AE 641 – The Goss: Coronavirus, Tennis, & Corrupt Australian Politicians

In this episode of the Goss, I chat with my father Ian Smissen about the week’s news where we chat about the coronavirus, Australian Open, and corrupt Australian politicians.

AE 641 - The Goss: Coronavirus, Tennis, & Corrupt Australian Politicians transcript powered by Sonix—the best automated transcription service in 2020. Easily convert your audio to text with Sonix.

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G'day you mob, and welcome to another episode of The Goss. This is where I sit down with my old man, my dad, every single week and we chat about news and current affairs, things that are going on in Australia. And it is called The Goss, remember, because "what's the Goss?" is short for "What's the gossip?" Meaning "what's the news?" Right. What new things do you have to tell me, whether about the world or about you? What's the goss, right? Give me the goss.

So today, guys, we talk all about corona virus. You know what's going on in China at the moment with this new severe flu virus that's kind of like SARS or MERS that sort of came about in the 2000s and 2010s. We also talk about political corruption in Australia. We dip into that a little bit with the sports money allocation scandal that's currently gripping the Liberal Party in Australia. We also talk about freedom of speech vs. your role when you have to work, right, because there are a few celebrities in the sporting world who are incredibly religious but have very conservative views that contradict what most Australians think.

So anyway, there's loads of content in this episode. Guys, don't forget, if you want the full episode, you will need to be a member of the premium podcast or the academy, which you can sign up for at I hope to see you there so that you can enjoy the full episodes. But aside from that, let's get into today's episode. Dad, smack the kookaburra and let's get going. All right, dad. Welcome to episode four of the Goss.

Hey, Pete, good to be back.

What's the Goss?

The goss is it's bloody hot. 41 degrees. Going to be hot and tomorrow.

Bloody hot inside. Yeah. Yeah. Kel almost died. She went to the dentist and decided to walk it because I had to take care of Noah while he was sleeping. So that was a poor choice. Poor thing. Anyway, so how's the week been dad? What's been going on? What is the goss? What's your goss?

My goss isn't much really. It's just been watching a bit of tennis. Doing a bit of work; I was teaching last night. There's not much else going on other than the corona virus. Seems to be the thing that's... Even though it's not happening in Australia much, there's a few people that seem to have been infected, but it's been the headlines throughout the week.

Yeah, I haven't seen much else on. Right. There's been pretty much as that in the news constantly. And then just political stuff which we sort of try and avoid because it's pretty boring most of the time.

It's the same political story that just won't go away. That sports funding rort just won't go away. But that's probably not terribly interesting.

Would you want to mention that quickly just so that people know what it is when you say "sporting rort?"

Well, the last year there was a $100 million grant created by the federal government and smaller sporting bodies. So not the major sporting clubs and associations, but smaller bodies could apply to the Department of Sport to get grants for capital works to improve the sporting facilities for their club. And it appears that this was occurring at the same time that we're leading up to a federal election. And it appears that there were a lot of those grants given out to sporting clubs in seats that were either Liberal National Party, the current government, and then the government that won the election or were very close. And so it was you know, there's a lot of accusations of pork barrelling. And so it's been backwards and forwards, a lot around that.

What do you mean when you say "pork barrelling?"

Pork barrelling as in funding projects that will increase the likelihood of people voting for you at the next election.

It seemed very dodgy, right. And I was surprised to sort of say this to Kelly, because we're always talking about Brazil and the sort of corruption that happens in Brazil politically. And, you know, she's moved here. She's lived here for almost five years. And I'm like, there's still corruption here. It's just a sort of different kind. It's not as overt and it's much more subtle.

Yeah, the corruption here is political rather than personal. And there's a lot of countries in the world that can be accused of political corruption. But in many cases they are where politicians are lining their own pockets, they're actually taking money for themselves. In this case, the accusation was that they were they were granting government money to organisations in areas that were more likely to vote for them.

And who was it? Which was the sporting body or something was the corporation or the group or?

Sports Australia, which is the body that would ultimately oversee these, were being instructed on how to give the grants out. Yeah, because they have a set of criteria that you had to apply under and then they were weighting the applications and writing them according to those criteria. And it's been demonstrated that a lot of people got grants that were ranked quite low and people that were ranked higher were not given grants and it... Funnily enough, a lot of the people who weren't given grants were in safe Labour seats. They were the opposition.

And didn't she give a bunch of money to one of the clubs that she attends?

Yeah, that she was a member of. Now, mind you, she'd only been a member of it for four days. But yeah, she had joined the club. And then, funnily enough, the club gets money a week later.

It's still just astonishing for me, that sort of stuff happening. Because you're kind of like, "how do you not see that this is going to come out?" This is going to save a lot of die eventually and your career's over.

