DR PHILIP CHUA: BA.2.75 – A killer?

DR. PHILIP S. CHUA: Chairman of the convention of the Society of Philippine Surgeons in Las Vegas

 In the continuing saga of the SARS-CoV2 virus, which has mutated into various strains since it was first discovered in Wuhan, China, on December 8, 2019, to the vicious killer Delta, then Omicron, and its super-contagious substrains, BA.4 and BA.5, the current dominant variant, a newly spawned mutant, BA.275, has evolved and invaded numerous countries including the United States.

     Scientists believe that BA.2.75 may be a more efficient super-spreader and get around immunity from vaccines and previous infection. The clinical virology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, says “the rates of transmission are showing kind of that exponential increase,” and “whether it will outcompete BA.5 is yet to be determined.”

Could BA.2.75 be a more deadly strain than other Omicron variants? That is still unclear since it is so new, and greater clinical observation is needed to know more about its eventual clinical behavior and impact on our health.

As to be expected when the full-vaccination rate of a nation is only 67 percent like the United States, with 33 percent (about 110 million) unvaccinated and the most likely target of the virus and become potential spreaders of COVID-19 infection, the coronavirus will continually replicate and mutate in the bodies of these 110 million unprotected people, to churn out new variants, ad libitum. So, it is possible that the 24 Greek Alphabets, from Alpha to Omega, could all be used up before this pandemic truly comes to an end – if it ever leaves us at all.

Universal vaccine

Since the protective immunity conferred by all current vaccines for COVID-19 wanes in about 6 months or less, Pfizer and BioNTech mounted a new clinical trial for universal COVID-19 vaccine candidates. The study is led by a research team from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. They will include T-cell enhancing shots and pan-coronavirus shots that “protect against the broader family of viruses and its mutations.” The major challenge for this vaccine is “whether or not it will be able to maintain efficacy as the virus mutates.”  Even with a universal vaccine, no doubt a life-saver, the greater dilemma, as the past couple of years have shown, is some people’s hesitancy, reluctance, and rejection of the COVID-19 vaccines.

An analogy: We may develop superior and more protective state-of-the-art bullet-proof vests (a metaphor for the universal vaccines) in our war against this invisible enemy, with billions of stealth “virus-bullets” flying all around us, but if people refuse to “wear” them because they have the constitutional freedom of choice to refuse them and behave the way they want regardless of potential harm to other people, the advances in science and technology and expensive resources would be greatly wasted.

More than 1,046,232 have died out of the total 90,491,960 COVID-19 cases in the United States as of July 12, 2022, with 7-day average cases of 108,652 and 323 deaths a day. In the Philippines, the total is 3,721,413 (1362 new cases) and 60,640 deaths. There have been greater than 12 billion COVID-19 vaccines administered around the world, proving how safe and effective they are.

Monkeypox winning

Experts have commented the monkeypox outbreak should have been easy to contain because the virus, unlike the COVID-19 virus, does not spread efficiently except through intimate contact, and tests and vaccines were at hand before the current outbreak.” The United States has fallen short at every turn as it did with the COVID-19 pandemic, which raises great concern about the nation’s ability to battle future national health crises.

The global toll of monkeypox (in more than 58 countries) has gone beyond 8,100 cases (mostly men who had sex with men), the largest international outbreak the world has seen. So far, there is no report of Monkeypox in the Philippines. There are now at least 700 cases in the United States and the number is expected to go much higher. This is evidently the failure in this country to take public health seriously as it did with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seemingly a sexually transmitted disease like syphilis, which is associated with genital sores and lesions in the groin, monkeypox, with similar wounds, could also be transmitted through body fluids from these infected areas. There were more than 130,000 new cases of syphilis in 2020 alone, among heterosexuals too, more than 50 percent were among those ages 15 to 24.

Aggressive testing for syphilis is vital and helpful even in the diagnosis and management of monkeypox. Since it only requires one shot of penicillin to treat syphilis, the successful treatment of syphilis and elimination of the genital sores will help in the diagnosis of monkeypox, which will not respond to penicillin and retain its lesions in the groin. There is no cure for monkeypox but there are several antiviral medications for smallpox that may help patients with monkeypox.

Masks, isolation, vaccines

The COVID-19 pandemic has been with us for 949 days (more than 2.6 years) and yet some people, (disappointingly, including some physicians and nurses), still do not believe in quarantine (like, isolating an infected spouse from the other at home, or an infected mother from her healthy child). And there are countless individuals, in spite of their education, who do not accept the protective value of masks, distancing, and the COVID-19 vaccines. With the predicted fifth wave, as new strains of the virus evolve, it is sad to see people putting their guards down this early. Some even curse those who are vaccinated, still masking (which protects others also) and distancing, being careful, trying to evade the virus for a wise reason.

The failure of the government in educating the public about the SARS-CoV2 virus promptly and adequately (in vivid understandable detail) is one of the reasons why the COVID-19 pandemic was able to kill more than one million in the United States alone and why it will be with us for more years to come. The misinformed anti-vax, anti-mask, civil rights protestors and the political correctness spewed by some of our public officials, with their own agenda, are the other reasons for the unrelenting COVID-19 infections in the country. Public education (thorough and comprehensive) about this virus is vital if we are to thwart more infections and elude more preventable deaths.

How many more COVID-19 deaths do we need to wise up and accept the fact that the vaccines, masking, and social distancing, will safely and effectively reduce our risk?

Like ignorance or misinformation, arrogance and bravado could be deadlier than the virus.  We need humility and wisdom to defeat this invisible enemy.

(Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, Health Advocate, newspaper columnist, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. Websites: FUN8888.com, Today.SPSAtoday.com, and philipSchua.com   Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com)