Virologist Dr. Sajadi Shares information About Fight Against COVID-19
27 March, 2020
Virologist Dr. Sajadi Shares information About Fight Against COVID-19
Worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 is a global challenge for every country equally. From this point of view, it is extremely important to share information and knowledge about how to fight against Coronavirus. Dr. Mohammad Sajadi, a researcher at the Institute of Virology at the University of Maryland, who published a new Coronavirus analyses, gave an exclusive interview to Georgian Journal.

According to your analyses, COVID 19 tends to be mostly spread in the countries with the same temperature and humidity. What
practical use can this assertion have for the scientist to battle the virus?

We believe that coronaviruses have seasonality. So, we know human coronaviruses are not the ones we are talking about right now, but the ones from before have seasonality, we know other respiratory viruses to have seasonality, this means that they have a certain temperature and humidity requirements that come at certain times of the year, in temperate areas, and that they leave those same areas at different times of the year, during the spring and summer. With this coronavirus we noticed that similar to other respiratory viruses that have been described, it seems to be more cases, more significant transmissions in cooler areas, 5-11 degrees and also low humidity. If we are correct – and this hypothesis has to be tested, - but if we are right, then it could be important for several reasons, it could tell you where you need to focus your resources, it could tell you when to expect it potentially, so I think it could be practical for them to use.

What is the main evidence, according to which we can be sure that the coronavirus is not artificial and it has the natural origin?

This is based on sequence and data that was published last month. First of all, based on what we know about coronaviruses and especially the ones that are most similar to the coronavirus that causes COVID 19, we know that they are similar to back coronaviruses, whether it’s the MERS, the Middle East respiratory virus, or the earlier SARS. So we know they are highly similar to those coronaviruses. Now, whether how and why these were transmitted to humans, I don’t think we know as of yet, but I think with the coming months we should be having a lot more generic analyses of the viruses and I think we’ll have a lot better idea of exactly how it came about, and where it came about, and all of those questions that you are asking.

We know that right now Italy is struggling with the decease the most. What can be the solution for this country to reduce the infection and death cases and how can other countries take example, in order to not have the same situation in the coming weeks?

Unfortunately, Italy’s having a very big problem right now. You know, it takes a combination of a lot of things, lot of resources. For the testing, for the first and the most important thing, you need to know who’s getting infected, what your numbers are, and so that’s one issue that we are having here in the US right now as well, adequate testing. You need adequate infrastructure, resources, in terms of your hospitals, there’s a lot of preparation, readiness, to convert regular hospitals into, you know, COVID hospitals, and what that entails, and how’s spreading the infection in the hospitals themselves, cause that can be a big problem as well. So it can be a multi, it’s a big problem, and I think the best thing for the public is to listen to the public health authorities and follow the advice of those professionals.

Watch the video here:

In your knowledge, what is the main factor that this virus is different from other coronaviruses and what is the main thing for which it is spreading so quickly and has a high mortality rate?

There are two types of coronaviruses, there are human coronaviruses, these are viruses that have been with us for a long time, we get to know about them, probably, till the 1960’s, but there are four types and they cause infection every year or every several years in different places, and those have seasonal patterns that I talked about before. Now, there is separate group of coronaviruses that we are recently introducing the people – this is SARS, this is MERS and this is SARS-CoV-2, that causes COVID 19.

The second group can be highly infectious, can be highly fatal as well. This particular coronavirus seems to spread easier than the other two – the MERS and SARS, and it doesn’t seem to have as high fatality rate, but because it can infect so many people. It’s causing a big problem worldwide. Now, what particular parts of the virus makes this more transmissible and less fatal, I think those questions are going to be answered in the near future with more research.

We know that a lot of drugs are being tested now. Which one is the most promising and what can you say about the possible dates, when they can be used on wide-scale?

There has been a number of drugs that are used right now. Some of these goes back to research that was done on the SARS coronavirus, and MERS coronavirus, especially the research that was done in vitro, but there is a number of antivirals that are being tried, even an anti-parasitic, malaria drug is being used to treat patients. Earlier on they were also trying anti influenza medicines, because one part of the coronavirus was similar to one of the flu viruses, that medicine doesn’t seem to work.

But, currently, what I understand is that patients are being treated with the combination of these available medicines, there’s anti-bacterial also, that is thought to have some activity. So, besides these available medicines, there are also some medications that are in clinical trials, for example, Gilead, drug company, that has shown some promise in China and I know that it’s being used in US as part some trials as well. And, there’s a full list of other medications and anti-bodies that are going to be tested and tried on people in the coming weeks and months.

You point out in your analyses that there is a chance COVID 19 can be seasonal. But, if its origin is connected to bats or pangolins, in this case, after having battled this virus, in what way can it return next year?

I’m just going to step back to what do we mean by “seasonal”. So, seasonal viruses typically occur in fall or winter in temperate areas. So, in certain areas of the world they have certain peaks, many many cases in the fall or winter and then, during the spring and summer they decrease. But, in other areas of the world, while that is happening, they may be having a winter, so they are going to have a lot of cases. In the tropics and sub-tropics you end up having those respiratory viruses around, but at lower levels. So, that’s one thing to remember, when people are talking about seasonality, we are talking about how the virus acts in certain locations. The respiratory viruses can be found around in every location, but it’s just a matter of how much, and how much problems they can cause.

Now, with the beginning of this pandemic, people haven’t seen this virus before, so we don’t think that they have immunity. When it happens, it can hard to predict how it’s going to act. Once the viruses come back every year or every couple of years, you can predict that, but at the very beginning, when people don’t have, when no one has immunity, it can act unpredictably, you can have outbreaks at times outside of what we think are seasonal. We saw this, for example, 10 years ago with H1N1 influenza. So it’s a little bit hard to predict, but if we are right about the seasonality, we should see a decrease in cases at areas at a highest hit right now and then what’s going to happen in the summer, in terms of the same areas and the fall, we have to see. But prediction would be that that it may come back.

Can it be possible that, getting the blood of already recovered patient might help or save the infected one?

You raised a good point, well, how can things in the blood help, most of the time we think about antibodies that patients make when they have recovered. And, yes, there is a potential that that could work, that blood, or the serum of the patient, or purified antibody can be given to others. It’s a possibility, there is also a possibility that you can actually isolate the antibody that’s important and manufacture, that’s one of the things that we are trying to do here in our research center, in my lab. But one thing to remember is that with some infections, antibodies can make things worse. So, we are not quite sure yet whit this infection how that is going to be, whether certain antibodies can be helpful, and certain antibodies – not helpful, or even, harmful. So, it’s a complicated question, but it’s something that’s going to be looked at by a lot of groups, including ours.

What will be your most important advice for our country, Georgia, where we have 54 cases so far and where new phase has started, as in, domestic spread?

Yes, so I looked at the map this morning and I saw how many cases you have, thankfully, it is relatively low right now, compared to other places in the world, that is good. I think my advice is to have a lot of testing available. You have to know – are we done with 54 cases or 540? It’s very important to know that. And the second thing for the people is that you have to really follow the advice of the public health officials, because even if we are right about the seasonality and let’s say, the cases decrease, there’s a difference in how the decrease. And with public health interventions and with the things we do to stem the virus, to hold it and stop it from spreading, that can make a big difference in how many people get infected. So, the best advice is to follow the health professionals’ advice.

Eka Abashidze

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