And it's one of those classic things, I think, where clearly governments are responsible for granting the money. But once $100 billion grant had been handed over to Sports Australia, they were the ones who then managed the applications. They should have been the ones who were granting the money. So you handed over to the various government departments to do the administration of it, which means that you can't be accused of bias. So anyway, that's a weird one. But it's one of those ones where it just won't go away. Every day there's a new headline of somebody saying, "Oh, and you think that's bad..."

So aside from that, how is the tennis? I think in the last episode you were telling us you were off to the tennis.

Yeah, we went. It was really good. I love tennis, as you know. I used to play a lot and I loved watching it. But as an event, it's just a really good event to go to. The facilities there are so good for players and visitors and officials and everybody. It's just a great place to go. We had seats in the second arena. They're not the main Rod Laver Arena.

Who was playing that night in Rod Laver?

Rod Laver. I can't remember now. It's all a blur. A week later, you forget who was playing because I've watched a lot of games on television and stuff since. But yeah, and it's a great event to go to. There's lots of people there. But it's the facility now is big enough to cope with 75, 80,000 people turning up.

And some of the news there, Ash Barty got into the semi-finals, right?

She lost this afternoon.

She did. But she was the first woman to do so in the last 20, 30 years. Since 1984 or something.

Something like that. And the last Australian woman to win the Australian Open was 1978.


And what was the other controversy there with, I think, giving... Recognising or putting someone in the Hall of Fame. That woman... I've forgotten her name.

Margaret Court, who's the second arena. The one we were in. And she was arguably the equivalent, the female equivalent of Rod Laver and arguably the best female tennis player. Certainly 50 years ago, she was. And this was this year is the 50th anniversary of her grand slam, which is winning the four major tournaments in the same year. And so this is the 50th anniversary of that. And so they were going to recognise that, which is perfectly reasonable. But she's had that arena named after her for a number of years now. But she's also fundamentally religious and she's been quite outspoken.

She's the pastor in a church.

She is. Yeah, Pentecostal church. And she's been quite outspoken on gay marriage and transsexuality and homosexuality. And a lot of people that are saying now that, well, ignoring her sporting prowess and supporting success, why would we honour somebody who is just out of step with modern day thinking, with naming a building after her?

It's difficult, isn't it, because it's one of those things where you're kind of like, you should have permission to be a fruit loop in our society.


And especially when your fruitloopiness isn't directly related to the thing for which you're being honoured.


I can kind of see where it's kind of like I don't care what your opinion is of eating animals if I'm trying to award you something because you were an amazing sports star.


It's kind of like... I understand she may have views that a lot of people, including you and I disagree with. But I can also say that they're not really related to what she did 50 years ago as a tennis player, though.


You know, who cares what her favourite colour is or, you know...

It is a hard one. I fall along the lines of saying that anybody has a right to any opinion they like about something.

Yeah, for sure.

But as soon as they make that public, then they are publicly accountable for it. Yeah. And if you... If we, as a society, are going to name buildings, not just put up a monument, putting up a monument to somebody is celebrating somebody's success for the career that they had. But if we're going to name a building after them that goes on forever and in twenty or thirty years' time, people are going to go, "Oh, Margaret Court? Wasn't she that woman that was anti-gay?" That's because that will be the thing that will pop up when people do whatever the equivalent of an Internet search will be in 20 years' time.

Well and as a segue there. This kind of dovetails pretty smoothly with what happened in the rugby this past year, right. Do you want to talk about that and give a brief recap or a nutshell review of what happened with the nut job?

The nut job? Yeah. Well, Israel Folau, who is one of Australia's great rugby union and rugby league players but again, fundamental Christian, and he has come out saying he was anti-gay marriage...

And this was on twitter, right?

And he was making statements saying that anybody who's gay is going to go to Hell and so on and so on and so on.

The ironic thing there, sorry to interrupt you, was that the part of the Bible where he's getting those quotes, you know, condemning homosexuality, also condemn having tattoos...

They do.

And eating certain food.

The quote that he made was actually a misquote because he was cherry picking out of two separate parts of the Bible and putting them together, which made them sound like, you know, putting the two bits out of context together was not what the original intention of those passengers were. But that aside, and again, it's one of those arguments of, you know, he's entitled to his opinion and he's entitled to make his opinion public.

And that's one of those difficult things for you and I, where obviously we're pretty staunch atheists if you guys don't already know. We have no problem, though, with people like Folau having those opinions.

Nor having him say it.

Yeah, exactly.

However, he was in breach of his contract with Rugby Australia because they have an inclusive policy where they actively promote the inclusion of minorities, whatever those minorities are. And it's... He was a serial offender. He had done it before and he'd been warned. And so it wasn't that he wasn't sacked for what he said. He was the set for the fact that he said it and that he was told not to. So he was actually sacked for breach of contract, which was really interesting.

It is very weird, though, how we had sort of these two sides of Australia coming sort of against one another, right. You know, saying he should be allowed to say whatever he wants. But it's kind of like if you had someone stand up there and say, "I think all Muslims are going to burn in hell," or, "If you're an indigenous person, you know, you're not human," or something like that, we would have a completely different reaction to that than him saying something about Christianity and condemning homosexuals.

