No, viruses do not think. Most biologists do not even consider them alive.
But they do become “alive” when they enter a host – perhaps you. If you don’t want that to happen to you, your loved ones, the postman or the rest of humanity, you might want to “think” like the virus.
Viruses prove intelligence can be supremely cunning without consciousness.
There are far more virus particles on earth than other biological forms – perhaps 100 billion in a quart of seawater. From a biological intelligence standpoint, viruses are almost pure “information” – parasites with enough DNA or RNA precisely evolved to infect and reproduce.
That’s what they do: infect and reproduce. As ruthlessly as Kyle Reese says of humanity’s nemesis in the first “Terminator” movie -– “That’s what he does. That’s all he does.” Any species, any individual. Quickly, dominantly. .
But evolutionary pressure decrees you infect a large enough population in your new host to create a viral reservoir. A large viral reservoir improves your chances to mutate in ways that the host’s immune system, or in our added case, vaccines, won’t work.
At this point six million Americans have been proven to be infected with Covid-19, creating a growing viral reservoir.
Infect, reproduce, mutate. Change fast enough to live another day, and invade more species and individuals.
There are about 781 bat coronaviruses. Three so far, SARS, MERS, and Sars-Cov-2, have jumped to humans. All proved effective killers. There are approximately 50 more bat coronaviruses like those three.
Even if we eradicate Sars-Cov-2, we need a strategy to prevent other coronaviruses from passing into humans. Unless we want to go through this again and again, we need it now.
To get an idea of how easily viruses spread, think of zombie movies. Zombies are unthinking undead who rush to you if you’re alive, then turn you into a fellow zombie. Though most zombie movies don’t spend much screentime on biological mechanisms, zombiehood is usually ascribed to a “fast acting virus.”
But you can see movie zombies coming for you. They shuffle or lope appearing unhinged and bloody, with extremely bad hair and fashion sense, telling us from three city blocks away they are undead. Movie zombies are supremely dangerous, killing almost everybody except the hero if they bite you.
Covid-19 does not tell you it’s coming. Perhaps 40% of people who get it are asymptomatic. It doesn’t need a bite to infect you. It’s most infectious just before victims experience symptoms. Much more nefariously, it uses love to catch us.
Killing Through Love
In the original Wuhan cohort, 75-80% of those who died were members of families. Covid-19 is very good at killing the ones we love.
All it takes is breathing and talking. Loud talking, the kind you might get in a family reunion, is even more effective. This very special coronavirus has used our social evolution against us.
When we love someone we want to be “close” to them. That’s one major way the virus gets us.
Sars-Cov-2 virus uses the most basic human traits, socialness and talking, to spread itself. It spreads through people who are unsick, who can’t be identified without rapid, accurate testing. It spreads silently. Perhaps 80% of cases come from superspreaders, who may infect dozens or hundreds. It propagates through talking and breathing, which is why masks and social distancing work, and need to be applied even with those you love most. Everyone you’ve met in the last two weeks might have infected you.
Evolution is ruthless and inexorable. So is Sars-Cov-2. It was always so. Perhaps 8-25% of your DNA comes from viruses, with a big chunk from retroviruses like AIDS.
And just as we have centuries, we use case identification, tracing and tracking, to keep our population alive. Because when it comes to infections like Covid-19, my health=your health.
We protect each other, or we’re all unprotected. Which is why recent government actions makes no sense.
A few days ago the CDC changed its testing recommendations with input from “high officials.” This new advice tells people who are contacts of known Covid-19 infections to “not get tested” until they have symptoms.
Admiral Giroir, our testing czar, defended the action against an uproar from epidemiologists. He explained correctly that people who are infected might not test positive for days. Soon after, recommendations were amended to let testing “be considered.”
Admiral Giroir did not mention, as he should have immediately, that people who are contacts should instantly quarantine. That they will not know without testing if they are infected, and can then infect their family, co-workers, and the rest of society. That they only way to get them out of quarantine is to test them, usually more than once, to prove they are not dangerous to others. That telling contacts not to test may let them think it’s fine to not isolate.
The main way epidemics have been handled for centuries has been via quarantine. You find out who is infected. You trace their contacts. You quarantine the infectees and their contacts, isolate and support them until you know they will not harm others.
Testing, tracing and tracking can’t work if you tell potentially infected contacts not to get tested and go about their business. Melbourne locked down 6 million people because they could not trace half the infections. If you can’t trace infectees and their contacts, you can’t control the infection.
That is the present condition of much of the U.S.
For ostensibly political reasons, CDC kicked out one of the main legs underpinning tracing and tracking. Not only do we not have a national public health infrastructure, we’re telling folks to not find out if they’re infectious. How do you trust people who’s vision of safety is the safety of the tomb?
Viruses possess an evolutionary imperative to infect and reproduce. More victims increases their chance their chance to mutate into forms we can’t control.
To corral Covid-19, we will need rapid tests to determine who is infectious; to track their contacts; isolate and support them; and above all recognize the virus uses our love for each other, our social humanity, against us. It requires a coordinated national program to teach, trace, and track. Only our unified actions will stop the virus from infecting almost every human on this planet.
Time to work together. Are you listening, Washington?