Monthly Archives: March 2020

Finding new trees to bark up. Can coronavirus be trapped using nets?

Coronavirus

Virus use their spikes to latch on to cells. Their proteins bind to ones on the target cell walls, their membranes fuse, and viral genetic material can then enter the target cell. Many antiviral drugs use particular proteins that bind to the spikes to disrupt that process at various stages. It takes a great deal of effort and time to find suitable proteins.

A variety of other techniques have been suggested over the years, but I can’t find one on Google that uses a net with custom sized holes that mechanically trap the virus by using the spike as a whole.

Imagine playing with a tennis racket  and your ball is adapted to look like a big coronavirus:

If the holes between the strings are the right size, the virus will get trapped, like a fish in a net. You don’t need to be really clever coating the strings with some super-smart goo that sticks to a very specific part of the spike. You just need to make the holes the right size. That opens up a new bunch of trees to bark up. If you can make a membrane with the right sized holes, you could use that in a dialysis process, pass the patient’s blood over it, and many of the viruses will get trapped. Blood cells would go right on by, like tennis balls without the spikes.

That still might not be easy, and even if it were, you’d still need dialysis, but perhaps in early stages, it could prevent viruses from becoming rampant for long enough to allow your own immune system to build immunity. Flattening the curve so to speak.

 

 

We should switch to using cellular lockdown

The Telegraph contains an excellent resource that show the current spread of known cases of COVID19 in the UK:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/03/29/coronavirus-uk-how-many-cases-covid-19/

As you can see from the graphic, the disease is far from uniformly spread, even allowing for population density. Some areas (let’s call them cells, just like in mobile phone networks) such as Somerset, Lincolnshire, Suffolk, Cheshire and even East Sussex have fewer than 100 cases per million, while Barnsley has 250 and some areas of London have far more, with Wandsworth and Westminster around 800, Harrow and Brent around 900, and Southwark over 1000.

There are some things that should clearly be left to expert epidemiologists, but you don’t need any medical expertise to know that you are more likely to be infected by someone who has the disease than by someone who doesn’t. Even if all you know about someone is where they have come from, you can still infer that the risk of them infecting you is higher if they have come from a high-infection area.

Containment of the disease would be better if people in low infection areas were protected from having people come in from highly infected areas, who by definition are more likely to have it.

Cellular lock-down would prevent people moving between cells with markedly different infection rates. A few people obviously genuinely need to, but stricter precautions could be imposed for that truly essential travel. A higher bar could be put on definitions of essential travel when it is between cells, and high risk people could even be separated from low risk ones on transport – the very few people who really need to commute to a highly infected area could be forced to use their own cars for example, or taxis, while other people much less likely to be infected might use regular public transport. In areas with low infection rates, people might be able to have lock-down eased.

In large commuting areas such as London, people from any area may work in any other, and many of those currently forced onto densely packed tube platforms and trains are truly essential workers. However, areas have very different infection rates. Some simple principles could be used here too.

Companies that employ staff from around London might be able to re-allocate some staff to their local areas. Some probably already have done this.

For special groups such as front-line medical staff, taxis could be used to get them to their hospitals and back, reducing what must currently be a strong cross-infection risk.

Since infection rates are very different in different areas, the tube system could separate high risk people from low risk ones by having separate trains. So for example ‘red’ trains might serve high-infection areas and ‘green’ trains serve low-infection areas. You would get a green permit if you both live and work in low-infection area, and a red one if you either live or work in a highly infected area. People with a red permit would only be permitted into stations when a red train is due, and green permit holders when a green train is coming. That would obviously mean that trains would have to be grouped somewhat, there would be a few red trains, then a few green ones. If everyone knows what time periods are red and green for a station, it would greatly assist in keeping infected people away from the uninfected. Since the walking part of their journey is likely to correlate with their train time, that would also reduce street level cross-infection too. If that isn’t enough streets could just as easily be ‘time-multiplexed’.