Yeah, exactly. And look, the irony of that is he ended up being sacked. He took them to court. There was a settlement out of court for a lot of money.

What was he on per year, though? Because this is why it was such a big deal, right? He was on millions of dollars.

He was on millions of dollars a year.

And he got a contract for several years.

And he got millions of dollars as a payout as part of that settlement. The irony now is that he has been offered a job by a French rugby league club and he has written a clause into his contract that he will not say anything like that and he's agreed to it. So you've got to ask, where are his principles? Are his principles for his religious belief or his principles for his bank account?

I think the bank account.

Exactly right. And so that's part of the problem. And just as a little aside to that, and this has got nothing to do with Australia or anything else, but that French club that he has joined is in an international league, rugby league, that runs in Europe. And I think the second or third match that he is likely to play in will be against Wigan Rugby League Club. And they have announced that that that match will be their gay pride match, where they will celebrate diversity. So they're basically saying to him, you know, you can do and say what you like, but we're going to make this as difficult as possible for you.

If you really want that money, you're going to have to work for it.

Exactly. Yeah. And it's a shame because he is such a good sportsperson.


And it's a shame that he will be remembered for his religious beliefs, which is what he intended, but he hasn't had to suffer the consequences of it being in breach of contract. The person I feel most sorry for, I think in all of this, other than the people who is insulted, anybody who is part of the LGBTQI community was clearly insulted and worse than insulted. They were condemned by him, but the person closest to him, his wife, has effectively lost her job because not... She wasn't fired because of it but it was made perfectly obvious to her that it was going to be very difficult for her to continue her sporting career. And she's an international sportsperson as well.

What was she famous for?

She's a netballer. She's a New Zealand netballer and plays not only for New Zealand, but plays in Australia New Zealand Netball Championship.

I think she's going to be laughing all the way to the bank.

And I don't think she's going to be short of a dollar.

But yeah, that was the most annoying thing; I think that Rugby Australia had such a strong stance when he came out with those bigoted tweets and remarks publicly and just said, "you're fired." You know, "we can't have you saying those sorts of things. You can work for us, but you can't say those sorts of things. You choose, right." But then they caved in and ended up just paying him out because they knew that they would be up for potentially losing more in legal fees...

It would cost more in legal fees to get a win on the case and they may not have won it.

Yes. And that was one of those things where you're like, again, stand by your principles and follow it through, because it's...

Look, it was badly handled everywhere.

Yeah, anyway. All right. Moving on then to the corona virus.

Yes. Viruses and apologies to all those virologists and microbial geneticist out there for my Pizza geneticist. But he's a population geneticist.

I look at rats for viruses.

Any other things that we say now are going to be opinions rather than scientific facts.

I pretty much crammed for this episode, looking up a heap of information about viruses and I just realised just how complex the topic is.

Oh yeah.

You know, you've got DNA, viruses, RNA viruses. You've got all sorts of different sizes since and how they interact. I mean, I don't even know where to really start with this.

Well, the coronaviruses are like the common cold is caused by a multiple, you know, multiple viruses. But one group of viruses are corona viruses. So... Well, that is particular brand... It's hardly called a species. It's arguable as to whether you called a species or not. But this particular type of virus has evolved, mutated and evolved very recently. But it has evolved from a group of viruses that most people in the world are immune to or just have very minor effects by them.

Well, the very first... Like, because I was looking into what a corona virus is, I hadn't heard of it before. And they're RNA viruses as opposed to DNA viruses.

Which makes them small.

And they're from Coronaviridae, which just "viridae" is just the plural for Latin, I think, for virus, Latin or Greek, because I was looking at, "Why Corona?" And it means... The term comes from "Corona," meaning crown. And when you see a picture of this virus, it looks like it has all these protein...

Yeah. Because I have these protein clumps around them over the surface. But obviously when you look at an electron micrograph, that is a photograph taken through an electron microscope, you're looking at a two dimensional plane through that 3-D. And so those little protein packages that are sitting around the surface look like a ring around them.

Yeah. So the first coronaviruses were the common cold, which were discovered in 1960s, the 1960s, there were two of those. And then we have SARS...

SARS and MERS came in the two thousands and... 2012, I think MERS was.

2000... 1993, I think SARS was discovered.

The big SARS outbreak ,I think, was 2001, too.


And then MERS was another one of those and they're just mutations from common-ish coronaviruses.

Yeah. That have crossed over from animals, so I think.

Yeah. Yeah.

And the most recent one in the 2019 Wuhan virus has likely come from... They thought originally, I think on January the 1st, they thought it was a seafood wholesale market because I think they had a whole bunch of people who had been to that market get sick. But now more recently from some of the articles I was reading, it seems like it could've come from either eating bats or eating snakes which had eaten bats.


