I am hopeful PANDA will publish this, or an edited version. Meanwhile it seems worth sharing here. It demonstrates the dangers of poor public health interventions.
Interestingly mainstream media, likely due to their lack of investigative ability rather than something sinister, have claimed that NZ were “ZeroRSV” until unquarantined Australian arrivals brought it back into the country. This article explains why an established, widely circulating virus would not have reverted to “status zero” and that in fact, it’s our immune system health that is the reason for our current RSV (and other respiratory viruses) epidemic.
Human Ecosystems Need Exposure
On 16 March 2020 the Director General of World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced at a press conference in Geneva “We have a simple message to all countries – test, test, test”. He went on to claim that without testing of all suspected COVID-19 cases, they could not be isolated and the chain of infection could not be broken. He also stated on 24 May 2021 that the pandemic “will not be over until and unless transmission is controlled in every last country”.
As a result of these test and trace concepts, mass SARS-CoV-2 PCR testing has been undertaken globally. In unwell individuals there has been a fixation on SARS-CoV-2 testing to the exclusion of other possible diagnoses. Healthy individuals have been forced to take tests, quarantine, stay home, close businesses, wear masks, socially distance and follow many other locally determined lockdown policies. This response ignores the fact that sickness occurs almost exclusively in the elderly and those whose immune systems are already frail due to pre-existing chronic conditions. Measures to protect the vulnerable would have been a much more targeted and realistic objective whilst causing far less societal devastation.
With a highly transmissible respiratory virus causing minimal symptoms in most individuals the lockdown response also ignores the complex microscopic ecosystem which humans unwittingly host. Defined as an organ in its own right, the human microbiome consists of communities of microbes (bacteria, viruses and fungi) residing in and on the human body. The viruses in our microbiome are known as the “virome” and those communities of viruses which move in and out of our respiratory tract over time via the mere act of breathing, are known as the “respiratory virome”.
The sole aim of the organisms in our microbiome is their own survival, which is assisted in various ways by the human body hosting them. Harming their host is also harmful to the organisms themselves, who rely on human life for survival. Any harm an infectious agent causes to the hosts they move amongst tends to be incidental and usually relates to the individual’s health status and ability to mount an immune response. As an example, SARS-CoV-2 cannot easily establish itself in an immature immune system for multiple reasons, meaning children are at extremely low risk of Covid-19 disease (Reference). Simultaneously, the same immaturity which protects against Covid-19 makes children more susceptible to other respiratory diseases such as Influenza.
The respiratory virome consists of a combination of potentially harmful viruses, viruses with an unknown ability for harm, and viruses which protect our health by competing against and damaging or killing other potentially harmful microbes. Potentially harmful viruses can help the immune system when exposure occurs at a time in life when there is minimal risk of developing disease by training it to recognise and fight the organism. Developing immunity without becoming unwell is the ideal scenario.
Healthy newborn babies have complete but immature immune systems which rely on exposure from the moment of birth in order to develop. Within the first few hours of life, a large number of microbes establish on newborn skin, in the oral cavity and gut, and in the respiratory tract (reference). Exposure occurs via close maternal contact beginning with birth occurring next to the anus, ensuring large amounts of maternal gut flora transfer to the baby immediately. A mother then touches, breathes on and remains in close personal contact with her baby almost constantly. Because maternal immunity is passed onto the baby via the bloodstream antenatally, and via breastmilk postnatally, babies have temporary immunity to the microbes this contact exposes them to. This provides time and training for the newborn immune system to develop independently.
Exposure can also be a risk to infant health due to the fragility of immature immune systems. Respiratory infections are a leading cause of illness and death in infancy. Close contact with healthy individuals offers low-risk exposures giving the infant’s immune system time and practice to develop and mature. Promoting immune health by practices such as exclusive breastfeeding, adequate sleep and low levels of stress, are important protective mechanisms.
An example of viral transmission dynamics and human health is the reinfection which occurs throughout the human lifespan with Respiratory Syncytial Virus. Abbreviated to RSV, this virus is a significant component of the respiratory virome. It is also the main viral cause of lower respiratory tract infections worldwide (Reference). The first infection with RSV in early life is usually the most severe. Subsequent reinfections tend to be milder, due partly to protective immunity resulting from prior infection.
A lifetime of reinfection with RSV confers levels of antibodies in the pregnant woman, which passes to the unborn baby and lasts for a number of months after birth. As this passive immunity wanes, the infant becomes susceptible to disease when exposed. Most infants experience their first RSV related illness between nine months to two years of age (Reference). Up to 3% of these primary infections require hospitalisation (Reference) and globally up to 200,000 children under the age of five die due to RSV infection each year (Reference). Reinfection occurs throughout the lifespan and most infections after the age of five tend to be mild until the immune system becomes frail either from older age or due to immune suppression such as during chemotherapy treatment.
When enough of a population have at least partial immunity to a potentially harmful organism, vulnerable populations are more likely to be protected than in populations where immunity is diminished. This demonstrates the important role that our microbiome and its components including the respiratory virome, play in human health. Two excellent examples of this are outlined below in relation to Covid-19 and RSV.
A study in Scotland in 2020 (Reference) found that adults living in households with health care workers were at less risk from Covid-19 disease if children were also living in the household. As the numbers of resident children increased, the risk of Covid-19 disease in household contacts reduced. This supports a likely hypothesis that children carry tiny amounts of SARS-CoV-2 virus in their respiratory virome, and that transmission from children to adults is protective rather than harmful.
In July 2021 New Zealand and Australia, who have both been lauded for their lockdown and social distancing practices in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, have reported high rates of children being hospitalised with RSV infection. Lockdown practices may have reduced exposures to SARS-CoV-2, although there are other possibilities for the pattern of Covid-19 disease in this region. However, outbreaks of RSV suggest that respiratory viromes have also had less exposure to other viruses which, when present in enough of the population, normally offer protection to vulnerable groups who now face higher risk of disease due to lack of population immunity.
In conclusion, therefore, it can be seen that within the delicate microscopic ecosystems which human populations inhabit, the obstruction of exposure to a range of viruses can threaten, rather than protect, human health. The idea promoted by World Health Organisation, that testing healthy individuals and taking extreme efforts at great societal cost to block all transmission of one virus which harms a very specific risk group, seems ultimately to have been more detrimental than beneficial to population health.