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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Cuckoo Ah-choo!

World War I saw weary soldiers pulling themselves out of filthy trenches in Belgium and France to head home. Unwittingly, they brought hitchhikers along. Germs, in the form of influenza, spread across this country during the influenza epidemic of 1918. Those who fought the war to end all wars wreaked viral havoc on the homeland. Between March and November of that year, 500,000 people died in the U.S. Worldwide, the Spanish influenza epidemic struck and killed nearly 20 million by 1920.

I want you to think about that. Apart from a few head-in-the-sand isolationists, most of us understand we are well into a global economy. We're connected. A contagious disease like influenza, (one that cannot be cured, only treated for the symptoms), is capable of grinding the world economy to a halt. Things will not get done if we're dropping like flies.

We, and by that I mean the people of earth, have a problem and it's in Vietnam. It's the avian flu. I know, bird flu, blah, blah, blah, YAWN. *!*

Wake up!

Across East Asia, an influenza virus known by the scientific designation H5N1 has killed at least 55 people and tens of millions of birds. As potential aggressors go, this one's about as insidious as they get — fast-moving, deadly and extremely unpredictable. Before it can mount an all-out offensive, this "bird flu" virus must change its genetic makeup so that it can jump easily from human to human. Once it has done so, the resulting germ could spread quickly, inflicting heavy casualties among a global population with no natural immunity against it.

That final shift might never happen or it could happen next week. But scientists think that roughly three times each century nature creates an influenza virus capable of global devastation, and a "pandemic" flu sweeps the world. The prospects increase when a virus long out of circulation extends its geographic range, its hold on different animal species and its contact with humans. By those measures, H5N1 is a virus on the march. -- LA Times
Remember SARS? SARS spread to five countries in 24 hours and reached 30 countries on 6 continents in just a few months.

Germs are like Chaos theory, right under our noses. Random. Everywhere, and nowhere.

It's important to understand that there will be no time for preparation if the world goes Cuckoo Ah-choo. People will start dying, and quickly. Services will be disrupted, money may not flow properly, quarantines will be effected. Last year's vaccine shortage was a serious problem. (While not for the same type of flu, a lack of vaccine significantly increases the chance of flu gaining a foothold.) Vaccine specialists are striving to produce a bird flu vaccine, although nothing is ready for human trials yet. Until the virus completely mutates and becomes capable of human to human transference, we really have no idea if the new vaccines will work.

In the real world, it would take four to six months to produce vaccines on the scale needed to tackle influenza. Some countries have taken to stockpiling vaccines against the strain of bird flu that is currently circulating, but there is no guarantee that this vaccine will convey enough protection against any human strain that might emerge. -- The Economist

We need to have enough respect for nature to accept that viral evolution is continual. Thanks to efforts by UK vaccine specialists, we may be poised to dissemble the threat of this killer. Or, we may bury our dead (much like the aftermath of the Tsunami), using our failure as a blueprint for next time.

11 Comments:

At August 04, 2005 8:02 PM, Blogger Unadulterated Underdog said...

Good post. I think you summed up the threat rather well. It's too dangerous to think in the box because things like the bird flu will come up and get you if we do that. Sort of like NeoConism... Many think that it doesn't exist and look what has happened!

 
At August 04, 2005 8:10 PM, Blogger Gun-Toting Liberal said...

In addition to what Joseph noticed, your point of taking care of the troops and acknowledging their exposure to foreign "bugs" was well taken by me. This Administration needs to make DAMNED sure the troops, and the American populace is well guarded against foreign diseases and "bugs" that can pose a health risk to our country. Correct me if I'm mistaken about the general intent of your post.

 
At August 05, 2005 4:59 AM, Blogger Jet said...

The Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918 in America is attributed to WWI soldiers being exposed and carrying it home. Anytime a virus has the ability to be moved, and in this day and age we are extremely globally mobile, the rate of spread is phenomemal. Troops, for whom extreme mobility is a given, are risked not only for exposure, but also as carriers. American Int'l airports have quarrentine centers, but containing a virus is difficult. Anybody who read Stephen King's "The Stand" in the '70's should remember his brilliant portrayal of the spead of a virus.

The point of my post was simply cautionary. Disregarding our histroy, the inherent nature of viral adaptation, and the information coming from world health organizations will be at our peril. Not a question of if, folks, but when.

 
At August 05, 2005 10:17 AM, Blogger Nedhead said...

Good post, but we are animals in the end, and subject to illnesses that are either preventable or not. No matter how cautious you people will die of viruses and such. Even with mountains of vaccines for every viral strain out there viruses will strike, in large numbers and small. Maybe I'm over simplifying it and being too fatalistic, and I am not advocating sitting back and doing nothing, but we are not above the laws of nature.

 
At August 05, 2005 3:11 PM, Blogger Resistor Prime said...

You're absolutly right, but to most people 1918 might as q=well be 1000 BC.

We're Americans they say. It can't happen to us!

 
At August 06, 2005 8:52 AM, Blogger Tracey said...

Dang...I really didn't want to have to do the whole Michael Jackson face-mask thing. It's so gauche! lol

Seriously though...is there anything we can do to prevent the spread of something like this other than hope that there's enough vaccine to go around to those most vulnerable?

 
At August 06, 2005 11:49 PM, Blogger Tom Harper said...

Good post. This is something we all need to be aware of, and be prepared for. We all think "it can't happen here" because it's been generations since a fatal non-curable disease has spread pneumonically in the West.

 
At August 07, 2005 5:26 PM, Blogger Gun-Toting Liberal said...

"Stephen King's "The Stand""

Hey, that's one of my all-time favorite books there! A little off-topic (sorry), but I just had to throw another 2 cents in there on that great read. A real "eye opener", for sure.

 
At August 09, 2005 12:53 PM, Blogger Ken Grandlund said...

And "The Stand" was made into a fairly good TV mini-series as well. I managed to record it at the time and enjoy it now and again. It's not as good as the book, but still good.

As for this whole disease problem...your post is a great reminder that for all our problems with politics or religion or education or war, nature continues to move on, oblivious to our daily problems and the like. It is for us to be vigilant, use the knowledge that we have gained from science to help protect us, and then hope for the best. Like a flock of birds that has grown too large, nature finds a way to cull the excesses. Humanity is not excluded in this equation. (The difference is that we willingly cull our own species from time to time too)

 
At August 10, 2005 6:30 AM, Blogger frstlymil said...

We wiped out an entire indigenous people with bugs brought over from Europe to the American continent. My grandmother, who lived to the ripe age of 104, lived through the flu in 1918. She lived in a small railroad community and in that small town, she would witness 2-3 hearse carriages a week driving down the main street. In the late 70's and early 80's we were all introduced to a constantly mutating retro-virus known as HIV, which leads to AIDS, which is still going strong due to its mutability and is killing thousands of people daily. JET is right - there is very little known and even less said about those types of unseen peril when it comes to protecting our troops in another land. And we compromise our immune systems daily by eating chemical crap because many people can't afford food that doesn't have that crap added to it. You're right. I think the need is to be outspoken about it and fight the things that could invite it - but not be ruled by a fear of it.

 
At August 11, 2005 5:37 PM, Blogger Jet said...

I think the best we can do is to pay attention, be willing to accept that it's happening, and do our best to isolate ourselves if necessary. Here in Florida, summer means hurricane season, and many people keep a stocked supply box handy, "just in case".

Nature is a force. After four hurricanes last year, she has my respect.

 

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