Whether at that market or elsewhere.

Yeah. And certainly the study that I read that was released I think yesterday was the one that was talking about the association with bats in the viruses that have been... The coronaviruses that have been found in bats are most closely related to this virus and not related to viruses that have come from other animals directly. So it is most likely that it has evolved from them.

So I'll go through a timeline, I guess, of what's been going on. It's like December the 12th first case detected. Only on the 31st was it reported. The initial source was unknown, potentially from bats and snakes on January the 1st. That seafood wholesale market was shut down and looked at and they'd been selling something like 112 exotic animals, including live koalas. They'd been selling crocodiles, salamanders, peacocks, wolf cubs, hedgehogs, civets. I think foxes, dogs, all kinds of weird animals,.

Not as pets.

No. To eat, to eat. Which is sort of part of the problem that we have... Humans, I think, sort of to enter in on before I finish this off, I was watching a few things on like Ebola and HIV, and it's because they think that humans are encroaching more and more and more on more and more wildlife and that these viruses are sort of coming out because we're coming into contact with things that previously we didn't come into contact because they were, you know, deep in the rainforest or just not on the on the plate, I guess.


So January 7th, Chinese authorities confirmed that was a new virus and they named it with 44 cases on January 9th. They had the first death, January 12th, it was sequenced and shared with the world. January 13th, the virus got to Thailand. January 15th: Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the United States. January the 20th, it was human to human transmission. Confirmed with almost 300 cases. January 21st, we had 314 cases with six deaths. January the 22nd, 440 cases, 17 deaths. And it got to Hong Kong, Macao. North Korea closed its borders. And then I guess, you know, you sort of see the pattern, but it was just more and more cases, more and more deaths up to today where I think we have a hundred and thirty two deaths and more than 6000 cases, which interestingly, when I looked at the fatality of that, right, 132 divided by 6,000, it's only 2.2% fatal.

It's much less virulent than MERS or SARS Yeah, but it appears to be more easily contagious. More contagious. So more people are getting it.

That was the big thing that they found out, right? That it's transmissible during its incubation stage. So before symptoms erupt and are expressed. But I was watching one video by this Egyptian guy in the US... I've forgotten his... Where's his channel here? It was a funny name for his channel. Let me find it... "Medicosis Perfectionalis," And he said "prevention is better than cure, especially when there is no cure."

It's a fair call!

But he was saying to put it in perspective, over the last month, 1,000,000 people have died from heart disease. 90,000 in car accidents, 50,000 from HIV, 38,000 from just influenza, which is another corona virus. And 132 from the Corona virus.

And look, that's... I think that's the challenge that we have, is that whenever there's a new virus discovered and it is contagious and potentially fatal, then rightly so, there's a sort of worldwide attempt to firstly understand it, identify it, and then try and prevent it. But we also don't want to shut the world down in a major panic when we also have things like, as you say, influenza. 10 to 20 times the number of people in the same period of time have died from influenza around the world. And we've known about influenza for 100 years. And so it's...

So what do you think it is that people freak out the way that they do when there's something like this that emerges, which is so clearly not as dangerous as other things that we look at as benign, right? It's kind of like being terrified of dying from snakebite when pet dogs kill more people. But you would never be too afraid to pat your dog. Yes, but if you see a snake, you'd run screaming.

Oh, I think it's the things that we are unfamiliar with and also the things that we can't control. There is there's very little that the average person thinks they can do to prevent them getting a disease like corona virus or SARS or MERS or influenza. The reality is that for influenza, if everybody in the world got vaccinated, then we would have probably 1 per cent of the number of people that suffer from it suffering from it. There are still going to be mutations and there's still going to be evolution of those influenza viruses that are not going to be able to be vaccinated for. But if we got vaccines for them and we do every year, we have new vaccines for new strains of influenza. At the moment, there is no vaccine for a recently evolved virus like the new corona virus. But... So that's one thing. The second thing is wash your hands. The easiest way of preventing those things is... Because these are airborne viruses. So either breathing it indirectly, which is actually quite difficult to do unless you're right next to somebody who was sneezing and coughing, but picking up viruses from other surfaces. Or somebody sneezes near you and you pick it up on your hands. You don't wash your hands for half an hour and then you're rubbing your eyes, you're putting food in your mouth. You're doing all of those sort of things, just washing your hands with warm soapy water. Frequently particularly, you have been around people who have those. And if you've got it, make sure you don't go out near other people.

I think it's interesting that it sort of happened as a perfect storm. Right. Because you had this occur right at the time in Hubei, Wunan Province, Hubei Province in Wuhan during the Chinese New Year as it was approaching, where you have hundreds of millions of people...

Basically hundreds of thousands of people out and around in that city.

Yeah. Eating off the same plates and everything, too. So it's almost like, yeah, the perfect storm. Yeah.

