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Ecology and Technical Advance

By MIKE MAGEE

It is fair to say that the vast majority of Americans know more about viruses today than they did 24 months ago. The death and destruction in the wake of COVID-19 and its progeny have been a powerful motivator. Fear and worry tend to focus one’s attention.

Our collective learnings are evolving. We have already seen historic comparisons to other epidemics. Just search “The 10 worst epidemics” for confirmation. But one critical area which has been skimmed over, and only delicately probed (if at all) is the ecology or “the ecological point of view.”

For those interested, let me recommend “Natural History of Infectious Disease” published in 1972 by Nobel laureate and Australian biologist Sir Macfarlane Burnet and his colleague David O. White.

Chapter 1 begins: “In the final third of the twentieth century, we of the affluent West are confronted with no lack of environmental, social, and political problems, but one of the immemorial hazards of human existence is gone. Young people today have had almost no experience of serious infectious disease…For the first time in history deaths in infancy and childhood are not predominantly from infection.” But a few sentences on, they add this addendum, “Infectious diseases may be almost invisible, but it is still potentially as important as ever it was.”

Americans are all too familiar with the living biologic organism named COVID-19. By now, they know what it looks like, the role of its outer spikes, its nuclear makeup, and genetic alterations that allow the creation of derivative variants and vaccines. But in addition to its biological science, it also has an ecological life as well.

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