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The H5N1 bird flu thread

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PostWed Nov 23, 2005 6:27 am  Reply with quote

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Dan Rockwell

Joined: 10 Dec 2001
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PostWed Nov 23, 2005 7:11 pm  Reply with quote  

I was just going to post the original Rumpsmell article. Rolling Eyes

Rumsfeld's growing stake in Tamiflu

Defense Secretary, ex-chairman of flu treatment rights holder, sees portfolio value growing.

October 31, 2005: 10:55 AM EST
By Nelson D. Schwartz, Fortune senior writer

NEW YORK (Fortune) - The prospect of a bird flu outbreak may be panicking people around the globe, but it's proving to be very good news for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other politically connected investors in Gilead Sciences, the California biotech company that owns the rights to Tamiflu, the influenza remedy that's now the most-sought after drug in the world.

Rumsfeld served as Gilead (Research)'s chairman from 1997 until he joined the Bush administration in 2001, and he still holds a Gilead stake valued at between $5 million and $25 million, according to federal financial disclosures filed by Rumsfeld.

The forms don't reveal the exact number of shares Rumsfeld owns, but in the past six months fears of a pandemic and the ensuing scramble for Tamiflu have sent Gilead's stock from $35 to $47. That's made the Pentagon chief, already one of the wealthiest members of the Bush cabinet, at least $1 million richer.

Rumsfeld isn't the only political heavyweight benefiting from demand for Tamiflu, which is manufactured and marketed by Swiss pharma giant Roche. (Gilead receives a royalty from Roche equaling about 10% of sales.) Former Secretary of State George Shultz, who is on Gilead's board, has sold more than $7 million worth of Gilead since the beginning of 2005.

Another board member is the wife of former California Gov. Pete Wilson.

"I don't know of any biotech company that's so politically well-connected," says analyst Andrew McDonald of Think Equity Partners in San Francisco.

What's more, the federal government is emerging as one of the world's biggest customers for Tamiflu. In July, the Pentagon ordered $58 million worth of the treatment for U.S. troops around the world, and Congress is considering a multi-billion dollar purchase. Roche expects 2005 sales for Tamiflu to be about $1 billion, compared with $258 million in 2004.

Rumsfeld recused himself from any decisions involving Gilead when he left Gilead and became Secretary of Defense in early 2001. And late last month, notes a senior Pentagon official, Rumsfeld went even further and had the Pentagon's general counsel issue additional instructions outlining what he could and could not be involved in if there were an avian flu pandemic and the Pentagon had to respond.

As the flu issue heated up early this year, according to the Pentagon official, Rumsfeld considered unloading his entire Gilead stake and sought the advice of the Department of Justice, the SEC and the federal Office of Government Ethics.

Those agencies didn't offer an opinion so Rumsfeld consulted a private securities lawyer, who advised him that it was safer to hold on to the stock and be quite public about his recusal rather than sell and run the risk of being accused of trading on insider information, something Rumsfeld doesn't believe he possesses. So he's keeping his shares for the time being.

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Dan Rockwell

Joined: 10 Dec 2001
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Location: Stamford, CT, USA
PostWed Nov 23, 2005 7:11 pm  Reply with quote  

This is another very good article.

Hazards in the hunt for flu bug

By Gina Kolata The New York Times

Science moves in mysterious ways, and sometimes what seems like the end of the story is really just the beginning. Or that is what some researchers are thinking as they scratch their heads over the weird genetic sequence of the 1918 flu virus.

Jeffery Taubenberger, a molecular pathologist at the Armed Forces Institute of Technology in Washington, who led the research team that reconstructed the long-extinct virus, said that a few things seemed clear.

The 1918 virus appears to be a bird-flu virus. But if it is from a bird, it is not a bird anyone has studied before. It is not like the H5N1 strain of bird flus in Asia, which, as of Tuesday, is known to have killed at least 63 people out of 125 known cases. It is not like the influenza viruses that infect fowl in North America.

Yet many researchers believe that the 1918 virus, which caused the worst infectious disease epidemic in human history, was a bird-flu virus. And if so, it was the only one that has ever been known to cause a human pandemic.

Taubenberger said that gives rise to a question. Are scientists looking for the next pandemic flu virus in all the wrong places? Is there a bird that no one ever thought about that harbors the next 1918-like flu? And if so, what bird is it, and where does it live?