This could only work now because tube traffic demand is far lower than normal, otherwise it would be impossible, so it would be essential to maintain a London-wide lock-down for non-essential travel.

Red and green permits could have local use in the rest of the commuter belt too. Someone who commutes to an infected area would have a red permit, so may only be allowed to use supermarkets during red times. After a red shopping period, shops could be cleaned, then opened for much less restricted green shopping.

This kind of cellular approach would mean that those who present the greatest threat to others are physically separated from those who carry a low risk. They would use transport and supermarkets at different times, and travel between cells would be greatly reduced, and forced to use more controlled mechanisms.

It makes much better sense to me than the current system that applies exactly the same rules to the 1 in 25,000 Lincolnshire resident as the 1 in 1000 Southwark resident. If we continue to allow people likely to be infected to contaminate the rest, far more people will die and lock-down will have to be much stricter and longer.

Ultrasonic misting to aid fluid removal from COVID19 or pneumonia patients

This is just an idea and would require a feasibility study to confirm whether it is workable and useful. The idea is to use ultrasound to convert fluid building up in lungs into a mist that the lungs can more readily expel, rather like cigarette smoke.

Ultrasonic transducers have been used for many years to make fog or mist for trivial theatrical effects and garden ornaments. Even cheap transducers from Amazon can convert 400ml of water to mist per hour each.

It is also commonplace in radiation treatment to overlap beams from different directions so that normal tissue is unharmed but intensity is high enough to achieve the desired effect where it is needed. This would work for ultrasound beams coming from different directions too. That would prevent fluid from being misted in the wrong places.

Another existing technology used for ultrasonic loudspeakers uses interference between beams from multiple transducers to create audible effects at any point in space.

My suggestion is to combine these existing technologies to make a close-fitting vest or harness fitted with an array of ultrasonic transducers that could be worn by patients suffering fluid build up in their lungs. Conventional ultrasonic imaging could identify locations of fluid build up and then ultrasonic beams could then be targeted precisely to convert some of that fluid to mist, allowing it to be ejected more easily from the lungs during breathing, instead of building up and effectively drowning the patient. Whole regions could be scanned to mist from large volumes at once, or different amounts of mist could be produced from particular problem areas. The effect would presumably look similar to people breathing out cigarette smoke. The rate at which fluid could be converted to mist is far greater than the rate at which it builds up, so even though not all of the mist would be ejected, it could still achieve the goal.

This might not work. It may be too hard to cause misting in fluid not in direct contact with a transducer. It may be too difficult to cause misting of problem fluid without causing problems in nearby tissue or bubbles in blood vessels. Obviously a lot of engineering design would be needed even if it could work, but expertise to do that is out there and suitable vests could possibly start be manufactured within months.

