting our time on fools when so much important work is to be done)Our lab, like many other labs around the world, has indeed isolated numerous lineages and variants of this virus. We are busy isolating the Omikron variant, too. What was your question again? You want to see it? Need an electron microscope for that (refer to biology textbook if unclear). Here what it looks like: . Does that help?Probably wasting my time on people who wantonly “misunderstand” or journalists who report sloppily: The Omikron variant was first found in cluster outbreaks around universities and similar, which is why many of the infected are younger. This does not mean it will not also infect older people if given the opportunity.My honest advice: Stop fooling around and do what is needed to protect yourself and others: get vaccinated and observe the “non-pharmaceutical interventions” known to reduce the risk of becoming infected and infecting others!

Et Richfield enfonce le clou en posant le vrai problème. Il réagit à la phrase « finally the real experts are speaking out ».

Jon Richfield : Trust me, there is a stunning, saddening, worrying source of such real expertise on the streets, in the supermarkets, and yes, on the web.
And that was the good news.
In the local supermarket, not far from your own labs and classes, my wife politely asked a largish specimen, about in his thirties, to put on his mask to cover nose and mouth. He claimed to be an ICU medical man (we never learnt which flavour) but he not only refused, but claimed that because of his professional qualifications we had no right to tell him to do that, that masks were irrelevant window-dressing because (wait for it!!!) the gaps in the mask were larger than the virus (Wow! what next??? Amazing stuff they teach these medics!) And that it was a personal decision, so we must mind our own business. He demanded to know whether we were vaccinated, and when we confirmed that we were, asserted that he had refused vaccination, because in his expertise, he could tell that … something or other…
In short his mastery of epidemiology, virology, immunology, statistics, logic, law, and ethics, either medical or social, were so pathetic that I am sorry we didn’t ask him to particularise his qualifications. (I hope he didn’t get them at Stellenbosch!)
This carried on at increasing decibel levels till a polite store manager showed up and after gently separating us, escorted him out of the shop because he refused to don his mask.
Now, he said something about his job having something to do with anaesthesiology, but even if all his function was bedpan scrubbing, if such views and behaviour could occur practising in medical staff at all, what sort of expertise are we to expect from Jack and Jill Average?
As they say: “Dit raak net nag om jou!”

La citation, c’est de l’Afrikaans, ça veut dire « It’s just night around you ».

Et en effet, ça devient compliqué, même avec des professionnels soignants… Le nombre de soignants qui résistent à la vaccination, et aux gestes barrières, qui ont attendu la toute dernière minute avant l’obligation vaccinale pour se faire vacciner, qui adhèrent à des croyances, qui professent des âneries et qui résonnent comme des cloches au lieu de raisonner… Le nombre de soi-disant pontes virologues, épidémiologues qui sèment la confusion et le désarroi tous les jours à la télé et la radio, alors que tout était dit le 18 mars 2020 ici :

Parce que, c’est vrai, on peut attendre quelques générations que l’Humanité développe une immunité au virus, en acceptant les morts en attendant. Ça ne résout pas le problème des cas graves qu’il faut bien soigner (c’est un peu la base de l’éthique du soin), et qui saturent les services de réanimation et monopolisent les soignants (au détriment des malades « habituels »). Des cas graves qui peuvent être, sinon évités, du moins considérablement réduits grâce à la vaccination.

En fait ceux qui crient à la privation de liberté sont les véritables responsables de cette privation de liberté. C’est parce qu’ils refusent de se faire vacciner qu’ils nous font perdre du temps à tous et qu’en plus ils privent des cancéreux de leur chimio et des mamies de leur prothèse de hanche.

Alors bien sûr, c’est Macron qui l’a dit, donc ça pue du cul. Hé oui, dit comme ça, on se rend compte que c’est un peu court. La crise aurait pu être gérée différemment ? Sans doute ! N’empêche que j’aurais pas aimé être à la place du Big Mac et de ses copains. Et je serais curieux de voir comment les politologues du café du commerce, si attachés à leur liberté, s’en seraient sortis.

L’avantage de The Conversation, c’est de voir ce qui se passe ailleurs dans le monde, et qu’à part dans des pays tenus par des fous furieux comme Bolsonaro, tout le monde (même Poutine et Xi) s’en tient à peu près à la même ligne : vaccin et gestes barrières.

Un dernier pour la route

Ann : I am not complaining. I am trying to find clarity in order to understand why the world has gone into panic mode about a virus that seems to have a lower morbidity and mortality rate than lifestyle diseases like obesity and diabetes (if statistics are to be believed). But then I guess life does have a 100% death rate. Thank you for answering my questions and not getting impatient with me. I am still confused.

Pr. Wolfgang Preiser : Might it be the same reason why I don’t want to be run over by a car even though I am likely to be dead in 40 years from now in any case? Or the fact that one usually does not choose to be infected while most people have a reasonable degree of control over what they eat and how much? (I know it is not that easy)Many aspects are very confusing and it does not help that things keep changing all the time. A huge test for humanity’s ability to master an increasing complex future. Once climate change strikes many places in earnest, I fear Covid will look like a breeze.

Et la contribution de Jon Richfiel.

Jon Richfield : Ann, matters of perspective can be very troubling. In particular one needs to be cautious in comparing mortality/morbidity in determining policy.
One cannot for instance just ignore covid because rabies is worse, or because in say, the US cardiac and cancer kill more. (In SA, TB kills more, and I am not presenting anything like balanced statistics) but for perspective, considering deaths alone, in the US alone, the sheer mass of Americans dead of Covid already is about 40000 tonnes, not counting coffins. As deadweight, that would occupy a sizable cargo vessel, and I would bet that in a another year or two the count will exceed a million.
Now, though a lot of Trump voters and other antivaxxers and anti-maskers take the attitude that there are plenty more Americans to go round, that still is a lot of death, largely avoidable (ask any hospital doctor what proportion of the deaths were vaccinated patients) and by now exceeding all American combat deaths in history, there remains the consideration of excess mortality/morbidity. The established greater causes of death are dealt with routinely by existing infrastructure, but the abruptly added burden of CoViD exceeds what that infrastructure is/was adapted to.
Rationally, the sensible thing to do would be to sink the excess corpses at sea where they could be recycled (which is what I would volunteer for if I were a victim, unless someone had a better use for my carcase, such as pet food or fertiliser) but our society is radically illogical and unethical where dead meat is concerned, and there have been cases of mass graves and similar waste of land.
Meanwhile, masks, vaccine, sanitiser, social distance, vigilance, and similar commonsense measures are what we need most urgently. And for the rest we can support research and only hope, but not only only hope, as Piet Hein put it.