"I can't even assign a hemisphere," he said. "It just came from somewhere else. Maybe it's in pigeons. Or in songbirds."

A decade ago, Taubenberger and his colleagues found shards of the extinct virus in two fingernail-size snippets of formaldehyde-soaked lung tissue from two soldiers and from the frozen lung of an Inuit woman who died of the flu in 1918 and was buried in permafrost. Slowly and painstakingly, they fished out the tiny fragments of viral genes and began reconstructing them.

The first gene they sequenced was the one that codes for the hemagglutinin protein on the virus's surface. Taubenberger and his colleagues were struck by an oddity: The chain of nucleotides that coded for the amino acids in the protein were arranged differently from those found in any other bird flu.

The genetic code is flexible; there is more than one way that a group of three nucleotides can be arranged to code for the same amino acid. But every bird-flu virus ever studied used the same spellings for the hemagglutinin amino acids. Not the 1918 flu.

There were two possibilities, Taubenberger thought. One was that bird flus have evolved over the decades and that back in 1918, the amino acids in bird viruses were simply coded differently. Another was that if the 1918 flu virus came from a bird, it was no bird that anyone had considered before.

"We decided there was no way to address this," Taubenberger said. After all, the birds from 1918 were long gone, and their viruses had died with them.

Then a scientist in Taubenberger's group mentioned that he had a friend at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, which had preserved several thousand birds from the early 20th century.

Taubenberger consulted with one of the leading experts on bird flus, Richard Slemons of Ohio State University, who chose 40 birds on the museum's list, all waterfowl collected around 1918. The museum found 25 of them. Six of the birds had a flu virus. The genetic coding for the amino acids in those viruses was exactly like that in bird flu viruses today, Taubenberger found. The viruses had not even evolved.

Human influenza viruses change every year, mutating slightly so they can reinfect people who had just had the flu and developed antibodies against it. But birds, Slemons said, do not have much of an immune response to influenza, and so there is no particular pressure for the virus to mutate.

Another reason the viruses stay the same, he said, is that some birds live for only a couple of years and so, every year, the viruses have a new bird population to infect. Finally, he said, birds are chronically infected with lots of flu viruses at once, and all the viruses coexist peacefully.

But if bird viruses do not evolve and if the waterfowl viruses in 1915 and 1916 look just like bird viruses today, where did the 1918 virus come from? Or was it really a bird virus? After all, at the time that he looked at the Smithsonian birds, Taubenberger had reconstructed only part of the virus's genetic sequence. Maybe when he had the whole thing, the picture would change.

It did not. The entire sequence, published last month in Nature, had the distinctive protein structures of a bird virus, he said. And it had that same peculiar way of spelling its amino acids.

When he compared the 1918 virus with current human flu viruses, Taubenberger noticed that it had alterations in just 25 to 30 of the virus's 4,400 amino acids. Those few changes turned a bird virus into a killer than could spread from person to person.

Taubenberger noticed that, so far, the H5N1 viruses in Asia have just a few of those changes. They do not, however, have the unusual ways of coding the amino acid instructions that the 1918 virus had. So are the Asian bird viruses on their way to becoming pandemic viruses, or not?

Some experts like Peter Palese of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York said the H5N1 viruses are a false alarm. He notes that studies of serum collected in 1992 from people in rural China indicated that millions there had antibodies to the H5N1 strain. That means they had been infected with an H5N1 bird virus and recovered, apparently without incident.

Despite that, and the fact that those viruses have been circulating in China for a dozen years, almost no human-to-human spread has occurred. "The virus has been around for more than a dozen years, but it hasn't jumped into the human population," Palese said. "I don't think it has the capability of doing it."

Taubenberger said he could argue it either way. "It's a nasty virus," he said. "It is highly virulent in domestic birds and wild birds. The fact that it has killed half the humans it has infected makes it of concern, and the fact that it shares some features with the 1918 virus makes it of concern."

Some experts like Peter Palese of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York said the H5N1 viruses are a false alarm. He notes that studies of serum collected in 1992 from people in rural China indicated that millions there had antibodies to the H5N1 strain. That means they had been infected with an H5N1 bird virus and recovered, apparently without incident.