15 basic technologies could help reduce exposure

  1. In lifts (elevators if you’re a Yank), or indeed any room that gets a lot of people traffic and may therefore spread infections, a simple passive infrared detector could monitor whether there are people in it, and if not, a strong UV light could be activated, which would help kill any viruses and bacteria present.
  2. Portable UV sterilisation boxes could reduce contamination on face masks in between uses so that it’s clean again before you go back out there
  3. Tethered drones equipped with strong (and directional) UV lights could continuously sterilise surfaces in some key areas. Untethered drones that can rapidly recharge could also help.
  4. High powered air filters that can remove viruses could be installed in train carriages, hospital wards and corridors etc.
  5. Industrial and domestic smoke and particulate scrubbers could be adapted to reduce the concentration of  airborne viruses in any area with high concentrations of people. Systems that use plasma or static electricity also exist.
  6. In corridors, either of these air cleaning mechanisms could be used alongside blowing the air in a vortex to maintain a narrow channel of purified air, so that limited filtering can still maintain a safe corridor.conjuction with high pressure
  7. Voluntary ‘digital air’ subscription could enable ‘cookies’ or markers to be collected by your mobile phone as you walk around. If other subscribers that have been in contaminated areas are nearby, your phone could alert you so you can stay clear.
  8. Just as we already have pollen and pollution forecasts, virus detectors could produce real-time information on areas to avoid, or that are safe to visit for exercise.
  9. Bongs (bottles that pass the air through a liquid) could be adapted to use rapid anti-viral fluids). Ultrasonic transducers could further continuously mist the anti-viral medium so that a large air volume is exposed to allow longer decontamination periods with a small amount of fluid.
  10. Spiky net face-masks (like an orange bag with soft spikes on each junction) could prevent people touching their faces.
  11. People could voluntarily wear ‘smart bindis’ made from thermal colour-changing materials similar to those used in cheap fish tank thermometers. You could tell at a glance if someone has a fever or not.
  12. Face masks and surface covers could be made from fabrics that contain nanospikes, attached to pizoelectric vibration devices that can send ultrasonic waves through the materials, physically rupturing virus and bacteria.
  13. Piezoelectric misting could also be used to make forehead mist generators that occasionally bathe the face in anti-viral mist
  14. People living nearby should be able to combine online orders to maximise logistics efficiency
  15. Gloves with antiviral insides that sterilise hands when worn. Obvious alternative is to sterilise inside and outside.

 

 

 

The rise of Dr Furlough, Evil Super-Villain

Too early for an April Fool blog, but hopefully this might lighten your day a bit.

I had the enormous pleasure this morning of interviewing the up-and-coming Super-Villain Dr Furlough about her new plans to destroy the world after being scorned by the UK Government’s highly selective support policy. It seems that Hell has no fury like a Super-Villain scorned and Dr Furlough leaves no doubt that she blames incompetent government response for the magnitude of the current crisis:

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Dr Furlough, Super-Villain

“By late January, it should have been obvious to everyone that this would quickly grow to become a major problem unless immediate action was taken to prevent people bringing the virus into the country. Flights from infected areas should have been stopped immediately, anyone who may have been in contact with it should have been forcibly quarantined, and everyone found infected should have had their contacts traced and also quarantined. This would have been disruptive and expensive, but a tiny fraction of the problem we now face.  Not to do so was to give the virus the freedom to spread and infect widely until it became a severe problem. While very few need have died and the economy need not now be trashed, we now face the full enormous cost of that early refusal to act.”

“With all non-essential travel now blocked”, Dr Furlough explained, “many people have had their incomes totally wiped out, not through any fault of their own but by the government’s incompetence in handling the coronavirus, and although most of them have been promised state support, many haven’t, and have as Dr Furlough puts it ‘been thrown under a bus’. While salaried people who can’t work are given 80% of their wages, and those with their own business will eventually receive 80% of their average earnings up to £2500/month whether they are still working or not, the two million who chose to run their small business by setting up limited companies will only qualify for 80% of the often small fraction of income they pay themselves as basic salary, and not on the bulk of their income most take via dividends once their yearly profits are clearer. Consequently many will have immediately dropped from comfortable incomes to 80% of minimum wage. Many others who have already lost their jobs have been thrown onto universal credit. The future high taxes will have to be paid by everyone whether they received support or were abandoned. Instead of treating everyone equally, the state has thus created a seething mass of deep resentment.” Dr Furlough seems determined to have her evil revenge.

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With her previous income obliterated, and scorned by the state support system, the ever self-reliant Dr Furlough decided to “screw the state” and forge a new career as a James-Bond-style Super-Villain, and she complained that it was long overdue for a female Super-Villain to take that role anyway. I asked her about her evil plans and, like all traditional Super-Villains, she was all too eager to tell. So, to quote her verbatim:

“My Super-Evil Plan 1: Tap in to the global climate alarmist market to crowd-fund GM creation of a super-virus, based on COVID19. More contagious, more lethal, and generally more evil. This will reduce world population, reduce CO2 emissions and improve the environment. It will crash the global economy and make them all pay. As a bonus, it will ensure the rise of evil regimes where I can prosper.”

