Viruses can’t die because they aren’t alive in the first place. They are just a bunch of genetic instructions in search of a living organism to hijack.
So how is it that the COVID-19 coronavirus doesn’t just disappear as we all get vaccinated? Sure, vaccination decreases the viral load in a person by assisting the body’s defenses to break down as much of the virus as possible – reducing it to basic proteins which are not infectious, and therefore decrease transmission.
But it’s a numbers game. There isn’t just one virus in an infected person, there billions, even trillions, replicating themselves inside our cells. So, even when a large amount of a virus is inactivated, it will take some time before all the virus is broken down to its constituent proteins, and in that time rogue variants can develop.
When viruses are in a conducive host, such as an unvaccinated person, they reproduce exponentially, and it will take even longer to break them down, if the infection doesn’t kill the person first.
So, when you want to know how long the pandemic will last – ask anyone you know who is unvaccinated what they are doing to decrease their viral load.
Of course, degrading viruses to inactive proteins also depends on other factors besides the environment. Viruses, develop protection against breaking down. One way is for a virus to surround its unique DNA with a layer of fat that it hijacks from the cell it invades in a kind of “envelope”. COVID is one of these “envelope” viruses.
Envelope viruses are prone to drying out, and they are sensitive to disinfectants. Handwashing with simple soap is effective because it has fats in it too, soap fats that insert themselves into the virus envelope in a way that causes the envelope to fall apart – inactivating the virus by exposing the DNA to be broken down. That is good news, as other highly infectious viruses, such as the norovirus, which have more robust protective armour called capsids, are much harder to break down.
Even as the variants act less like killers and more like the common cold, it is still important for those of us who are fully vaccinated and boosted to keep up the vigilance. Become part of the COVID death squad. Masking on a regular basis is expensive and multiple re-use renders them less effective. Too many multiple uses encourage pore aggregation and leaking. Responsible citizens, who can afford to, should offer new masks to unvaccinated contacts or people whose masks seem like they have seen better days. But remember, make sure they fit properly, even a 1% leak can decreases the efficiency by 50%.
There’s lots of good advice in my mask blogs. Check them out!