Despite that, and the fact that those viruses have been circulating in China for a dozen years, almost no human-to-human spread has occurred. "The virus has been around for more than a dozen years, but it hasn't jumped into the human population," Palese said. "I don't think it has the capability of doing it."
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Dan Rockwell

Joined: 10 Dec 2001
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Location: Stamford, CT, USA
PostFri Dec 02, 2005 3:25 am  Reply with quote  

Rolling Eyes There's a "weak strain" in California now.

Nov 29, 2005 6:21 pm US/Pacific

Weak Strain Of Bird Flu Found At Sun Valley Farm

(CBS) SUN VALLEY Japanese quails suffering from a low pathogenic strain of bird flu were discovered in a Sun Valley quail farm.

The Bureau of Humane Law Enforcement, a non-governmental, nonprofit organization devoted to defending animals, began investigating conditions at the now-defunct L.A. Quail Farm earlier this year.

The agency served a warrant at the farm and discovered the quails living in unsanitary conditions with a multitude of illnesses.

All the animals were seized on Nov. 12 and were tested.

The bureauís veterinarian determined many of the birds had a variety of diseases, fast-moving respiratory ailments, infections, injuries and lesions. Most disturbing was the diagnosis of a low pathogenic strain of avian influenza among the quails, which had been raised and kept at the facility.

The birds had been raised for human consumption.
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PostSun Dec 04, 2005 9:26 pm  Reply with quote  

Now this is frightening! This is what worried me the most, having the flu mutate in to strain capable of being transferred between humans. It's one thing to avoid birds but it's entirely another thing to have to avoid other people. This could get ugly.

Has feared mutation of avian flu arrived?

Officials in at least two nations now suspect the avian flu bug has mutated into a virus that is being transmitted from human to human Ė a development world health authorities have estimated could result in the deaths of tens of millions.

Thai health officials have expressed concern that the country's two latest confirmed victims may be the beginning of the much feared human-to-human transmission.


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PostMon Dec 05, 2005 4:08 pm  Reply with quote  

Of course, with the strain mutating like it is, and they knew this all along. but Rumsfeld needed to make some cold cash of the deal so they hit the panic button. Duped again.....

Tamiflu 'useless'
against avian flu

Doctor who has treated 41 victims of virus says 'we place no importance on this drug'

After treating 41 victims of H5N1, the deadly form of the bird flu virus, a Vietnamese doctor has concluded Tamiflu, the drug most widely stockpiled around the world to combat a feared pandemic, is "useless."

Dr. Nguyen Tuong Van, who runs the intensive care unit of the Center for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi, followed World Health Organization guidelines in her treatment of patients but concluded it had no effect on the disease.

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Dan Rockwell

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PostFri Dec 09, 2005 9:15 pm  Reply with quote  

Shocked This doesn't look good at all.

Hospitals may help spread flu pandemic, group says
Thu Dec 8, 2005 5:01 PM ET

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Dec 8 (Reuters) - U.S. hospitals could contribute to the spread of influenza during a pandemic because most do not follow good hygiene practices, a group reported on Thursday.

Their report, combined with a Congressional Budget Office report showing a pandemic could cost the U.S. economy $675 billion, adds to an increasingly dire picture being painted of what a bird flu pandemic would look like in the United States.

A report from the National Center for Policy Analysis predicted that unless hospitals tighten procedures quickly, they could contribute to the spread of H5N1.

"Shoddy infection control is poor preparation for flu and poor homeland security as well," said Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York who heads the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, a group that campaigns about hospital infections and which helped write the report.

A separate report, from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, shows that a bird flu pandemic would cost the U.S. economy $675 billion if 30 percent of the population were infected -- as has been the case in the past three pandemics.



Bird Flu Pandemic May Cost U.S. Economy $675 Billion (Update1)
Dec. 8 (Bloomberg) -- A pandemic of bird flu in humans may cost the U.S. economy $675 billion, including lost work time and disruptions in supply chains, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said today, citing a pending report.

An estimate by the Congressional Budget Office assumes that 90 million Americans would be infected by avian influenza and 2 million would die, Frist said in a statement before a speech at the National Press Club in Washington. Government officials estimated last month that a flu pandemic might kill as many as 1.9 million Americans and hospitalize 9.9 million.

