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Moose;

Since the bird flu does not spread from human to human, the bird flu strain in question is not a health concern unless you work around birds. If the flu mutates so that it can be transmitted between humans, it is a concern.

Coincidentally, I haven't seen one person on television talk about the probability of the flu mutating to this human-to-human form. If it is unlikely, it is fear mongering. If the probability of that is likely, have the lamb by yourself.

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I've heard people say that it's practically inevitable that it will be able to be transmitted between humans. Some lady from the CDC believes that a pandemic is inevitable.

I've read that if you cook your 'bird-food' (chicken and eggs and such) well, then it can't possibly do any harm. This makes sense insofar that this is a virus, i.e. a protein and heat destroys the initial structure of proteins - like a BBQ changes the protein in a steak. I have not very much knowledge of biology and chemistry, however this sounds reasonable.

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The mutation concern is real because it happens routinely. One possible pathway is to have, for example, the same individual be infected with H5N1 bird flu AND a more conventional, airborne infectious strain of flu simultaneously. This person's body then provides a convenient incubator for trillions of viruses to potentially interact and to start mixing up genes. Many mutated versions develop, this person sneezes and spreads them around, and the epidemic starts if the right combination evolves.

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They are using the pandemic from the WWI era to spread fear. Yes, millions died in a world wide pandemic. The great majority of those who died did so from secondary infections - bacterial infections which took hold when the patients immune system was compromised by the flu virus.

There are two things to remember when you hear the situation today being compared to the 1918 pandemic:

1. Life expectancy in the US was around 47. This was mainly due to the sanitary conditions, water quality, and level of medical knowledge and care at the time, which was bad on all counts, especially by today's standards. I won't even go into the kind of hard physical labor required of most people, labor which wore people out by an early age. (Remember the "old" woman at Starnesville?)

2. They had no antibiotics with which to fight the secondary infections which did most of the killing. They had no sophisticated treatments for lung infections (pneumonia being a leading killer), nor medicines and IV fluids for those affected by severe gastro-intestinal tract infections.

In other words, if the avian flu turns nasty for humans, those in countries which are mainly primitive will suffer greatly (just as they do when anything untoward happens). But those in countries with modern santitary conditions, clean water, etc., and the medicine to treat secondary infections, will suffer much less. I'm not saying that people won't die, but I am saying that it won't be 1918 again in the U.S.

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I'm curious about the "secondary infections" aspect. From all I have read the more serious illnesses and deaths from flu come primarily from secondary infections. Given that the more vulnerable (old and infirm) are the ones who feel the more serious consequences, I was wondering if anyone knew the answer to the following: how does the variability of flu incidence in any year (only in the U.S.) corellate with the number of serious illnesses and deaths? E.g. if the flu incidence doubles, I would assume that serious illness and death will not double, but will be somewhat less. Anyone know the stats?

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They are using the pandemic from the WWI era to spread fear. Yes, millions died in a world wide pandemic. The great majority of those who died did so from secondary infections - bacterial infections which took hold when the patients immune system was compromised by the flu virus.

And what is your source for this claim?

From what *I* have read - and this is confirmed by the very recent reconstruction of the 1918 virus, including animal tests - the virus is not your "everyday" flu virus. It was so lethal for a number of reasons, having to do with its specific genetic makeup, especially its non-typical ability to infect and destroy the alveoli of the lungs. See this article. The 1918 virus was notable for killing young, healthy adults. When your lungs have been turned in a bloody sludge, you don't need bacteria to kill you (though I'm sure they aren't helping). Some viruses are perfectly capable of killing all by themselves.

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And what is your source for this claim?

From what *I* have read - and this is confirmed by the very recent reconstruction of the 1918 virus, including animal tests - the virus is not your "everyday" flu virus. It was so lethal for a number of reasons, having to do with its specific genetic makeup, especially its non-typical ability to infect and destroy the alveoli of the lungs. See this article. The 1918 virus was notable for killing young, healthy adults. When your lungs have been turned in a bloody sludge, you don't need bacteria to kill you (though I'm sure they aren't helping). Some viruses are perfectly capable of killing all by themselves.

I was under this impression, too, Unconquered, that this was a hemorraghic fever.

These bird flu viruses are a dime a dozen, and there are new strains evolving all the time. There is no reason to think that eventually one of these viruses mightn't mutate to a more transmissable form: this trait would undergo rapid positive selection. The evidence is not that viruses remain genetically constant, but that they are constantly changing.

Pathogens evolve to high virulence when they are allowed to. That's the reason these virulent strains usually evolve in southeast Asia: high levels of crowding. It matters not to me, as a pathogen, whether I kill off my host, as long as I can transmit myself to another organism before my current host dies. Conditions in these countries are perfect for the evolution of extremely virulent organisms. Eventually, with sanitary conditions, quarantine, and low host density, a very virulent virus would be forced toward lower virulence, or else it would go extinct. That's the good news.

