The virus is here, it will not fade away

by Lorenza Masè

Virologist Ilaria Capua will offer her welcome address during the ESOF2020 opening ceremony. Capua, with 30 years of experience in virology studies, decided to go public with the genetic sequence of the avian influenza virus in 2006. Her action paved the way to the development of what’s called "open-source science", promoting an international movement in favour of free access to data on the genetic sequences of influenza viruses.

With not many days to go before school starts, Capua maintained: "We should expect the virus to circulate again, in most cases through asymptomatic infections. The vaccine will be ready in the next springtime (2021), and I'm not sure we will have enough doses for everybody."

From the pandemic point of view, what is the actual snapshot of the situation?

The virus is still here, and it will remain here for a long time. Statistical projections suggesting its fading away are illusionary and misleading. In the summertime, the virus shows less active circulation, but now we are recording an increase in the number of infections. The good news is that there isn't a significant increase in ICU admissions.

Why is the virus circulating mostly among young people, now?

What we see now is an active viral circulation, especially among young adults, a population group where it rarely causes a clinical form of the disease. We succeeded in hitting an important target: raising awareness among the weakest population groups about their weakness. I believe that this is contributing to the decrease in admissions and in the number of cases. The current virus circulation among youngsters could be due to a different approach: now we are hunting it inside those populations; before we looked for its presence in at-risk populations.

It's not many days before school re-opens...

Today, we know that there are very few cases among children and that they are affecting almost exclusively children with other pathologies. We should expect the virus' circulation, and that in most cases it can be asymptomatic. We know all too well that Italy's social structure leans massively on grandparents, who are among the highest at-risk population. We'd need to switch our global family organization dramatically.

Pandemics do not come out of the blue...

Many observers warned against an imminent pandemic risk, including BIll Gates. But we can say with one voice that no one country was prepared, and that we cannot afford to face other pandemics.

Scientists knew it...

The scientific community has not succeeded in getting ready to manage this one, which is the biggest problem we are facing in the last century. This is a serious matter: scientists and researchers should ask themselves some questions.

When is the vaccine ready?

I believe that among all the vaccines currently in the pipeline, more than one will have the right features to be put on the market, but I doubt this will happen before Spring 2021. And even then, I doubt that there will be enough for everybody. In the meantime, we could use the vaccine for the groups at the highest risk, for example, health care workers and fragile people.

Do you recommend the standard flu vaccination this year?

Absolutely! I vaccinate every year. We know that coronavirus may leave permanent signs of its infection, and the same holds true for the influenza virus.

“How the aftermath will be” is also the title of your most recent book...?

This pandemic is a pivotal phenomenon bringing a lot of destructive forces; at the same time it also brings positive energy, able to create, and I'm inclined to think - I wish - that all this devastation can be useful to bring us all to a better place, from many points of view. Perhaps we will be able to put our health centre stage, not only for us humans but for the whole system.

Ilaria Capua will be one of the Keynote speakers at ESOF2020 Opening Session: you can follow it live and free on youtube.

Courtesy of Il Piccolo

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