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He helped to eradicate smallpox and make the film 'Infection': the epidemiologist told how to defeat the coronavirus

Epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, who warned of a pandemic in 2006, says we can defeat the coronavirus, but we still have a lot of tests ahead. Writes about this Wired.

Photo: Shutterstock

14 years ago, Diamond, an epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox, described what the next pandemic would look like. At that time it sounded too terrible to be taken seriously.

“A billion people would get sick,” he said. - 165 million people would die. There will be a global recession and depression, many people will lose their jobs and medical care, the consequences are unthinkable. "

Now the unthinkable is already here, and Brilliant, chairman of the pandemic council, shares his experiences with those at the forefront. We are far from 100 million deaths due to the new coronavirus, but it has turned our world upside down. The diamond tries not to say “I said it” too often. But he said this not only in conversations and letters, but also as a senior technical consultant in the horror film about the pandemic “Infection”. In addition to working with the World Health Organization to fight smallpox, Diamond, now 75 years old, has been fighting flu, polio, and blindness; once led the nonprofit wing of Google, Google.org; co-founded the Well conference system; and traveled with the Grateful Dead.

The diamond lives in one of the six counties of the San Francisco Bay Area, where isolation was introduced.

Back in 2006, when Diamond delivered a speech, he emphasized that efforts must be made to stop pandemics.

“The systems I asked for have been created and are in use,” says the epidemiologist. But now we are all watching the movie Contagion in reality. "

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“People say Contagion is a prophetic film. The entire epidemiological community over the past 10 or 15 years has warned everyone that it is not about whether we will have such a pandemic, but about when it will overtake us, Brilliant adds. - It's very difficult to get people to listen. US President Donald Trump fired a man on the National Security Council who was the only person at that level who was responsible for protecting against the pandemic. All his staff and connections left with him. And then Trump pulled out funding for the early warning of the epidemic around the world. "

Diamond says the virus is real and should not be underestimated.

“The virus is completely new, which means that there is no person in the world who would have immunity as a result of having it earlier. This means that it is able to infect all 7,8 billion people, ”says the epidemiologist.

“There will be tens of millions, or hundreds of millions, or more, who will contract this virus before it ends,” Brilliant says. - This is the most dangerous pandemic in our lives. ”

The epidemiologist believes that security measures and quarantine are correct.

“Yes, this is a very correct decision. Self-isolation, school closures, canceled events are all good. But is it able to protect us and keep us safe from disease, says Brilliant. “But on the other hand, such safety measures give time to create a vaccine. And we will receive it in 12-18 months "

But according to Brilliant, there is another scenario.

«It may happen that a large enough number of people contract the disease and become immune. In combination with a vaccine, this is enough to create herd immunity, which is about 70 or 80%, ”says Brilliant.

“I hope that we will receive an antiviral drug for Covid-19 that will treat the disease, but at the same time be preventive. This, of course, is not proven, and it is a moot point, and many people would agree with me. But as proof, I offer two papers in 2005, one in nature and one in science. In both, mathematical simulations were performed with the flu to see if taking Tamiflu alone could stop the outbreak. And it worked in both cases. I also offer as evidence the fact that at some point we thought that HIV / AIDS was incurable, and this is a death sentence, says Brilliant. “Then some great scientists discovered antiviral drugs, and we learned that some of these drugs can be given before illness and can prevent it. Because of the great interest in Covid-19, we will put every effort, money and resources into finding antiviral drugs that have preventive characteristics that can be used in addition to vaccines. ”

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The epidemiologist does not yet know exactly when life will return to normal again and quarantine measures will be lifted.

“There is really good news from South Korea and China. It will be very difficult for us to follow the Chinese model. We are not going to lock people in their apartments, to plant them. But the South Korean model is one that we could follow. Unfortunately, this requires running a proportionate number of tests they ran - they ran over a quarter of a million tests. In fact, by the time South Korea ran 200 tests, we probably did less than 000, ”Brilliant says.

But he says it’s not too late to change something and start mass testing to detect the virus.

“The tests will make a difference. We have to take a random sample to find out where the virus is. Because we don't know. Mississippi may not report any cases because it is not testing residents. In Zimbabwe, they say they have no infected because they don't have the ability to test, not because they don't have the virus. We need to do something similar to a home pregnancy test that you can do at home, ”says Brilliant.

When asked, “If you were president for one day, what would you say at the daily briefing?”, The epidemiologist replied: “I would start the press conference with the words:“ Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Ron Maple - he was the king of Ebola under President Barack Obama, and now I called him back and made him king Covid. Everything will be centralized under one person who is respected by both the public health and the political community. "

Despite the fact that the Diamond is already at an age and is at risk, he said that he is not afraid of coronavirus.

“I belong to the age group where the death rate is one in seven, but I'm not afraid. I firmly believe that the steps we are taking will extend the time it takes for the virus to infect large numbers of people. I think that this will also, in turn, increase the likelihood that we will have a vaccine or we will have a prophylactic antiviral to reduce the spread. Everyone should remember: this is not a zombie apocalypse. This is not a mass extinction, ”says Brilliant.

He said that one should also not neglect face masks, they really help protect oneself from the virus.

“The N95 mask itself is extremely good. The pores in the mask are three microns wide. The virus is one micron wide. According to the latest data I saw, the mask provided 5x protection. This is really good. But we need to keep hospitals and health care workers working so they can come to work and be safe. Therefore, masks should go where they are needed most: when caring for patients, ”says Brilliant.

“The world won't look normal until three things happen. First, we find out whether the spread of this virus looks like an iceberg, which is one-seventh above the water, or a pyramid where we see everything at once, says Brilliant. “Secondly, we must have a working treatment: a vaccine or an antiviral agent. And third, and perhaps most importantly, when we see that a large number of people - in particular, nurses, home health workers, doctors, police officers, firefighters and teachers - who have had the disease - have become immune. Then we can safely send our children back to school, because we know that the teacher is not contagious. ”

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But, according to Diamond, there are pluses for humanity in a pandemic.

“I am a scientist, but I am also a believer. And I can never look at anything without asking the question of whether there is a higher power that will somehow help us become the best version of ourselves that we could be? - says Brilliant. - I thought we would see empty streets, but the amount of civic activity is greater than I have ever seen. I see young children volunteering to buy groceries for people who live alone at home. I see an incredible influx of nurses, heroic nurses who come and work many more hours than they used to, doctors who fearlessly go to the hospital to work. I've never seen the kind of volunteerism I see now. ”

“This is truly an unprecedented and difficult time that will test us. When we get through this, maybe like during World War II, it will force us to reconsider our lives. The virus is equal opportunity for infection. And, perhaps, we are better off that we are all much more alike than we thought, ”- said Brilliant.

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