But ironically, for those things where we do have it happening at that time, we haven't had a huge burst of, at least reported from China, of people suffering from that because we're now a week after Chinese New Year, a few couple of days, more than a week after you would expect of a lot bigger outbreak if it was as big a problem as it has been... And that's not to downplay the problem because we have a potentially fatal disease that is transferred airborne, so being in the same room with somebody can put you in danger of contracting it.

It was interesting seeing some of the doctors talking about this on the news and everything because initially you think, yeah, close everything down, don't let anyone go anywhere until this thing passes. But he... This doctor from I think Medicosis Perfectionalis, that channel on YouTube, was saying that big problem with that is that then the experts can't get where they need to get to be able to treat people, to be able to learn about these things. And so you don't have doctors going into China or coming out of China in order to try and solve these issues. But yeah, it is pretty frightening. I can't imagine what it's like being in China, especially in Wuhan, where I think the authorities have shut...

Shut the city down.

Bigger than that, I think. Yeah, something like 10 million, 11 million people that have just been frozen.

They're homebound.

But the ironic thing is that 5,000,000 of them bailed before that. Yeah. Well, as they know that it was about to come in, they were just like, "yeah, we're getting out."

And I think the thing is that the likelihood of many of them having the disease is pretty low but you don't need many to have it. And that's, I think, one of those insidious things is that you have one person on an aeroplane and then potentially flying from Wuhan to somewhere else in the world. And then potentially you have three, 400 people who have been infected with it. And because this virus can be transmitted pre-symptoms, you know, pre-symptomatically. So you don't have to be suffering the symptoms of the disease before you can actually pass it on. Then it's hard to know how many people those 300 people come in contact with, so it's...

So that's the frightening thing.

It's quite difficult thing to deal with.

In those movies you always see, you know, this guy has coughs on my hand and you're like, "that guy's boned," you know.

We know he's gone.

Yeah, but yeah, must be even more terrifying when there are no symptoms. But people can be infectious, right. It's kind of like, you know, a zombie film where no one's a zombie.

Many viruses are contagious like that. The real issue we have is that mostly when people are suffering the symptoms, they are much more likely to spread them because they will be sneezing and coughing and so on. So they're much more likely to be projecting viruses out into the atmosphere than they are when they're not suffering the symptoms.

Have you heard of the game Plague Inc?

I have, but I don't know much about it. I've heard of it.

I've got it on my phone. And so as soon as this Corona stuff started happening, everybody had flashbacks to playing that game, this is a game that's developed for you effectively to try and infect the entire world and wipe out humanity with a disease. So it can be bacterial, viral, fungal, I think could be some sort of, you know, bio-hazard a disease you've created or whatever. But it was really funny because I saw a news article from this game that it's now the number one paid downloaded game in China, but also that the developer was warning that the players of the game that, "please remember that Plague Inc. is just a game, not a scientific model, and that the current Corona virus outbreak is a real situation which is impacting a huge number of people." And then he said, "whenever there is an outbreak of a disease, we see an increase in players as people seek to find out more about how disease is spread and to understand the complexities of viral outbreaks." So I found that really interesting that...

That is an interesting one, because those sort of games are typically based on not necessarily the exact scientific models that happen, but those sort of epidemiological models get used in those games. It's the same stuff as... There's probably 10 things that can happen in the first instance. What's the probability that any one of those is going to reoccur? And they build that modelling in and then it's... If you're playing the game, it's working out which ones of those things do you either want to prevent or create or whatever.

Well, it's really fun because you get to evolve whatever it is that you're working on, your strain, your viral strain, bacterial strain. And so a big part of trying to get it everywhere and then kill everyone is making it relatively benign initially, but very infectious, but with very limited symptoms. And then you have to cause it to mutate to kill everyone.

Well, in that case, having it be an RNA virus works great because they're not the simplest, but they're probably the simplest of those sort of infectious agents. And then, by being simple, and simple in the sense of being small and having very little genetic material, means that any mutation that they have is likely to have a significant difference from their normal behaviour. In an epidemiological sense, these things don't behave as such, but... And so the chance of rapid mutation and evolution is much higher in small viruses. That is in, say, bacteria. Bacteria will evolve, but they will evolve over years and decades rather than days, which can you can get in these small viruses.

That's sort of the issue we have with staph resistant staph in hospitals. Right. It's not something that suddenly happened.

It's from using penicillin for 80 years.

Yeah. Incorrectly, right? Not to... Without... Yeah... That's why doctors...

Blanket use of antibiotics.

Yeah. Doctors aren't giving it out as often anymore because they previously were. I think now does it take, like if you're going to get antibiotics for a bacterial infection, they have to give you something like a million times that dosage that they originally had to.

It's much much higher.

Yeah. And so we have all these issues with resistant staph in hospitals because the antibiotics no longer work, because the bacteria has been exposed to it at levels that have allowed it to survive each exposure and evolve in order to be more resistant to it.

Well, there will be some bacteria in there that are resistant every time that happens.


