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This blog is to store what I consider to be important - or weird - stories about health and science. To read these, you will need the Adobe Reader; you may download it at: Be sure to check out my political blog at: Welcome to my friends from LeftWingRadicals!

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Tick-Tock: The clock is running on the H5N1 avian flu.



The 'authorities' are saying millions, but my science contacts in viral medicine are saying hundreds of millions to billions.

There's another entry in the blog about the H5N1 causing symptoms that look nothing like flu and don't involve the respiratory tract; however, it kills at the 76% rate, anyway.

Good thing GWB cut (reduced) the funding for the CDC for the first time since.. oh... 1946. Guess we don't need no stinkin' science! Just think how much room that will leave for rich people who will, of course, be the first (maybe only) ones to receive any vaccine, assuming they can produce one when H5N1 picks up a good human transmission gene. It's not "IF", it's only "WHEN", and the 'when' is not that far in your future. Viral scientists say we may have dodged the bullet for this go-around, but they aren't saying that we absolutely did; flu season isn't over.

One of the key ways that an flu (and they are all avian in origin) mutates into a human-transmissible form is to mix with a human gene in an animal that can carry both infections, and the main animal that does this is the pig. Thus, this article is of great concern.

(it's on my blog, also, but back a ways. Get the date from the article an you will find it at about the same date on my blog, though I have the original article, and not this quoting of it.)

A little history.

The Spanish flu, in 1918, killed - depending on who is quoting the figure, between 15 and 50 million people, but the generally accepted number is 50 million. If you know your WW I history, you'll know that this flu was the real reason that WW I came to a halt; they simply ran out of people to fight the war. Isn't it interesting that the Armistice with Germany was signed in November of 1918?

In 1918, the world population was 1.8 billion, as of 2-20-2005, the world population is roughly 6.5 billion. Now, if you ramp up the deaths mathematically, you get, based on 40 billion in 1918, 144 million dead. Now, let's take a look at another statistic: the death rate from the Spanish Flu was... are you ready? 2.5% Keep that little number in mind. 2.5%. And it was enough to take 10 years off of the average life span of people in this country for several years.

Now, the accepted death rate, in humans, for the H5N1 flu is 76%. So, if we ramp the 144 million up mathematically, we get 4,392,000,000. That's 4.4 billion.

The fact that we have vaccines now is somewhat of a modifying factor; however, when H5N1 mixes with the human gene that will turn it into a readily transmissible virus, what we think the vaccine will be may not work. Additionally, getting it made takes months, then there is the distribution problem. By the time we get one made and ready to be distributed, it could all be over.

The next fact to consider is that, in 1918, we didn't have the population mixing that we have now. People travel, every day, all over the world. Additionally, lots and lots of them do this either in packed planes or in packed trains, so the transmission rate in those environments is much, much higher. Planes, especially, with their dry air, lend themselves to a majority of people on each aircraft becoming carriers themselves.

The population density in 1918 was also not what it is now. Consequently, if one village - or small town in America - got sick, everyone might either be dead or non-contagious before anyone mixed with someone from elsewhere; that is no longer the case, except in remote parts of the world.

I don't think the 1918 figures ramp up mathematically, I think they ramp geometrically. At first, this looks like everyone on the planet might be dead, but when H5N1 finally becomes human-transmissible, viral scientists don't think the kill rate will be 76% anymore. While it could conceivably go up, it will probably go down; maybe to 50%. Added to that is the situation wherein, once governments are aware that H5N1 is going to have a much bigger impact that predicted, they will shut down aircraft and train transportation (not to mention subways and cruise ships).

It will make the financial impact of 9/11, which was rather large, seem miniscule in comparison.

So why write about all of this? Because, as mentioned above, Bush has reduced the CDC budget. (link) Not only should it not be reduced, it should be increased dramatically, and funding of surveillance programs here and overseas should be ramped up, since the earlier the alarm bells go off, the earlier that vaccine production can start. Lastly, the U.S., like almost all foreign countries, needs to spread out the vaccine manufacturer's it buys from, and it needs to give money to these manufacturers to allow them to expand both facility-wise and research-wise. Some might argue that giving money to French companies - and other companies - isn't what we should be doing, but if this flu is allowed to propagate without companies being able to respond, the money we saved by not funding the research, the monitoring programs, the facility expansions, will pale in comparison to the economic damage this virus could wreak upon the world, not to mention the U.S. And however much we mitigate the damage here, if the world goes down (ie. China) then we all go down.

Global warming is, after H5N1, the most dire problem the world has. Terrorism isn't even in the same league. At least one can fight the flu and global warming, whereas you can't really fight a method of attack. No country in the world has EVER beaten terrorism, without wiping out the entire population from whence the terrorists (or freedom fighters) originated. The only way that terrorism has ever been handled successfully, is by negotiation. Just look at Israel, Spain, South America, etc. etc.

At least we can do something about H5N1, but it will take the people in this country realizing that this is not some 'future' event that may, or may not, happen. They will also need to realize that even if, by some miracle, we kept it out of this country (we couldn't keep SARS out, and it was a MUCH smaller infection problem), the economic consequences will ruin us as it ruins the rest of the world.

So, please take time to write your city, county, state and federal representatives (or lackeys, if you head a large corporation) and ask that they get about the business of preparing us (and the world) to detect it (when, not if, it comes) and be able to respond with appropriate countermeasures.

If we start now, it may not be too late. Then again, we could already be the walking dead, we just don't know it yet.

Can you say, "Ah choo!"?

PS. Oh, yes. With, say, 10% fewer people in the US (and THAT is being generous, since I'm not using the 76% figure), land values WILL - not may - go down. Food prices will go way up. Stocks - don't even ask about stocks, because the stock market is controlled by a bunch of sheep, and once anything happens that's bad, regardless of whether or not it *should* affect the stock market, it goes south - in a hurry. However, it will be a great time to buy! My advice is to sell once the CDC announces the alert (unless you own stock in a company that produces the H5N1 vaccine), and then buy back into your stocks in about 1 month.

An interesting note on the H5N1: the current anti-viral products out there are ineffective against H5N1: from: - H5N1 has demonstrated resistance to amantadine and rimantadine, and ribavirin was ineffective as well. In the absence of a proven effective treatment, supportive care may be the best treatment option. ** that means that the best they can do for you is give you fluids and aspirin.

Lastly, as the article here shows, there is still a new virus, H7N7, that most people haven't even heard about yet, that, itself, is waiting to pounce on us, much like a tiger on a small mouse.

If you're interested in what the H and N thingies mean, you can check out this PDF document here.

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