My name is COVID-19… and I am not alive!

An in-depth interview with Dr. Christos Karatzios, Assistant Professor of Paediatrics/Infectious Diseases – Montréal Children’s Hospital

Covid-19. Although we call it sneaky, silent
killer, elusive and all kinds of epithets usually
attributed to living organisms, covid-19 is
not alive. It is a piece of RNA code wrapped
in a protein shell. It cannot self-replicate and
needs our cells to do its dirty job. There I go
humanizing it again! And although most of
us want this new coronavirus to die horribly,
scientists like Dr. Christos Karatzios see it
exactly for what it is: A parasite that does
not even deserve to be called microorganism
which deserves, however, enormous respect
and knowledge in order to eliminate it.

Dr. Christos Karatzios.

New effect on children-Kawasaki syndrome
Lately, a lot is being discussed about a larger
than usual number of kids being admitted to
the hospital with an inflammatory syndrome
called Kawasaki.
“Children started coming in with Kawasaki
syndrome for which there is no test. More
like a clinical hunch” said Dr. Karatzios. It is
a disease originally seen in Asian kids and no
one knows what is causing it. Effects include
prolonged fever, face rashes, red eyes, cracked
red lips, swollen strawberry looking tongue,
swollen hands and feet, eventually attacking the
heart. The past few weeks reports all over the
world have been showing an increased number
of children coming in the hospital with weird
atypical Kawasaki syndrome, leading doctors
to believe that some infectious agent is causing this. Covid-19 is the obvious culprit since
that is the only infectious agent that is present
compared to last year. “St-Justine looked at their
patients; half of them tested positive to Covid,
half of them not. The children who tested negative had antibodies developed for covid-19” said
Dr. Karatzios.

All that means is, that at some
point those children developed antibodies,
killed the virus and later developed Kawasaki
syndrome as an auto-immune reaction to their
own antibodies. The scientific community is
closely monitoring this new development.
Still very rare
All this scary stuff shows yet another baffling
aspect of this virus. However, when it comes
to children, cases of covid-19 are still very rare.
“Less than 5% of the total covid-19 infections
are children not to mention that children do
well against the virus or are asymptomatic” said
Dr. Karatzios. Out of this 5% in 4 million, only
a few dozen ended up in the hospital (24 in the
UK, 15 in the US a few in Montreal etc.) and
out of those, an infinitesimal percentage died.

Covid-19 the hijacker and your
body’s response
This virus is no different than others in the way
it operates. It hijacks the cells of your body (your
DNA, your enzymes, your proteins) to create
copies of itself. The body realizes that there is
something happening that it does not like and
sends messages to the immune system to send
white blood cells to the infected area to swallow
up the intruders. Those white blood cell first
responders eat up viruses, chop them up and
present them on their surface for other immune
cells to come and learn about the enemy. Then
the immune system starts to process…
In the end it creates antibodies. These Y
shaped soldiers are released in large numbers
in the body and attach themselves to the virus
which they now know very well. Antibodies
attached to a virus can kill it by preventing the
virus from entering a cell or by making the virus
more appetizing (recognizable) to white blood
cells to eat it. Later the body creates memory
cells that contain the blueprint of those antibodies in case the virus attacks again and that
is how immunity develops.
Herd immunity
I asked the doctor if the virus could be eliminated without a vaccine. “Yes but you would
get a lot of dead and sick people from this” was
his adamant reply. He explained that in order
to develop herd immunity 60 to 70 percent of
people have to have contracted the virus and
developed antibodies to it. “As a society, do
we want to sacrifice a lot more people, like in
Sweden which did not follow the lockdown
approach of the rest of the world, in order
to develop herd immunity?” questioned Dr.
Karatzios. Flattening the curve means we spare
our health system a massive influx of patients.
Flattening the curve means we do not have to
decide who lives and who dies like in Italy. The
virus will always be there, but we take the time
to develop our weapons against it while minimizing our casualties. It’s a war thing!
Vitamins to douse the flames
after a war

“There is no magic formula as to how to
strengthen our immune system. But you can
send your immune system to the gym by resting,
sleeping 7-8 hours and eating a balanced and
healthy diet” said Dr. Karatzios. He proceeded
to emphasize the importance of fruits and vegetables for the vitamins they have which are very
useful to the body as antioxidants. “When your
immune system is fighting a war, some white
cells kill viruses by pouring peroxide on them. If
this inflammation is allowed to happen at a very
prolonged and extreme way, it can lead to problems like cancer and can lead to an overactive
immune system so the vitamins put the brakes
on the immune system.” said Dr. Karatzios.
Vitamin D
There are a few studies that show that vitamin
D is kind of protective against respiratory viruses
and infuenza. So, people that have low levels of
vitamin D, people who live in climates where
there is not enough sun or do not consume
vitamin D rich foods have more problems with
respiratory viruses. Even with covid-19 there is
a suggestion that sunnier places in the world
tend to fare better than places with vitamin D
deficiency. “A few studies show that Vitamin D
helps to boost our immune system a little bit.
Not a cure but it helps.”

Our immune system always
needs training but…

“If you live in a bubble all your life, then your
immune system is not trained and does not have
memory of things that are out there” said Dr.
Karatzios. “Let’s say you live in this bubble and
have never been vaccinated then if you venture
outside for the first time, you will invariably get
sick”. Dr. Karatzios brought as an example how
little children with “virgin” immune systems get
sick all the time when they first go to school for
the first couple of years. Then they come home
less sick as their immune system learns how to
deal with the different microorganisms. So in
a way isolation during covid does not give our
immune system the opportunity to spar. As Dr.
Karatzios noted, if covid would only give us mild
symptoms like a cold, then yes, the immune
system should get its time in the gym. “The
problem is that this virus we’re looking at so
much problems-10% of the people infected end
up in the ICU. So do you want to end up in the
ICU? And do we have enough ICU beds? No!”
emphasized Dr. Karatzios.
Mortality rate
There has been a lot of talk about the mortality
rate of this virus that Dr. Karatzios does not care
too much about. “We don’t have a good measure
of what the mortality rate is. We need to be
understood is that to get an accurate mortality
rate you need to have a denominator. Number
of people that died over number of people
infected. Right now, we have no idea how many
people have been infected. All we are doing is
doing throat swabs of the people that have been
sick. How about those that did not go to the
hospital and others that were asymptomatic.
What we see now is the tip of the iceberg” said
the doctor adding that there are probably 50 to
100 times more people infected that we never
knew about.
Like the flu virus, covid-19 mutates. For the
moment it appears that it mutates slowly which
is good news. I asked the doctor if it could
mutate to a stain less dangerous and less virulent than now.
“It has to mutate in a such a way as to lose
its virulence. SARS-1 disappeared. It started
November 2002 with a huge mortality rate of
10% and then by July 2003 it was gone” said Dr.
Karatzios. Apparently, there are some indications that covid is beginning to show the same
signs as SARS-1 but we have not yet peaked in
cases all over the world. It is too early to foster
hope that the virus will mutate in a way to make
itself extinct.
Covid-19 and SARS 1
They are in essence brothers. They are both
coronaviruses which came from bats. SARS-1
went from bat to civet cat to human and Covid19 from bat to pangolin (most likely) to human.
Covid-19 is however a much meaner brother
(Complex is the word Dr. Karatzios used)
because of all these immune over exaggerations
that it causes which have led to thrombotic
events, kidney failure and lung emboli. It has
caused more stroke type events compared to
SARS 1 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).