And obviously the resistant ones are the ones that are more likely to survive and reproduce and infect people in the future. And then there'll be some more from that that are more resistant. And so that's how we get that evolution of bacteria happening. So the less we can use antibiotics, the better. And that's not to say don't use them, but as you say, medical practitioners are much less likely now to be prescribing antibiotics for something which could naturally be cured by the human body's normal anti-bodies and immune system, obviously, in a bit longer period of time, but once you've created an immunity for yourself, you're much less likely to have a problem with that in the future. And you haven't had any problem with having antibiotics become... Bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.

But it's pretty frightening to just see how many people are really keen to get antibiotics. I've spoken to some doctors and I've had some students when I was teaching English, doing private lessons who were doctors, and they were quite often complaining about the number of people that will come into the office and just say, "I feel sick, give me antibiotics." And the doctor will be like, "what are your symptoms? Doesn't sound like a bacterial infection." You know, "it could be viral, could be whatever. But it's not bacterial. there's no signs of that." And they still want it because they see that as...

It's a general naivete rather than ignorance. It is ignorance. But it's more about naivete on... Because people know they're... they know enough to know that antibiotics will cure some things. And therefore, the request for antibiotics is really a request to do something. You know, "why do I come to a doctor and pay a whole lot of money to have 10 or 15 minutes with a general practitioner who says you'll get over it yourself, go away?"

But it's frightening...

That is actually the best advice...

It seems like people don't have a good understanding of what the bacteria, the antibacterials, sorry, the antibiotics are doing to their body, aside from just killing the potential disease side or infection.

The side effects are fairly horrendous.

It's completely destroying. You're taking a nuke effectively to your gut. Right. Which we're finding out more and more that your gut biome and the bacteria that make that up, a lot of which are good and help you affect things like depression, you know... Diabetes... Yeah, exactly. And so it's frightening that people are so readily interested in bombing that and having to repopulate it again under the hopes that, you know, you'll get better, especially when it's a viral infection that you're suffering from.

Yeah. There's no cure for a virus. No antibiotic cure for a virus. It just don't work.

Well, I was I was thinking about it, too. And I'm like, we talk about these things, viruses and immunity and everything. And I was sort of like, "well, what the hell actually happens?" Right. So, you get a virus that you bring it into your system. The virus has certain... So it's the key, right. And your cells are the lock. And it's looking for cells that it, as the key, the surface of the virus fits onto that cell and isn't recognised as a threat, gets absorbed into the cell, hijacks the DNA in that cell, that's your DNA, and then uses it to just produce more of itself and then explode. And those are normally... They'll get in and do that. We have lymphocytes, right? Your white blood cells which defend the body against viruses. But I was thinking, "Why did they get taken over?" So obviously not all viruses attack lymphocytes. HIV AIDS I think is one that does. But the lymphocytes let off a bunch of things called interferons. Did you know that? I hadn't known any of this. And apparently that tells other cells surrounding... That gives those cells a warning to tell them, "Get your defences ready because there's a virus here." Yeah. So, yeah, it's interesting. So why do we have viruses that we we can seem to seemingly be able to cure? So things like smallpox and, you know, a bunch of these other things that we get injections for... Vaccines... It seems like they made the vaccine once and we're sweet. Yeah. And then there's others that we need a vaccine made every single year. So again, the corona virus, that's just the usual common cold influenza that goes around that seems to change every single year. And we just can't seem to vaccinate it. But then we have other ones like Ebola and HIV AIDS that are another beast as well, right. And we just can't seem to get it.

I think there's some saying that clearly we... There's, and again, this is the pre advance apology to virologists, but there are different groups of viruses that from a reproduction mutation and evolutionary point of view behave differently. So things like smallpox, Ebola, HIV appear to be very slowly evolving. So they're not changing very much. Some of those in the case of smallpox, chickenpox, some of those sort of things, are the sort of viruses that we can create vaccines against. And they seem to be very effective.

So that's because they mutate slowly, is it?

Yes. I think they're also the ones that are less likely to kill you. Moronically. So that what we are doing when we're vaccinating is that we're actually stimulating the body's natural immune system to create a defence against these things. We're not putting something into the body to actually kill them themselves. We're stimulating the body's immune system to kill those viruses. Once we've stimulated the body to do that then the defence mechanisms are there either for life or at least for a long time. And so we've got the ability to do that for some viruses, but other viruses like the coronaviruses seem to evolve really rapidly. And so even if you get over the cold or the flu or you get over... There's a low mortality rate for it appears that things like this current corona virus, if you get over it with appropriate medical treatment, you will have built up a defence for it, but you're highly unlikely to have that defence be usable for the next evolutionary stage of this virus. So the next time this thing pops up, you're not going to... Your cells, your immune system isn't going to be able to cope with it. And that's why you need a vaccination for the flu every year. Yeah, because within 12 months, the influenza virus will have evolved enough that the one that hits you next year will be different enough that the vaccine that you got last year, which gave you the protection from it, will no longer work. It's not the vaccines worn off. Yeah, it's just that the virus is different...

