General Question

Ltryptophan's avatar

Could the existing strains of coronavirus suddenly mutate and become apocalyptic?

Asked by Ltryptophan (11153points) 1 month ago
25 responses
“Great Question” (4points)

What are the chances of this illness suddenly mutating into a plague that kills a tenth or more of humanity?

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stanleybmanly's avatar

It would certainly appear that this has been the underlying risk from the outset and must remain so. I find it baffling that it has yet not dawned on so very many of us that this is the case. But one tenth of humanity sounds far fetched as a possibility. No pathogen in history has proven so globally lethal.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Well the flu pandemic of 1918 (Spanish flu) killed 20–50 million people (⅓ of the world population) and had an avian origin.
It was first observed in Europe and spread around the world despite masks, quarantining, shutting theatres and business, and other similar precautions as we’re taking now.

Frankly, I don’t consider it out of the realm of possibility since we’re seeing multiple variants like Delta and Lambda, and monkeyvirus in Texas already.

*Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or expert in this field, I just read a lot.

zenvelo's avatar

@stanleybmanly The Black Death is estimated to have filled 30 to 60 percent of the European population, and over 20% of the world population.

Demosthenes's avatar

@stanleybmanly Perhaps, but the Black Plague killed at least ⅓ of the population of Europe and that was without the globalization and air travel that allows viruses to spread around the world quickly. I don’t know about the chances of this particular virus, but the idea that there couldn’t be another devastating disease that could ravage a significant chunk of the world’s population, especially in a world more populated and connected than ever, seems a bit naïve to me.

zenvelo's avatar

@KNOWITALL The 1918 Flu pandemic actually started in Kansas and spread by soldiers in crowded conditions being transported to WWI batlefields.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@zenvelo Sure the Crosby theory. I don’t think we can state that as fact as I don’t believe it was ever proven. If I’m wrong, please prove it. :)

janbb's avatar

I’m wondering what the total percentage of population killed worldwide already is?

canidmajor's avatar

The 1918 pandemic killed between 3% and 5% of the world population.

janbb's avatar

^^ I’m wondering about the current pandemic.

kritiper's avatar

IMO, very possible. And my fear exactly.

canidmajor's avatar

I doubt it’s likely, as we have in place way more preventive medical technologies, more way to avoid exposure, vaccines that lessen the likelihood of death, etc. In 1918, there weren’t such measures in place, so lives that could have been saved today were lost then.
With all that working against them then, the population wasn’t decimated, and I don’t believe it will be this time.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Ditto. Those poor souls in history hadn’t a clue to what it was that was killing them beyond the fact that it was clearly contagious. By 1918 this of course had changed considerably and today when we are in the best position ever to cope, the perplexing levels of ignorance and stupidity outrun the disease itself regarding the rapidity and saturation of contagion.

Ltryptophan's avatar

I hope the optimists here are right. There is at least the possibility that this is not a naturally occurring virus. If that’s true, I don’t know that we can apply past experiences or even new coping mechanisms to imbue high levels of certainty.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Y U P ! !

flutherother's avatar

The virus is continually mutating into forms less easy to contain and control but I don’t think anything apocalyptic will arise. The vaccine has proven effective against mutated versions so far and virologists are confident they can tweak existing vaccines to effectively counter any future mutations.

The more people who have the virus the more likely mutations will occur so it is in everyone’s interest to get the world’s population vaccinated as soon as possible. So far the virus has killed around 0.05% of the world population and 0.19% of the population of the USA.

gondwanalon's avatar

Likely not.

It’s to the SARS CoV-2’s advantage to become less virulent and kill less so that it doesn’t overwhelm and kill it’s host. A mutation in the direction of making this virus more deadly comes to an end quickly as it’s host dies. The virus wins by keeping the host alive so that it may continue to function and spread to new hosts.

Poseidon's avatar

It is extremely unlikely.

Firstly, in the case of viral disease and other disease there are always people who are for some reason immune.

Secondly, when the need arises the medical world will undoubtedly come up with methods to fight them.

Take Coronavirus, within months the medical world developed several vaccinations to counteract the devastating effects, especially deaths.

Normally even after developing this type of vaccination it can take 10 years before they are passed as safe for use on the population but with the whole medical world searching for a vaccine this only took a matter of months.

We all know that the current vaccines will not cure or prevent the virus from affecting people but it has saved countless people from severe the terrible effect experienced prior to the vaccines being developed and given to the world.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

In my state 99% of the hospital admission for COVID-19 are unvaccinated people, and 99.5% of the deaths are unvaccinated people. The virus has better chance of mutating because of the unvaccinated people it is not over.

downtide's avatar

@janbb the total recorded deaths worldwide at July 24, 2021 is just over 4.1 million, which is around 0.05% of the world population. Of course there will be more unreported deaths, particularly in places where there is little or no healthcare, but even if we double the figures, it’s still just one-tenth of a percent.

Covid will be around for ever, because there will always be people who refuse to be vaccinated or who live in a country where vaccines are not widely available, and there will always be new mutations, like the flu. But modifying an existing vaccine to combat a mutation is much easier than starting from scratch.

I think one day there will be an apocalyptic-style disease that wipes out 10% or 30% or more of the world population, but it won’t be Covid, or any of its variants.

LostInParadise's avatar

Viruses tend to evolve to be more contagious but less harmful. A virus has nothing to gain from killing its host.

kritiper's avatar

Some who have posted here make it sound as though the COVID virus is sentient.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@kritiper that’s an interesting observation, and actually a prudent prospect for viewing the disease. But instead of sentient, I would prefer the label of opportunistic, much as the pathology of ants in a swarm. It’s a case of organisms in their trillions testing our defenses. We see the overall spread of contagion and adaptation of the disease to our defenses through mutations and it certainly resembles sentience. And when you think about it, if the results are the same a s though covid is literally figuring it out, it might not be a bad idea to react as though that is the case.

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KRD's avatar

That is vary unlikely to happen due to the fact that the virus is going away with the vaccine.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I wouldn’t worry about some sudden catastrophic mutation of the covid virus. And that is because we are now vigilant and watching for any alteration in the disease and its pathology. What bothers me much more has been the resistance since the onset of this outbreak to understand that this will be a long term situation. I can remember when it was first recognized that we were in for a pandemic, the damned near universal impression was that the episode was more or less a matter of perhaps a few months—certainly not extending beyond a season or perhaps 2. Well we are now 8 months into our second year of a disease with emerging variants; none of which are catastrophic, but all
of which are reliably regular and dependably predictable in their likelihood to continue. I fully expect us to gradually come to recognize that just as with the flu, covid is now entrenched as another of those pathogens requiring periodic booster shots against mutating variants. We are just too readily mobile and numerous to avoid that reality. Masks are definitely in our future. Get used to it.

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