Direct and indirect costs would reduce U.S. economic production by 5 percent, the CBO estimated. Last year, the U.S. economy generated $11.7 trillion in gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the economy. A survey released last week showed that two-thirds of U.S. employers wouldn't be ready for a pandemic, and U.S. health officials yesterday issued a checklist to help businesses prepare.

``These numbers are huge,'' said Frist, a Tennessee Republican, in today's speech. ``This scenario suggests a severe avian flu epidemic would have an impact on the U.S. economy that's slightly larger than the average recession experienced since World War II.''

Bird flu has infected 135 people and killed 69 in Asia, according to the World Health Organization's Web site. Scientists and public-health officials are concerned the H5N1 avian influenza virus, which has infected millions of birds, will mutate into a form that spreads easily among humans.


Bird-Flu Patients May Need Higher Dose of Tamiflu (Update1)

Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Bird-flu patients may need higher doses of the antiviral treatment Tamiflu than recommended by drugmaker Roche Holding AG, World Health Organization officials said.
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Dan Rockwell

Joined: 10 Dec 2001
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PostFri Dec 23, 2005 4:38 am  Reply with quote  

I was waiting for this:

Tamiflu could make avian flu pandemic worse


The only drug available against a threatened pandemic of avian flu may be useless for many of those infected and could make the pandemic worse, say scientists.

The warning came after a study of 13 Vietnamese patients infected with avian flu and treated with the anti-viral drug Tamiflu found two developed a resistant virus which contributed to their deaths.

Seven of the 13 patients died.

The New England Journal of Medicine, which publishes the findings today, describes them as "frightening". Governments are stockpiling Tamiflu to be used as the first line of defence against a pandemic.

But indiscriminate use of the drug in the event of a pandemic could fuel the growth of a resistant virus, triggering a second wave of infection against which there would be no defence, researchers say.

Sir John Skehel, director of the National Institute for Medical Research, London, and one of the world's leading virologists, said: "That is the great worry. The fear is that all the virus that comes here [to Britain] might be resistant."

Sir John said Tamiflu was better at preventing infection with flu than treating it.

"It's a prophylactic, not a therapeutic. If you give it before the infection develops it is a good drug but if you give it after symptoms appear it has declining value."

He urged the Government to broaden Britain's defence against a pandemic.

Relenza, a drug which works in a similar way to Tamiflu, has not shown signs of triggering resistance but Governments have ignored it because it is harder to take.

"We should be stockpiling other drugs. Some of these mutations are only resistant to Tamiflu. But I am not aware how much Relenza is available," Sir John said.

The H5N1 virus has infected 138 people in the Far East and killed 71, but the fear is it could mutate to become transmissible among humans and spread around the world.

In the Vietnamese study, one of the patients, a 13-year-old girl whose mother had died of avian flu, was treated within 24 hours of developing a cough and fever with a high dose of Tamiflu when "the greatest clinical benefit could have been expected".

But although her condition improved at first, it later worsened and she died eight days after starting treatment. Resistant virus was isolated and at the time of her death the amount of virus in her throat had increased.

"These observations suggest that the development of drug resistance contributed to the failure of therapy and, ultimately, the death of this patient," the authors from the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City report.

The second patient died after 14 days of illness, also showing signs of an increase in the amount of virus.


Shocked Now they want to poison children with it. Twisted Evil

Roche's Tamiflu approved by US FDA for preventative use in children
12.22.2005, 02:13 AM

ZURICH (AFX) - Roche Holding AG said its Tamiflu drug has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for preventing influenza in children aged 1-12.

Previously it was approved in the US for prevention in adolescents (age 13 years and older) and adults only.

The drug received a positive opinion for prevention in children in Switzerland and Europe last week.


Shocked Twisted Evil

UPDATED: 08:39, December 23, 2005

Increased doses of Tamiflu may be needed in bird flu treatment: Roche

Swiss drugs giant Roche said on Thursday increased doses of Tamiflu might be needed to treat human cases of bird flu.

"Roche agrees that other treatment regimens for the H5N1 virus need to be explored, including higher doses and/or longer duration of treatment with Tamiflu, or a combination of antiviral agents," Roche said in a statement.

The statement was made after a study on drug resistance was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study showed that four of the eight patients treated in Vietnam for bird flu infections had died despite the use of Tamiflu. In two cases, the H5N1 bird flu virus had developed resistance to Tamiflu, while in the other two, treatment may simply have been started too late.

