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The Gypsy Moth and Covid-19 Corona Virus

Have you ever heard of the gypsy moth? Introduced in the late 1800s as an experiment to breed superior moths for silk production, it was hoped to replace Japan's monopoly on moth based silk resources. By mistake, and apathy, the gypsy moth escaped into the environment, in Massachusetts, and spread throughout the state by 1900. With no natural controls or enemies, the voracious caterpillars and moths boomed in population, and major forest defoliation followed, even in the face of vigorous containment efforts which only delayed the spread. By the 1930s, serious infestation moved through Pennsylvania and the Federal War Department was asked to help the battle in 1940. Undeterred, defoliation reached 1 million acres by 1953 and 5 million by 1980. In 1981, defoliation was spotted in 13 million acres and infestation detected from California to Oregon, Wisconsin to New England and south to Virginia.

As a college student, I visited State College Pennsylvania in spring 1981 and found pure devastation. Caterpillars were all over buildings while roads were covered with blotches where tires had run-over bits of the swarming invasion. The spring green hills surrounding the town turned brown in days. Helicopters chased the skies spraying vast swaths, and my youthful friends found humor by dangling a rope-tied boot off a balcony to see if they could hit one of the many crawling the ground. There seemed to be no way to stop the invasion; it was the end of the world!

Then, the trend of ever increasing surges of defoliation began to diminish after the horrific episodes of the early 1980s, why? A virus, Nucleo Polyhedrossis or NPV, and a fungus, Entomophaga Maimaiga, became naturally established and began to reduce the moths population to reasonable levels. The NPV virus is most effective in diminishing large populations of moths and the fungus eliminates more caterpillars in wetter weather. Afterwards, the chemical sprays and physical deterrence that many hardily employed became obsolete. Most of the mitigation efforts were ineffective anyway, most specialists now say, "Let nature take its course."

So, what does all this have in common with the current Covid-19 crisis? The Covid-19 virus belongs to a family of corona-viruses that includes other nasty ones like MERS and SARS, yet also includes the mundane common cold. Upon infection, the severity of human illness depends on a person's natural immune response. Similar to the Gypsy Moth case and the lack of natural deterrence, the level of sickness in humans rests on the body's ability to recognize the viral infection, such as the common cold, and then release the right natural response. Now, there's a new strain of virus in town and one that has not been neutralized before. No natural protection? Oh no! It's the end of the world!

Luckily, the human immune system does naturally recognize what a virus is. With Corvid-19, a viral infection is identified and triggers the body to release its arsenal. Infected cells radiate chemicals called cytokines which, in proper proportions, direct a variety of immune cells to arrest and destroy enemies like the virus. This works well to suppress viruses that are common or have a history of being neutralized. Apparently, the majority of people's immune systems make the right combination of maneuvers against the Covid-19 invaders. The result is mild symptoms and little damage to most. However, in some, the alien virus creates an imbalanced response by infected cells and the signals released in the form of cytokines, and a cytokine storm, are out-of-whack, discombobulated. The excessive immune response results in the body also attacking itself and its most vulnerable tissues such as the lungs. These complications can lead to death, which is the scenario we are trying to eradicate.

Though it is not a direct correlation, trying to eliminate the Gypsy Moth as well as the Covid-19 virus, once they have spread beyond the confines of a specific location, are nearly impossible. Containment efforts can only delay their spread or reduce their abundance. The impact of the virus on those specifically affected can be combated, but the overall outbreak will need a more natural solution.

Every technical avenue should be advanced to produce a cure, treatment or protection. That is the most powerful method we can employ to negate the invader besides mitigating risks through personal habits and actions. Otherwise, the power of nature cannot be stopped. We are foolish to think we can. Over the long-haul, nature will prevail. Besides, a cure is only a smart manipulation of nature anyway.

Anomalies in nature occur outside the norm like a killer virus or voracious moth. Yet, mountain peeks get worn and valleys get filled. The Frankenstein moth was eventually held in check by natural factors, absorbing it into nature's fabric. The 1918 Spanish flu is said to have dissipated due to better hygiene and social practices, but in my opinion- I don't think so. Other outbreaks have come and, over a period, gone. In the course of evolutionary processes, novel entities tend to be arrested and fade into our common natural background, or we can evolve to become more immune naturally. As history portends, our current bout with the Covid-19 virus will naturally recede someday. Our option now is to mitigate the health losses and economic damage until it does.

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