Or the one that's coming around again. The symptoms might be the same, but the virus, the key that is that virus is now different...

The symptoms for all of these corona viruses, the symptoms for the cold, the symptoms for SARS, are exactly the same.

That's a funny thing you see on the news; they say, "look out for a temperature and a cough," and you're like, "every cold gives you that, right?"


Every virus gives you that.

But we, for the common cold, our bodies have just can just cope with it.

Yeah. So what have you seen in your time? Because I was looking up some of these things that come out and it seems like each time we kind of smash them. Right. So we've had things like SARS and MERS come out. I think SARS infected 8,000 people, killed almost 1,000 people. I'm not sure about MERS. We've had things like AIDS come out, which was obviously a much bigger deal. Ebola comes out periodically in the world, freaks out, but it never seems to get very far, despite it having... Probably because it has such a high...

Huge, high mortality...


A really rapid onset and high mortality. And that's the worst thing a virus can do if it wants to continue to survive in a population because it effectively saying if you get this virus, you're going to get the symptoms quickly and you're going to die quickly. Which means that you don't then pass it on to very many people.

It's kind of like bushfires, right? If it burns too hot too fast, it goes out pretty quickly. Whereas if it's a slow burn, it can last a lot longer.

And I remember, and I won't name the person, but I remember speaking to a epidemiologist years and years ago in the 90s, when... Just when we started to understand HIV and AIDS and how that... Where that virus might have come from and how it occurred and treatment, so on. And his semi tongue in cheek, but probably literal interpretation was that HIV became a problem for humans when a chimpanzee hunter got a bicycle.

What do you mean?

Because it transferred from chimpanzees to humans. Yeah. Somewhere in West Africa. And that it had probably been happening for decades or centuries in a very small scale where people are living in small villages. And because it's not... Because HIV is not an airborne contagion, so you actually have to have physical contact with people...

It's an ironic one, isn't it?

...Intimate physical contact with people in order to get it.

It's a strange one where it's so prevalent and it's killing millions of people every year but it's so weak. Right. And it can't survive out the body very long.

Yeah, exactly. So it required somebody to, who had the disease, to actually go to a neighbouring village.


In order to start to spread it.

And that probably happened many times before it actually got into the world.

And Ebola is sort of the reverse. Ebola is just so dramatic that you get these big outbursts of them and then people die. And that's obviously horrible. But it doesn't spread widely because people don't survive long enough to spread it. But yes. So in my time, I think the two big ones that... The two big viral diseases that have effectively been cured worldwide are polio and smallpox.

So was that smallpox was cured in your lifetime? Is it for me? Obviously, it wasn't in my lifetime. But I always see it is something that affected people, you know... When the colonisers got to Australia, it affected both colonisers and indigenous people and it was the same with America. So I think of it as a very old disease.

It is old and the thing is that it's old, but it's still around but cured in the sense that there are almost no people in the world now that are suffering from new instances of smallpox or polio.

We probably actually got some within about 50 kilometres of here, right. At CSIRO.

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Well, that's one of the world's stock-holds for all those things.

We've got all the deadly diseases there.

But we need them in order to keep researching them, because if for whatever reason it does get out or a mutation of it or whatever starts to affect people, then we need to be able to study them. But yeah, both those diseases, we had vaccinations for them very early on here and those vaccinations were very successful. And in fact, that's what cured the world, was not by curing individual people, but by preventing people from getting it. You're only going to ever get rid of these sort of global long term diseases by having just universal vaccination, because otherwise you will you can have 90% of the world vaccinated against something and the other 10% are going to continue to spread it around. So once a 90% of died off, then the 10%.

Well, that's sort of segues with some interesting stuff that I was looking up about HIV resistance in Europeans, in Caucasians. I think we have a 10%, one in ten people who are European, of European descent, have a certain mutation, the CCR5 Delta 32 mutation, which effectively reduces a protein on the outside of your lymphocytes, your white blood cells, so that HIV can't bind to the cell and attack your body so you're immune to AIDS. The tragedy, the interesting thing, the reason that Caucasians have that is because they were, we were, periodically smashed by the plague during the 1300s to 1600s where a third of Europe died. And I think... There was a study I was reading about that, saying that at the time of the first plague outbreak, the rate of that mutation, that's presence in the population where it's one in ten now, it was one in 20,000. But so many people died who didn't have that mutation that it brought it to a much higher prevalence, and ironically, the bubonic plague and potentially smallpox as well may have both affected these, although smallpox occurred a lot later on, they both attack, or look for, the same receptor to get into the cell as HIV does.

So, the people who became immune to the plague, which gave them immunity to HIV.

Yeah, which is really interesting. I've got another question for you while I was doing some research on this. Can viruses infect other viruses?