Roche said the safety data supported the use of higher doses of Tamiflu, and it is also ready to explore potential combinations of Tamiflu with additional therapies to treat the virus.

Keiji Fukuda, an expert at the WHO's global influenza programme, said some resistance was inevitable with any kind of drug, and Tamiflu still remained the best treatment option.

"It just points out the need for more information ... What really is critical is understanding whether the way we are using the drugs contributes to that (resistance)," Fukuda told Reuters.

Using doses that are too small, or for too short a time, can contribute to resistance developing, he said.
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Joined: 16 Jul 2004
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PostSat Dec 24, 2005 2:07 pm  Reply with quote  

I wonder if a mixture of tamiflu and Selenium would work.Selenium helps the body by keeping viruses from mutating and binding with cells.?

Actually i'm sticking with just selenium...
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Et in Arcadia ego

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PostWed Dec 28, 2005 12:24 am  Reply with quote  

100% directly related:

You folks had better read this carefully.
"If the President has commander-in-chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution."
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PostSun Mar 19, 2006 6:24 pm  Reply with quote  

Folks, this stuff is spreading very quickly. I hope that it won't turn into a pandemic, but never hurts to make a few preparations.


March 13, 2006 ó In a remarkable speech over the weekend, Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt recommended that Americans start storing canned tuna and powdered milk under their beds as the prospect of a deadly bird flu outbreak approaches the United States.

Ready or not, here it comes.

You might want to look into this natural anti-viral product as well...
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Free World Order

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PostThu May 18, 2006 1:25 am  Reply with quote  

It is true scientists have been genetically engineering the original Spanish flu making it into a superbrew that is much more lethal than the natural one but it is more likely the original 1918 outbreak was not from birds but pigs.
Disclaimer: all my posts are thought crimes and only IMO in the police state we all live in... UK is history, USA to RESIST?
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Free World Order

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PostThu May 18, 2006 1:31 am  Reply with quote  

1918 "Spanish" influenza pandemic down to pig flu RNA
12:55 07 September 2001

The joining of genetic sequences from pig and human influenza created the deadly strain that killed up to 40 million people around the world in 1918 and 1919, say Australian researchers.

Unlike other flu outbreaks, which prey heavily on the old and the young, the 1918 "Spanish" flu killed many healthy people in their prime. "It tended to give people pneumonia," says virologist Mark Gibbs, who led the research at the Australian National University in Canberra. "That suggests that it infected much deeper in the lungs than influenza normally does - that it had a different tissue specificity."

Flu pandemics are thought to arise when a human flu virus acquires a bird flu gene, which helps it evade human immunity. Smaller pandemics in 1957 and 1968 were triggered this way. But the ANU team found no trace of genetic material from avian flu in a key gene that helped the 1918 virus infect cells. Instead, they identified a fragment of a gene from a pig flu strain.

The new analysis boosts researchers' knowledge of the way human influenza can mutate - which will be vital for understanding how another pandemic might arise in the future, says the team.
Lung biopsies

Jeffery Taubenberger of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Rockville, Maryland isolated gene sequences for the 1918 virus in 1987. These samples were found in lung biopsies from two American soldiers who succumbed in 1918, and in the lungs of a third victim who was exhumed after 80 years from a grave in the permafrost soil of Alaska.

When Taubenberger analyzed the 1918 gene sequences - specifically a gene called hemagglutinin, which helps the virus infect cells - he found no evidence that it came from birds, and no clues regarding the source of the virus's aggressiveness.

Gibbs took a different approach. Rather than analyzing hemagglutinin as a whole, he used special software to see if different parts of the gene came from different sources. He found the middle half of the gene seemed to come from a pig virus.

This pig segment might alter the virus's tissue specificity - pushing it deeper into the lungs - and also help the virus escape human immunity. Gibbs believes the virus acquired that gene segment just months before the pandemic started, and "it seems very likely that this triggered the pandemic."

However, some researchers are doubtful. Taubenberger says the middle part of the hemagglutinin gene appears pig-like because this gene has evolved more slowly in pig viruses.

Gibbs counters that less than ten per cent of the 1918 hemagglutinin gene would evolve slowly (and therefore appear pig-like) for this reason, whereas his results show that fully half the gene comes from pigs.

