Virologist Angela Rasmussen talks about her battle against misinformation in the media, the virus, vaccines, disinfecting surfaces, home testing, and the next pandemic.
Eric J. Topol, MD: Hello, I’m Eric Topol for Medscape, and this is Medicine and the Machine. I’m so glad to have my colleague and partner in this podcast, Abraham Verghese, with me from Stanford. Today, we have the rarefied privilege to discuss the whole pandemic story, the virus and vaccines, with one of the country’s leading virologists, Dr Angela Rasmussen. Welcome, Angie.
Angela L. Rasmussen, MA, MPhil, PhD: Thank you so much for having me, Eric. It’s wonderful to be here.
This podcast rectifies the blizzard of variously valid COVID information blaring on the media today, and adds to the discussion. Virologist Angela Rasmussen talks about several interesting aspects of the pandemic. BSL laboratories are discussed. BSL refers to Biological Safety Level. If a lab is dealing with a dangerous pathogen, like the hemorrhagic fever viruses, a level 4 lab is required.
“Moon suit”- like positive pressure encasements, special hoods and disposal devices are required to ensure containment of the organisms, and to prevent their escape into the environment.
She discussed the differences between live viruses, detected by PFUs (plaque-forming units) on a sheet of living cells, and what the available Covid tests pick up, namely RNA which may or not be infective. Saliva vs nasal swab samples, PCR vs antibody tests were compared. She explained what the “cycle number” in PCR tests refers to, and its significance She then discussed “fomite” transmission, and observed how hard it was to experimentally prove.
Aerosol transmission is thought more likely. Also discussed is how lucky we were that this Pandemic involved a Coronavirus, instead of another viral family that was less studied. Moderna, for instance, was in the process of developing a MERS ( a Coronavirus) Vaccine. She finished up with the observation that distancing and masks, although imperfect, are still useful.