Let's grab coffee and talk about coronavirus

I do not have a background in science, but I am paid to interview scientists. Today, I had the opportunity to chat with a young epidemiologist about her work on HIV prevention. Here’s approximately how that conversation went.

ME: I’m excited to hear about your research at Emory. Can you summarize what you’re working on?
RESEARCHER: Of course. A few years ago I received an NIH fellowship to work on HIV-prevention in Africa. I started my research working at the CDC and am now with Emory.

ME: So you worked at the CDC? I just read a story about the coronavirus? Are you familiar?
RESEARCHER: Yes, it’s a virus similar to SARS, except it seems it can be spread from human to human, rather an animal to human.

ME: Yeah, it sounds like a big deal. Two people in France died, and nine in Saudi Arabia, or something? I'm not sure exactly. I didn't finish the article because that stuff freaks me out. But, is this, like, a big deal?
RESEARCHER: I’m not an expert, but in my experience when cases come up like this, the CDC involves all their researchers. If it's a serious threat, the CDC moves all their resources to working on--

ME: So it IS a big deal, then? All hands are on deck?

ME: Have you seen Contagion?
RESEARCHER: A while back, yes.

ME:  (rummaging around handbag) Excuse me, I’m just looking for some Purell.

ME: The coronavirus, is that what it's called? Is this going to be like Contagion? Like, are we all going to collapse? I mean, is it a painful death?
RESEARCHER: I’m not an expert on that particular virus, as I said my focus is on preventing HIV in couples living in Zambia and Rwanda.

ME: Of course…So like...what can a person do to boost their immunity against an airborne person-to-person virus? Are oranges and Emergen-C going to help in this situation? Are we all going to have to start wearing masks? Is this related to overpopulation?
RESEARCHER: It may be related to overpopulation. We have huge farms and live closely to these animals. We've seen new diseases emerge from our contact with animals.

ME: The animals are not having it.

ME: Are these new diseases, or have then been around forever? I mean how long was HIV around before we really noticed it.
RESEARCHER: We've traced HIV back to the early 1900s. It wasn't until people started traveling globally that it became something scientists could pinpoint.

ME: What are the chances we nail this corona thing? Tell me the truth. Are we doomed?
RESEARCHER:  I can’t speak to that, but I do know that we’ve seen a 30% decline in HIV in Rwanda in part due to our prevention work.

ME: You’re right. Let's talk about HIV. I apologize for losing focus on the interview. Maybe I should cut down on my coffee intake. Does caffeine affect you?
RESEARCHER: (points to cup of coffee) Uh, not really. I have one or two cups a day.

ME:  I’m on number 5. Which, like, why do I think I need so much coffee? Weird. Okay, let’s talk about Rwanda.
RESEARCHER: Great! So we started with standalone clinics and are now incorporating our prevention counseling in wider areas and government clinics--

ME: I keep thinking of that scene, where Gwyneth Paltrow collapses.

ME: She looked terrible, didn't she? I guess they did a really good job of making her look terrible.

ME: I mean it's not a big deal. (throws hands in air) So we have a rampant virus that's spread from human to human and is airborne. I can't do anything about it. We'll either die or we'll live. There's really no reason to worry about it, unless you're dead. And then, you're dead. So...

ME: I’m sorry. It’s the caffeine. And yesterday my credit card company called me to warn me about all these fraudulent charges, and I was on the phone with my bank before I got here, checking my other accounts, and Mother’s Day happened, and I got really emotional, and I met a coworker's baby, and she was really cute, and I was like I think would like this, I think, and what if I don’t ever have one and I’m devastated about it? Do you have children?

ME: And you're okay with that? Like, you're cool with not having kids? Or do you think you'll want them?
RESEARCHER: For the time being I’m really focused on my work.

ME: Did you read the thing about Angelina Jolie and the double mastectomy? Is that really an effective way to decrease your chance of getting cancer? Is it an affordable option?
RESEARCHER: Cancer isn’t my focus. I can speak about HIV-related prevention techniques in Africa though.
Are you okay?

ME: (ahem. AHEM.) Yes, I'm fine. I feel like my throat is dry. Oh god. Maybe I'm coming down with something.