Journal reference: Science (vol 293, p 1842)
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PostThu May 18, 2006 1:32 am  Reply with quote  

Avian flu: this is not 1918
The discovery of a dead infected swan in Fife has led to warnings of another 1918-style flu epidemic. Letís have some historical and scientific perspective.
by Stuart Derbyshire

The widely expected arrival of the bird flu virus in Britain has been confirmed. A swan was found dead in Fife at the end of March and revealed to be carrying the H5N1 virus last Thursday (6 April 2006). Prime minister Tony Blair urged the nation not to panic and said: 'It is very important people understand that this is not a human-to-human virus. It is transmitted to poultry.'

That message of calm was immediately pecked at by columnists wanting to know why it took eight days to decide that the swan was infected with H5N1. Once it was reported that the swan was a mute resident of Britain, and so must have caught the virus from another bird, the talk was of Britain being complacent with the virus running loose for at least three weeks. Panic and scaremongering returned to dominance by Sunday, 9 April, as a leaked letter from Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, revealed that all schools would close in the event of an H5N1 human outbreak. If the schools were to remain open, it was reported that 100,000 children would die, but if they were to be closed that number would be just 50,000. What was that about understanding that this is 'not a human-to-human virus'?

Is H5N1 a threat to people in Britain or not? The one thing that everyone appears to agree on is that, right now, H5N1 is not being transmitted between humans and is difficult to catch even when coming into contact with contaminated chickens. To date there have been 191 human cases and all are believed to have followed direct contact with the fluid (blood, saliva or faeces) of an infected bird. Some scientists believe that the virus is probably difficult to catch because it embeds low down in the respiratory tract and so is not released when a person coughs or sneezes.

At the moment, therefore, the virus cannot be said to be airborne, which minimises the possibility of infection. The worry is that the virus might mutate to infect the upper respiratory tract and then become an airborne virus. Given that 108 of the 191 so far infected have died, there is reason to be concerned about an airborne version of H5N1.

There are, however, good reasons to be sceptical that H5N1 can ever mutate to infect the upper respiratory tract. H5 viruses have been known since at least the early 1980s and have been infecting humans since at least 1997. Influenza viruses mutate rapidly and H5N1 is no exception - it might even mutate more ferociously than other influenza viruses. There has been ample opportunity, therefore, for H5N1 to mutate into an upper respiratory form and, if that were possible, we might expect it to have already happened (1).

Alternatively, H5 viruses might have already mutated into an upper respiratory form. We tend to think of a mutating virus as a bad thing but mutations are random and are just as likely to have beneficial as negative effects. The virus may mutate to become bigger and more visible to the immune system, or may mutate and become less able to unload its genomic packet, or may mutate to become otherwise less virulent in human beings. Under these circumstances our immune system may be able to develop antibodies against the H5 strain with little or no illness.

Furthermore, until quite recently, it was considered almost impossible for an influenza virus to jump straight from birds to humans. This is because the receptors of the human respiratory tract differ greatly from those of birds, and so a bird virus has nothing to lock on to in the human. Human influenza viruses typically pass first from a bird to a mammal, especially pigs, that share bird and human respiratory receptors. When a pig contracts bird flu, the flu virus can mutate to attach to the human-like pig receptors. The mutated virus becomes part-bird and part-pig and can now infect humans. Thus, humans that are sick with flu most often carry a virus with pieces of genes from birds and pigs (known as a reassortment virus). Influenza viruses of type H1, H2 and H3 have all shown themselves capable of reassorting genes with mammals and caused the pandemics of 1957 (H2N2) and 1968 (H3N2).

H5 viruses were considered to be incapable of infecting mammals and thus of marginal importance in human beings until a boy in Hong Kong died of an H5 virus in 1997 that turned out to be all bird with no mammalian genes. This discovery sent shockwaves through the world of influenza science and caused panic in Hong Kong (2). The Hong Kong government bought two million doses of the antiviral drug amantadine and planned on supplying doses to all six million Hong Kong residents. Specialists from the American CDC and the World Health Organisation began arriving in Hong Kong and setting up research labs. By the middle of December eighteen people had died and there was a media frenzy. A major cull of chickens and other birds was organised and between 29 December 1997 and 1 January 1998, 1.6million birds were killed. During 1998, no further cases were reported.

