We used our scientific contacts to get an exclusive interview about COVID-19 for NikopolToday. From a respected medical scientist - Dominick Auсi.
It is the view of a person with critical thinking about the current situation in the world: answers about medicine, science, personal life, and so on, that is so troubling to us today. It should be noted that the Facebook administration has blocked the page of a doctor Dominick Ausi and an independent journalist Rayan Riener.
Rayan Riener: A little bit about you. What is your education? What is your scientific work?
Dominick Auсi: Thanks Riener, it's always a pleasure to work with you. I earned a PhD in Pathology at State University of New York at Downstate Medical Center back in 1991. I also earned an MBA in Executive Management from Baruch College in Manhattan, New York.
Rayan Riener: And what have you done already in this field?
Dominick Auсi: I have 10 years’ experience in academia as professor of Pathology in various universities and then for the last 20 years, I have been in industry, directing programs in drug development aimed at infectious and inflammatory diseases and cancer. I have contributed to several investigational new drug applications to the FDA, and have authored over 40 peer-reviewed publications.
Rayan Riener: Do you think that because you are a specialist, the US authorities and WHO are hiding the real situation with the coronavirus?
Dominick Auсi: No. I don’t believe there is any intentional hiding of information by either US authorities or WHO. They may not know everything, but the scientists at WHO and NIH and CDC are the very best in the world, and I have had the honor of meeting several of them. I have always found them to be brilliant scientists, highly honorable men and women, and dedicated public servants. We are very fortunate. What is very unfortunate is that America has a President who has squandered in vainglory, all the integrity of the chair of Washington and Lincoln and Roosevelt. No one believes anything he says. He cannot lead. I am convinced that the impact of this pandemic will be far worse because of this vacuum of American leadership.
Rayan Riener: Does the world hide the real number of infected people? Or just nobody can count?
Dominick Auсi: It's the later. The number of tests are very limited. And most people who become infected remain entirely asymptomatic. All we see to test are the worst cases and those that require medical attention. But if this is like other coronavirus, I expect that 50 to 70% of the US population will eventually become infected.
Rayan Riener: What tips can you give people to help protect themselves against the new disease and how do you feel about the advice that WHO is spreading? Are they effective?
Dominick Auсi: Remember, we are in the middle of cold and flu season anyway. So, the very same precautions should apply. No matter what you call a virus, no one wants to be sick and suffering for weeks. My best advice is to know your situation, your personal risk factors. Those who are elderly and have specific underlying conditions, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or other respiratory ailments, should take extra precautions. I think if I were in that group, I would self-quarantine as much as possible until this pandemic is over. That would probably be a far more effective practice than sealing off entire cities or countries. For the clear majority of the population, the risk is very low. Wash your hands often, stay hydrated and take care of your body. For example, if you smoke, now is a good time to stop. This is exactly the advice of WHO. And yes, they will be as effective as possible against the spread of this virus.
Rayan Riener: Please explain to people that creating a vaccine is a complicated and time-consuming process. Many people in Ukraine think that the cure for this virus will be in a few months or weeks. And the media say that doctors "treat" patients, is it misleading for ordinary people.
Dominick Auсi: It is important to remember that we have never ‘cured’ any virus. We have an immune system for that job. Vaccines can help, but the immune system does the work. If it doesn't we are in real trouble, vaccine or no. As for a vaccine, there are several companies that are working on it. Some are even in clinical trials, or very close. Also, because we know how this virus reproduces, we can predict several drugs will likely be effective. So, in sense, we already have vaccines and treatments. But if you want EFFECTIVE vaccines and treatments, that will take a while simply because efficacy must be demonstrated in controlled clinical trials. For obvious ethical reasons, you can’t simply do the obvious experiments. You can’t vaccinate several naive people of various ages, and then expose them to the virus and see if they get sick. So, the kind of trials that you can do on humans, unless you want to be Josef Mengele, take time. Years, probably. So, by that time, it is most likely that the human immune system will take care of this strain called Covid-19, and, that a new strain will have evolved, against which any Covid-19 vaccine may or may not work. So yes, it’s a complicated question on many levels.
Rayan Riener: How do you recommend "treating" this virus while there is no vaccine.
Dominick Auсi: I am not a clinician or a physician, so I am not comfortable recommending any treatments. As I said, for the clear majority of people, this will be a typical cold. Probably, it will involve fever, runny noses, shortness of breath, aches and pains. The common cold everyone knows well, and everyone knows what to do. Stay at home, get plenty of rest, drink fluids. No parties or drinking alcohol. As I said, there are several drugs on the market and in development that might be beneficial to those few who become seriously ill. We will have to see.
Rayan Riener: Personal question! Your beloved husband is a pilot; controls the plane, right? Will your husband lose his job if events continue in this direction? Aviation worldwide is no longer operating.