HOWEVER, this kind of evolution toward lower virulence doesn't happen immediately, and with the extent of globalization these days, this could be a huge disaster if the virus becomes transmissible from human to human. Hopefully this would be counterbalanced by access to information about where the virus has spread, such as happened with SARS, and was presumably lacking in the 1918 pandemic. But remember SARS and the effort it took to keep it contained? Just one infected individual on a plane from China, and it spread to something like 25 people in Toronto. The results could have been disastrous had effective measures not been taken.

Sure, such a virus as the 1918 flu would likely not arise in the US today, but this is hardly the point. Any virulent virus could kill off millions all over the world before it mutates again into a less virulent form and that form is selected for, regardless of where it arose, because it would initally "see" no difference between filthy and clean conditions, so long as host density was reasonably high.

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What I said about the 1918 pandemic was what I remember from my study of medical history, which I did when I was getting my degree in nursing (from 1965-69).

I've personally dealt with some pretty virulent flu strains, both in the US and when I served in Viet Nam. There are strains that are, as was put above, perfectly capable of killing on their own. I'll add that such strains usually kill very quickly, too quickly for secondary infections to be a factor.

Recognizing the above doesn't invalidate what I said in my earlier post, however. I experience informs my book learnin', just as almost 100 years of experience, as well as book learnin' informs the science of medicine. Just the fact that we are discussing this as a potential problem is in stark contrast to the unexpected death that swept the nation. This makes a difference. How much of one remains to be seen.

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  • 6 months later...
Yeah, these things always tend to be overblown. But I suppose it's better to err on the side of caution. I'd rather have people too worried about it than not worried enough.
Interesting perspective. I guess I'm not at all interested in other people's anxiety, but I am concerned at what they do. For example, I would be more concerned if the government were to declare martial law, allow summary executions of suspected sick people, and in general made the US look worse than North Korea. These kinds of threats are a reason why I think drug companies and airlines (yes, airlines), and ordinary citizens, would have an interest in financially supporting abstract theoretical research in biology. So I would rather waste $100 on supporting a line of research that didn't ultimately pan out or that turned out to be unnecessary but seemed reasonably promising and useful, than do nothing. I strongly oppose worrying, since worrying tends to lead to statism. 'Zat what you meant?
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But if people just shrugged it off and didn't pay any attention to it, then the first time a pandemic really occurs, it will kick this country's ass.

SARS. I think that if something starts wiping out a couple thousand people, the world will take notice. Look at how much we concentrate on when the first West Nile bird death is every year.

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But if people just shrugged it off and didn't pay any attention to it, then the first time a pandemic really occurs, it will kick this country's ass.
I don't buy that: we don't need a mass movement of worry and concern. What we need is a man of ability who invents the right vaccine. It's not important that people be concerned, it's important that a cure be found and manufactured, to prevent the flu from becoming pandemic.
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And if people aren't concerned, then no one will work as hard to develop a vaccine. I don't see why this is so objectionable. All I'm saying is that, when a catastrophe is possible, it's better for people to be a little too concerned than to be not concerned enough.

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All I'm saying is that, when a catastrophe is possible, it's better for people to be a little too concerned than to be not concerned enough.
I agree except for one thing: "people". We don't need a mass movement of care and concern, we need a bright individual who will solve the problem. The public be damned, the individual be praised. If no person is concerned, no person will find the cure. Are you suggesting that a rational person will not act to preserve his existence if there isn't sufficient popular support? I just don;t see why we need a people's movement.
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Ayn Rand wrote that one of government's proper functions is to "to protect men from foreign invaders" (VOS, p. 131). Suppose the enemies of the United States were to attack this nation by introducing a deadly virus into its food supply? Would it not be within the government's moral role both to apprehend bio-terrorists after the fact, as well as arm our nation and our national defense personnel with pro-active protection against this form of WMD?

We issue soldiers tax-financed helmets, body armor and gas masks. We have spent over $50 billion towards a missile defense shield. So why not vaccines? And if vaccines against a certain virus are not available, why shouldn

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But if people seem to be genuinely concerned, more people will work towards a vaccine, increasing the chances that it will happen.
I guess the problem is that I don't see why that's a valid assumption. If molecular biologists and epidemiologists were randomly distributed in the population then randomly causing genuine concern among an additional 10 million people might lead to more scientists working on the problem. Look at it this way. Suppose that suddenly, word got out that sneezing transmits AIDS. Then I'm betting that there would be widespread general and genuine concern (also rioting in the streets). But I don't think that would have an iota of effect on how many people are researching AIDS, since they know that sneezing does not spread the bug. I'd like to see that there is some actual correlation between level of public concern and level of interest in researching a problem. There is one well-known relationship, that researchers are usually willing to take free money to do stuff and public concern typically results in higher taxes to support free-money projects. But that's because the existing interest of the researchers can translate into action, as opposed to being just latent "interest in principle".
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