Although dramatic, the 1997 outbreak supports the hypothesis that H5 is not easily transmissible to humans. The virus had gotten into humans and was epidemic in poultry. At that time, pigs, chickens and other livestock mixed freely with people in the Hong Kong market. If ever there was a place and a time when H5 was going to jump to humans and become airborne, either directly or through genetic reassortment, that was it - but it didn't happen.

Throughout 1918, thousands of young soldiers were crammed together by war
We know from history, however, that a bird virus can infect human beings without reassortment. Recent studies have demonstrated that the 1918 pandemic, which claimed tens of millions of lives, was caused by an H1N1 virus that almost certainly jumped directly from birds to humans (3). And if it happened then, goes the argument, it can happen now. It amazes me how often this argument is made without the author pausing to consider what was happening in the world in 1918.

There was a war on and the 1918 influenza piled disease upon slaughter. Surgeon George Crile wrote in his diary, 'Everything is overflowing with patients. Our divisions are being shot up; the wards are full of machine gun wounds. There is rain, mud, flu and pneumonia.'

It is not just that the First World War was hell, which it surely was, but it was a hell uniquely designed to first create and then spread the avian H1N1 virus. Firstly, the flu did not just arrive in 1918 but had been smouldering away since at least 1915 when there were outbreaks of infectious pneumonia in German military camps and prisons. During 1915 more people died of flu in England than in any year from the previous 15. In both 1916 and 1917 there were 'obscure but extensive febrile pneumonic outbreaks' on both the Western and Eastern Fronts and at Aldershot military base. During peacetime these outbreaks might have been managed with medications and quarantine measures that were simply unavailable or impossible in time of war.

Secondly, there were vast numbers of people on the move. One theory is that the virus was brought in by Chinese labourers heading for Europe to work for the armies of the Western Front. Thousands were in transit across America and may have introduced new flu strains as they passed. At the beginning of 1918, America began the largest military mobilisation of its history: over 200,000 troops crossed the Atlantic during March and April. The disease arrived in India on troopships at the end of May and it moved along the railways with the soldiers, spreading throughout the subcontinent by August.

Finally, throughout 1918, when the virus was evidently infectious and lethal, thousands of young soldiers were crammed together by war - in the trenches, in camps and in transports travelling to and from them. Aggravated by impoverished shelter, a lack of food and water, limited medical facilities and cramped living conditions, the avian H1N1 virus was in an environment where it could survive to mutate into a form highly infectious and transmittable to humans. It could then readily infect vast numbers of people and move with them as they slowly traversed the globe.

Today doesn't compare. Our health is better; our access to medicine is better and the medicines themselves are better; our shelter is better; our nutrition is better, and so on. Even our travel is better. Many commentators have argued that our access to high-speed travel means that a deadly H5N1 virus could be in Hong Kong today and London tomorrow. That is true, but not particularly important. Travelling across the globe quickly means contact with a smaller geographical area and quicker access to medical attention when it is needed. Both Hong Kong and London have excellent medical and quarantine facilities that can handle an outbreak of a deadly virus.

In summary, the H5N1 virus is currently a threat to birds but not to humans and there are good reasons to expect that situation to remain unchanged. Even in the unlikely event that H5N1 makes the jump from birds to humans there is as much chance that the jump will be harmless as it will be lethal. Finally, the worse-case scenario of the H5N1 jumping from birds to humans in a highly infective and lethal form will be bad but not apocalyptic. Because this is 2006 and not 1918, and because we do not currently face the ravages of a world war, we can expect any human form of bird flu to be contained and managed without the deaths of tens of millions of people.

Stuart Derbyshire is a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham, England.
Disclaimer: all my posts are thought crimes and only IMO in the police state we all live in... UK is history, USA to RESIST?
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PostThu May 18, 2006 1:35 am  Reply with quote  

Was SARS what China now says was geneticlly engineered in labs before being released really what is now called bird flu? Does any one here recall SARS originally being called avian flu but then being corrected to being SARS and that identifying it as avian flu was wrong?

Here are some more links and I will post more in the near future:
Disclaimer: all my posts are thought crimes and only IMO in the police state we all live in... UK is history, USA to RESIST?
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