Yeah, I found that really interesting. So I was looking that up and I'm like, "Hmm." And that was apparently evidence that viruses are... There's an argument for them being life forms because they can get sick from other virus. So there's the standard argument of they can't live on their own or replicate on their own, so they're kind of at the edge of life. They're not living organisms because they lack cellular structures. They're just sort of DNA or RNA wrapped in a cell sometimes. But they can replicate themselves, and so because they're sort of self-replicating as long as they've got a vector.

So they certainly have some of the characteristics that we would traditionally characterise life with.

Yeah, but there was a study that was looking at an amoeba that was found... And how would you explain what an amoeba is?

Single-celled organisms. The whole organism is one cell.

Yeah. And so they found this in somewhere in Britain and they were studying this amoeba and the virus, this huge virus called the APMV virus that attacks it. And it's a whopping 400 nanometres. This thing's huge. So to put that in context, it's 400 nanometres across. That's the same size as a bacteria. Bacterium. Most viruses are closer to 20 nanometres across, apparently. Anyway, when they were studying this one, they found a tiny little virus that they've called Sputnik that was actually attacking the main virus. So that when this main virus was attacking amoebas to try and replicate itself, this little one would get inside and hijack the process to replicate itself.

So a parasitic virus.

Yeah. And the other cells, the other amoebas and everything around, I think their susceptibility to this giant virus went down 70%. And so this little virus was sort of piggybacking on...

It's amazing, isn't it?

Yeah. Anyway, so that's about it. that's everything I've got for today. Aside from that, do you think we're going to get to a point where disease like viruses will be cured? Will that be something that goes the way of the dodo in the future?

Not forever, because we're always going to have viruses that can evolve faster than we think. And the corona of group of viruses are exactly that. You know, where most people around the world are immune to the common cold. We can treat influenza with vaccines, but then we have SARS and MERS and this new corona virus that's popping up. There will always be those sort of mutations. There may well be at some stage in the future the point where we can effectively eradicate the effects of viruses overall on human beings, but who knows what is going to have to happen for that to occur. And how many of the viruses that we have around us that are actually doing things that are beneficial to us, but we don't understand them at the moment. If we just, you know, to say, look, "let's just wipe out mosquitoes." What's that going to do? "Let's just wipe out viruses." What's that going to do? Because there's going to be all sorts of viruses doing all sorts of things that are actually beneficial to us.

Well, and I found...

We already do. We use viruses to implant DNA into bacteria to change bacteria so that they are not going to be as effective in doing what they do against us? So we already exploit viruses doing what they're doing.

They're used for a lot of things. I remember bacteriophages, which are viruses that attack bacteria, are used for cloning up different things in the lab. And there are big, big, big, important part of medical research. But also from memory, again, I'll have to check this, but retro viruses, things like HIV, I think they're RNA viruses. These are old viruses. I think hence the name "retro." They make up a large part of our Intron DNA, right. The non-coding DNA in probably all organisms. So we have, in the human body, at least in our genome, we have in... What they called again? Exons that that code for genes and we have introns, which is sort of this space...

The gaps.

Yeah. with just random letters. And a lot of those apparently are made up of retroviruses where the ultimate survival strategy for these viruses, because ultimately they just want to be replicated was to literally insert themselves into our DNA and no longer have a negative effect on our bodies. And our bodies will just replicate them for the rest of time, you know, or at least, you know, our evolution.

Exactly. And so the reason that that has been... Not "allowed" to happen, but the reason that that hasn't actually broken down in a sector that we've got these... You'd think that if we're putting extra DNA in that it's going to be a problem. But all that extra DNA, providing it doesn't somehow create another Intron, is going to be a code for something against us. The more bits of random rubbish DNA we have in there, the less likelihood the mutation is actually going to affect a good bit.

Well, it separates mutations, so it could be a positive thing.

Mutation are just going to occur at random throughout our DNA strands instead of more rubbish we have in there, the less lucky the good bits are going to be affected.

Well, that's that frightening thing with viruses. Just the amount that you must have in your body. Like when you get sick, when you get the cold, you've probably absorbed a small packet of many viruses from someone else's sneeze in your face and you've inhaled it or you've licked your hand after getting off the tram in Melbourne. But the amount of billions, trillions, probably an uncountable amount of viruses that then, you know, generate themselves. Yeah. And your body wipes out effectively all of them, except for the ones that you might spit out. And those things aren't perfect copies of themselves. There are lots of mutations that must occur. So that's why, especially with the cold, just the numbers of mutations that occur and then that gets spread around is just, you know, infinite, or close to.

Yeah, exactly.

Anyway, that looks like you're suffering from the heating here as much as I am.

Apologies for the perspiration.

Hopefully when we go outside it's a bit cooler.


Thank you so much for joining me today. And I hope it was interesting for you guys listening.

Thanks, Pete.

No worries.

See you next Week.

Yeah, we'll keep an eye out for another virus coming up or something else interesting on the news. See you guys.


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