Life is full of brief fading windows of opportunity, followed by new opportunities. You’re young and healthy with few responsibilities for a brief moment, you won’t be cave-diving when you’re forty, obese and have two children. Assets trade at ridiculous valuations for brief moments. I made 30k off my Tesla puts when I sold them a few days ago, because I bought them when they were a car company trading at 11 times revenue with a declining backlog.
And similarly, there are brief windows of opportunity when you can stop a new virus from spreading throughout the human population. With SARS-COV-2 we never stood much of a chance: The Chinese government tried covering up what had happened. By the time we received the genetic sequence the thing was already in every major city. Transmission is through the air and the symptoms were generally indistinguishable from a regular cold, it was only really its evolutionary potential that made it a big threat.
And yet it would be easy to learn the wrong lessons from this disaster. Allow me to show you the death toll of another virus:
The death toll from this virus is clearly steadily rising. But now compare it to the cases:
Something here does not add up.
There are different explanations to consider:
-Delay in reporting of deaths
-Gradually increasing virulence of new strains
-Big delay between infection and death
-Virus has moved into more vulnerable demographics
And the most important and most likely explanation:
-We’re simply missing a growing share of cases.
Note, the deaths and cases are not happening in sub-Saharan Africa. They’re mostly happening in South America now, in countries like Peru.
What I’ve noticed is that most people don’t care much about tail risks. A tail risk is a small chance with a huge impact. I’ve pointed out a few by now on this blog. A good example are new SARS2 variants born from Molnupiravir. We observe human to human spread of such variants, what we haven’t seen yet is one superior to the dominant strains at spreading itself. What are the odds of this happening? Nobody knows.
In a similar manner, monkeypox is a tail risk. It’s not just the deaths itself that has me worried. It’s the nature of the deaths. You have young gay men, who spend weeks in the hospital, as their face slowly rots off. They become unrecognizable as human. Imagine for a moment what the impact of this is, on the family and the medical personnel who have to treat patients like this. For every death, you’ll have a bunch of people with PTSD symptoms.
The window of opportunity to eradicate this virus still exists. Europe has so far eradicated it, North America has practically eradicated it. But you have to win every single match to win the game. If you allow this to fester in South America for an extended period, you’ll end up seeing it emerge among heterosexuals, or you could even end up with sustained airborne transmission.
And I have to point out again, that this virus behaves awfully different in people who have damaged immune systems. Most healthy young gay men will have some lesions on the anogenital region. If you have untreated AIDS, it can cause your face to rot away.
And somewhere in between “healthy young” and “untreated AIDS”, exists the average obese middle-aged American who is down to his third COVID infection in a year. What does it look like in them? We’re best off never finding out.
The WHO was entirely right to declare this a global emergency. With situations like this, you’d rather anticipate what’s going to happen, than to end up responding to it. You know you did it right, when after it’s over people say: “What was all this panic needed for?”
The reason smallpox was eradicated is because the Americans did the math and realized it’s just cheaper to eradicate the virus than to have to be constantly on the lookout for it and keep vaccinating everyone. So far, it remains the only virus we have ever truly eradicated from human beings.
It’s possible for us to add monkeypox to the list of viruses eradicated from our species. Unfortunately, that’s not the direction things seem to be going. Cases have been steady for a month now, while the death toll creeps up.
My experience in life tells me that you should never ignore the power of human stupidity. This looks like the sort of thing where people only realize it’s a problem by the time it can no longer be solved, until which time it’s a “lamestream media fearmongering hoax” in the words of low status white males. My suggestion is to avoid that outcome. Developed nations should take a serious effort, to help nations where this virus still circulates eradicate it.
If you have the opportunity to eradicate a virus that causes your face to slowly rot off, you should probably take it.