She continued: “My Evil Super-Plan 2: To invent a whole pile of super-weapons and sell the designs to all the nasty regimes, dictators, XR and other assorted doomsday cults, pressure groups, religious nutters and mad-scientists. Then to sell ongoing evil consultancy services while deferring VAT payments.”

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“Muhuahuahua!” She cackled, evilly.

“My Super-Plan 3: To link AI and bacteria to make adaptive super-diseases. Each bacterium can be genetically enhanced to include bioluminescent photonic interconnects linked to cloud AI with reciprocal optogenetic niche adaptation. With bacteria clouds acting as distributed sensor nets for an emergent conscious transbacteria population, my new bacteria will be able to infect any organism and adapt to any immune system response, ensuring its demise and my glorious revenge.”

laugh cry

By now, Dr Furlough was clearly losing it. Having heard enough anyway, I asked The Evil Dr Furlough if there was no alternative to destroying the world and life as we know it.

“Well, I suppose I could just live off my savings and sit it all out” she said.

 

On the good side…

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” works for society as well as individuals. Already it’s obvious that as the dust settles, and it will, there will be some lingering changes across society, politics and the economy, and some of them are good. I’ll try to keep my list waffle-light.

We’ll certainly come out of this with a greater appreciation of the value of life, taking it less for granted, more aware of our mortality, and make sure to value every day and make the most of the time we have.

We’ll value kindness more, the little things, the small gestures, things like making your neighbour know you’re there and willing to help if they need it, that you’ll try to pick up something they need along with your own shop, or if they run out of toilet roll, you’ll spare a few. Closer relationships with neighbours and more support for the elderly and vulnerable will be a big improvement for many parts of the UK, especially the South, where people are nor renowned for being close to their neighbours. Some friendships will be made through the adversity that will last.

We’ll all have a bit more self-reliance too, not expecting that everything will always work just fine, but that things might go wrong and we might have to rely on ourselves for a while.

We already have more appreciation of our loved ones, especially the elderly. Maybe we already say “I love you” a little more often, and that might last too. But we might also show a little more self-love, taking more care of ourselves, doing more exercise, eating better. Nothing focuses the mind on exercise better than knowing you won’t be prioritized for treatment if you are too frail.

While we’re on the theme of appreciation, we’ll all soon be desperate to get outside, enjoy the parks, countryside, and places we can’t go right now. Some of those places are closed and will need every bit of support once the doors open again, and I expect they will enjoy more traffic and custom than ever.

There is also a little re-levelling of attitudes in our class system. We’re being forced to realise which people are really essential in running our society and also that some really are just decoration.

Some benefits are political. Everyone right now appreciates the massive efforts of every health care worker looking after victims, but once it’s over, it is important that the NHS as a whole is reformed to make sure it is much better able to cope the next time, and sadly there will be a next time. There will be much greater willingness to reform the NHS and make sure it is fit for purpose, not badly managed, inefficient and poorly focused as it has been.

We’ll also have a better and long lived understanding of the dangers from globalisation, how easy travel with poor checks contributed to the rapid spread, and more willing to bolt the stable door before all the horses have gone next time.

Closer to home, with everyone familiar with home working, many will stay at home more often, so there will be a bit less commuting, with less congestion, less pollution, and lower CO2.

The markets will have had a thorough shaking, and a lot of weaker players will be bought or replaced by stronger ones, so whatever economy emerges from all this will surely be more robust, with better logistics, better managed, with support systems improved.

There has already been a marked shift in attitudes to celebrities and self-sanctifying SJWs, who are being put in their place very quickly as people get bored with their ‘me, me, me’ attitudes.

So, sure it’s bad, but it isn’t all bad, and some good things are already starting to show through.