Dominick Auсi: Yes. He is a pilot and I am very proud of him. There is some worry, I suppose, that this will spiral out of control, especially since the United States, which should be leading the world-wide response, is led by a megalomaniacal buffoon. But I think the travel industry will be fine in the long run. Even the cruise industry will recover, and I expect rather quickly. I think so much of the response is out of an abundance of caution. Also, because infectious coronavirus particles typically need cold, dry air to be highly contagious, I would expect the covid-19 infection rate to taper off in the next few months. In my opinion, a great deal of the panic is simply fear of the unknown. Once we get to know Covid-19 better, get a handle on the best treatments, we won’t be so afraid of it. Things will go back to normal.
Rayan Riener: If possible, please tell us how the US authorities act to counteract the coronavirus now? And how do you see the situation in America in a few months?
Dominick Auсi: Vice President Mike Pence now heads a task force made of himself and top scientists form NIH and CDC. They meet every day and have been communicating with WHO, and the pubic every day. They have made wonderful progress in making tests available and, I think, in providing the best and most accurate information. Right now, a small number of cases are documented, and a few deaths, but of course those numbers will rise as the testing becomes more wide spread. Some extreme measures were recently taken in New York for example, with the governor calling out the National Guard to help construct quarantine centers. I think that's an overreaction. But the critical issue is that we are an aging population, and while only a small percentage of infected people will require medical care, if 70 % of the population eventually becomes infected, as predicted, even if only 1% of them require medical care, it could overwhelm the system. We don’t have universal health care in America, so people who are sick must pay if they don’t have insurance, and if they miss work, they don’t get paid. So, you see the problem. Many infected people who should get medical attention won’t because they can’t afford it. The government is considering some changes in the laws of reimbursement, and making testing free. Also, it’s important to understand that testing, while critical to our understanding of the pandemic, will not likely to do much to contain the spread of the virus. When you remember that most infected people will never show symptoms, that the incubation period can be as short as two days, and that the illness lasts as little as five days, again you see the problem. By the time you test, it’s over. So, in the next few months, I expect to see many more cases, and unfortunately, more deaths, almost exclusively among the elderly with serious and specific pre-existing conditions. I am afraid this virus will simply have to run its course.
Rayan Riener: Let me remind you that the level of Ukrainian medicine is now in a deplorable state due to the years of corruption. And it is next on the list with African countries. Are Ukrainians worried and what can you advise them to do if Ukrainian medicine fails to address the challenge of the virus?
Dominick Auсi: I am sorry to hear that about Ukrainian medicine. The good news is that the clear majority of Ukrainians who are infected with Covid-19 will likely experience no symptoms. For the elderly and other vulnerable people, it’s probably best to avoid contacts, especially in the context of large groups. Everyone should wash their hands vigorously with soap several times a day, certainly upon returning home. And again, if you smoke, now is a great time to stop. But there is a larger question. The next pandemic could be much worse than Covid-19. We must remember that humans are all one species. And even more significantly, we all had the same mother perhaps as little as 200,00 years ago. I say that not to be poetic, but to point to a real danger. We are just about the most inbred species on the planet. Even though we look different to each other, different enough even to kill each other over it, to viruses, we all look deliciously the same. That means, our species doesn’t have the genetic diversity to survive a bad, killer virus. A bad one could wipe us out. Hopefully, this is the wakeup call we need.
Rayan Riener: Are you and your family ready for the worst case scenario? How will you act in the event of an "apocalyptic scenario" or chaos through a crisis?
Dominick Auсi: Well, I have adjusted some of my financial assets, that's for sure. But no, I do not expect any apocalyptic scenario or chaos, and so I haven’t taken any extraordinary precautions. I think covid-19 will be like a bad flu in the worst case, and that in a few months, we will have forgotten all about it. Humans are like that. If god forbid, I am wrong, and it does get apocalyptic, I will probably scream like a child just like everyone else. Except for Vladimir Putin. He will probably say something like “Good! its working”.
Rayan Riener: The scientific question. Is likely that a small virus can cover the entire Earth and lead to terrible consequences of the crisis that will destroy our civilization? Most people don't want to think about it.
Dominick Auсi: Well, see my response to question 10. Yes, humans are particularly vulnerable to a killer pathogen because of our lack of genetic diversity and the jet age. We also have very close relationships with huge populations of domesticated animals, which creates fertile ground for development of new pathogens. I wish the world would really recognize the danger and how pathetically unprepared we really are. And with the modern jet age, new pathogens can spread far faster than our current ability to detect them. For example, we ought to have monitoring technologies at airports that are constantly scanning the microbiome in strategic places. We need global cooperation that frankly, under current political situations, is almost unthinkable. It is time to remember, that survival is not guaranteed on this planet. It must be earned.
Rayan Riener: And the last. What advice would you do to people if there is chaos in the country (US or Ukraine, no matter)? How to survive and not get infected?
Dominick Auсi: There is no virus more dangerous than a mob of frightened monkeys. And wash your hands!
Recall another contact NikopolToday in the UK published his work on coronavirus and free speech - Enter.
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