AS the world strives to seek ways of containing the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a— now classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) — while it continues to ravage the world, it has emerged that it was predicted way back in 2005
BY STAFF REPORTER
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom on Thursday told world leaders that almost 125 000 cases have now been reported to the world body from 118 countries and territories.
“In the past two weeks, the number of cases reported outside China has increased almost 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has almost tripled,” he said.
A December 22, 2005 issue of Awake! magazine, the official publication of the Jehovah’s Witness, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, carried an article titled Influenza—What We Know Now, which traced a number of flu bugs that had hit the world previously and what was likely to happen in future.
According to the JW Library, the Awake! magazine is available in 221 languages earthwide and 93 354 000 copies are produced per each issue.
Most of the Awake! predictions have now come to pass in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
The magazine recalled the flu virus of 1918 and 1919 which turned into a pneumonia-causing killer of young people and how scientists froze its specimen so they could isolate intact ribonucleic acid (RNA) and study why the flu strain was that lethal.
RNA is a carrier of genetic codes in some viruses.
There was a breakthrough as “a team of scientists has been able to identify and sequence most of the genes of the 1918-19 flu virus”.
Although the scientists could not establish what made the flu such a killer, they were able to tell that its strain was a relative of a flu virus that infected both pigs and birds.
Researchers have established that the simple organism was able “to change quickly” and because of its rapid reproduction rate, which is even faster than HIV,” its many copies are not exact”.
“Some are different enough to escape the immune system. That is why we face different flu viruses every year, which present a new set of antigens — substances that test our immunity. If the antigen changes sufficiently, our immune system has little defence against it and there is risk of a pandemic,” noted the article.
While the viruses are said to infect domestic animals such as pigs, chickens and ducks, the pig is said to be able to host other viruses that infect humans and when the genes of two different strains are mixed together, they create a new strain of influenza to which humans have no immunity.
“Some feel that farming communities where poultry, swine, and people live in close proximity — as is often the case in Asia, for example — are likely sources of new flu strains,” the 2005 report read in part.
Perhaps what was chilling — and mainly in retrospect — was how medical experts predicted that there will be new and more vicious flu strains in future.
“According to many experts, it is not a question of if such a vicious flu virus will return but of when and how it will return. In fact, some expect a significant new influenza outbreak every 11 years or so and a severe one approximately every 30 years. According to these predictions, mankind is overdue for another pandemic,” the magazine read.
And if the world was indeed due for another flu pandemic back in 2005, then coronavirus could be it — and the prediction that China was likely to be the source was very apt.
The medical journal Vaccine in 2003 also noted: “It has been 35 years since the last influenza pandemic and the longest interval between pandemics recorded with certainty is 39 years. The pandemic virus may emerge in China or a nearby country and could include surface antigens or virulence factors derived from animal influenza viruses.”
Although there have been theory conspiracy over where exactly the coronavirus of 2020 broke out, China was the first to feel its impact as it devastated Wuhan.
But with cases falling in China and soaring abroad, according to France24, Beijing is now rejecting the widely held assessment that the city of Wuhan is the birthplace of the outbreak.
Awake! magazine also quoted the Vaccine journal predicting the swiftness with which the new influenza outbreak would sweep across the globe.
“It will spread rapidly throughout the world. Several waves of infection will occur. Morbidity will be extensive in all age groups and there will be widespread disruption of social and economic activity in all countries. Excess mortality will be evident in most if not all age groups. It is unlikely that healthcare systems in even the most economically developed countries will be able to adequately cope with the demand for healthcare services.”
Indeed, many health systems, including in the most developed countries, have struggled to cope, with some governments shutting down businesses and ensuring that families stayed in their homes following the outbreak of coronavirus. Although antibiotics can cut the mortality from secondary bacterial pneumonias and certain medications can be effective against some flu strains, there are immunisations that can be helpful in combating a flu virus if the correct strains of it are identified and if the immunisations can be produced in time.
“The history of flu immunisations — from the ill-fated swine flu episode of 1976 to the production shortage of 2004 — has been spotty. Even though medical science has realised momentous advancements since World War I, doctors still do not know of any cure for a powerful virus,” the Awake! report read.
Adhanom said lives could only be saved by ensuring that there was reduction in transmission.
“To save lives, we must reduce transmission. That means finding and isolating as many cases as possible, and quarantining their closest contacts. Even if you cannot stop transmission, you can slow it down and protect health facilities, old age homes and other vital areas – but only if you test all suspected cases,” he told world leaders.