Are you tired of reading, hearing, and thinking about COVID-19? I certainly am. Nevertheless, we must continue to learn from this pandemic so that we do not make mistakes that could haunt us in the future.
Past pandemics motivated us to create sophisticated solutions for tracking diseases, treating illnesses, and improving our immunity with vaccines. Despite these amazing outputs, we have not advanced in one key area: our response to fear. When humans are frightened, such as when an erratic and highly infectious respiratory virus invades our lives, we identify a villain and unleash our full forces to eradicate it. History repeats itself again and again in this way.
Worldwide, we’re trying to reduce our SARS-CoV-2 exposure while waiting for an effective vaccine. In buildings, engineers employ outdoor air ventilation, filtration, midrange humidity control, and air disinfection strategies to reduce the load of infectious viral particles.
During this time of high anxiety, we need to keep our perspective and exercise appropriate caution when using disinfection strategies that kill all microbes. Examples of germicidal techniques that are useful yet need to be implemented with careful planning are microbial exposure to UV light waves and to oxygen radicals. What are the reasons for proceeding with clear guidelines so that we do not contribute to more severe pandemics in the future?
1. We need to protect our good microbes — We now know communities of helpful microbes, called our microbiome, reside in us and are essential for our survival. When these bacterial and viral communities are balanced and diverse, they teach immune systems how to function effectively yet not overreact to infectious microbes.
Conversely, an imbalance in our microbiome has been linked to diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, obesity, and more severe acute respiratory distress, and poor long-term outcomes in COVID-19 disease.
The human microbiome is continuously modified by the microbes in our environment. When beneficial microbes are eradicated from the indoor environment by widespread germicidal eradication, immune systems become less protective or overly reactive. Because of this connection, nonspecific and widespread alterations in building microbiomes run the risk of contributing to the loss of beneficial microbes and more severe viral illnesses in some people.
2. Viruses and bacteria are adept at developing resistance against our assaults — 3 billion years ago, microbes lived in a world without oxygen or light. Their essential metabolic and replicating systems were genetically encoded within the DNA and RNA. When oxygen, a highly reactive chemical, was introduced as a waste product from photosynthesizing organisms, the viruses and bacteria faced possible extinction. Instead of becoming extinct, they quickly evolved effective resistance to the damaging effects of light waves and oxygen. Given that the agility to evolve is deeply embedded in SARS-CoV-2 genes, we don’t want to promote a super-pandemic of resistant viruses.
Antibiotics, antiseptics, high-frequency light waves, and oxygen radicals have saved many lives. We must use them selectively and for limited time periods, being fully aware of the ability of microbes to fight back with resistance.