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No way out?
Why analyzing wastewater could be a way out of the Corona fear campaign
In the last 2.5 years, SARS-CoV-2 has undoubtedly changed the world. It is not so much the virus that has played the main role, but the way politicians, the media and the people have reacted to the supposed threat. Never before has people's freedom been so severely restricted on a global scale. The enormous catalog of previously unimaginable sanctions was rolled out mercilessly and implemented regardless of the consequences. How many deaths there were worldwide as a result of these measures alone will probably only come to light - if at all - in many years when the reappraisal has been completed. However, it is already clear that politics and the media have completely overreacted. A respiratory virus was hyped up to a global threat in a very short time. Vaccines that should never have been used in normal times were developed and released. People were locked down, children were not allowed to attend schools, and countless companies took the hard road to insolvency due to the months-long lockdowns. The separation of powers, a reliable instrument of Western democracy, suddenly ceased to function. The whole world turned upside down. How could all this have happened?
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This was made possible by an unprecedented fear campaign - fear porn - which had chosen an invisible pathogen as the modern "Sauron". Bacterial and viral pathogens had existed in the years before. But never before had a global media complex focused so strongly on it. This was possible because it was an invisible enemy, well known to microbiologists but not really tangible to politicians and the public: a virus. The fact that it was a respiratory pathogen with a mortality rate like influenza was irrelevant. Media elevated SARS-CoV-2 to the rank of a deadly Ebola virus, and daily mask-wearing was a daily reminder.
Microbiological wisdom no longer seemed to be in demand these days
The media were supported by epidemiological modelers who were completely out of control and allowed to spread their horror scenarios uncontrollably, ignoring the fact that their models were mostly based on uncontrollable exponential growth. Every biologist knows that exponential spread of germs in nature is usually possible only for a short time before external conditions interrupt it. If this were not so, every infection of a person with a pathogen would irrevocably lead to flooding the entire planet with that very germ in a matter of days. But microbiological wisdom no longer seemed to be in demand these days. Even more, the fear campaign was given the appearance of scientific respectability by the call to "follow the science". However, the fact that the vast majority of scientists are not free of financial and other dependencies was utterly disregarded. There is no other explanation for the fact that this time there was no longer any scientific discourse, but a narrative that - for the supposed good of all - had to be strictly followed.
Fear porn and its servant
"These rules must never be questioned at all!" the head of the Robert Koch Institute shouted into the round of spellbound listeners at the press conference on July 28, 2020, marking a turn of the tide: anyone who asked unpleasant questions was from now on considered dangerous and a Corona denier. The public took this monstrosity and totalitarian divide with surprising indifference. The enemy was invisible and the images of the coffins from Bergamo were still firmly in the collective memory. Even if we now know that these images from Italy conveyed a false picture, they had burned themselves permanently into people's memories and fueled the evolutionary panic of an invisible enemy.
But all this still does not explain why people allowed themselves to be manipulated in this way. There had been flu epidemics before, with pictures of people dying en masse in hospital corridors, and yet none of this had attracted any particular attention. Using the death toll as a yardstick was extremely inaccurate - after all, who knew who had died from and who had died with Corona, especially since no statistics were kept on it and autopsies had been banned? However, there was one driver of scaremongering without which the fear porn would not have worked: the 7-day incidence.
As we know today: A tragic fallacy.
This parameter shows how many new infections there have been per 100,000 inhabitants in a week. However, the incidence has a huge disadvantage: it depends on the number of people tested and is thus susceptible to conscious or unconscious manipulation. The more tested, the more infections can be detected per 100,000 inhabitants. It is now known that the surge in testing in the early months of 2020 had caused the infamous "pandemic wave," rather than the virus itself. This 7-day incidence, strikingly shown on graphs day in and day out in the media in deep red numbers, was the essential key to terrifying much of the world's population. It was the visualization of the supposed triumph of the supposedly deadliest virus mankind had ever seen. As we know today: A tragic fallacy.
A new parameter
To avoid such misinterpretations in the future, a new and neutral parameter is needed. This is important so that in the future it can be prevented that through consciously or unconsciously manipulated parameters a horror scenario is conveyed which does not correspond to reality at all. And this parameter can be provided by a so-called wastewater-based epidemiological monitoring.
This monitoring makes use of the fact that through a person's feces, their excretions enter the wastewater and thus the connected wastewater treatment plant. In case of an infection with a virus or a bacterium, whole particles or at least parts of them enter the intestine and are flushed via the toilet into the sewer system and the wastewater treatment plant. In the wastewater from the treatment plant, these infectious agents can then be detected - in the case of a virus - using what is known as RT qPCR. The result is given in virus copies per day. Wastewater monitoring can therefore be used to indicate whether and to what extent the virus or bacterium is reproducing in the population. Of relevance are always only the progressions, i.e. whether the virus copies have increased or decreased in the last days or weeks. The use of calibration lines and dilution factors leads to standardized comparability of the results and progressions, which can be visually displayed in a dashboard.
Distortions or manipulations are virtually excluded.
Moreover, the effluent monitoring result has a 1-2 week lead time to the 7 day incidence, because individuals are usually not tested for incidence until they show symptoms.
Epidemiological wastewater monitoring is therefore based on an incorruptible parameter that continuously indicates the real relevance of a pathogen. Ideally, it is used throughout a country, i.e. all wastewater treatment plants above a certain size are sampled. In this way, regions or even periods (e.g., the same period of the previous year) can be compared with each other. Ideally, these parameters should be visible to the entire population via a dashboard without already being pre-filtered and "framed" by politicians or the media.
The goal of wastewater-based epidemiology is "unexcited" monitoring of infectious agents in the background. This already exists elsewhere through so-called sentinel sampling. Here, selected physicians send throat or nasal swabs from randomly selected patients with acute respiratory infection together with a questionnaire to a state investigation office. The samples are analyzed and statistically evaluated there.
With wastewater-based monitoring, however, all people are covered and thus, a realistic picture of what is happening is presented. Distortions or manipulations are virtually excluded.
Images and selective reports generate emotions and fear. Reliable data generate trust.
Therefore, comprehensive wastewater monitoring would be a perfect step out of fear porn and into a fact-based, unemotional and scientifically grounded analysis of the current infection situation.
Because it's time to finally take out the emotions if we don't want to get lost in them.