Archive for the ‘Avian Flu & Global Health Threats’ Category

Bird flu hits U.K.

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

It still ain’t human-to-human yet, but the trend is worrisome as Britain deals with its first outbreak of H5N1.

Bird flu? Blame Canada!

Friday, June 16th, 2006

There’s H5N1 in PEI.

Human-to-human bird flu more common than reported?

Monday, June 5th, 2006

So says this troubling New York Times report:

In the wake of a cluster of avian flu cases that killed seven members of a rural Indonesian family, it appears likely that there have been many more human-to-human infections than the authorities have previously acknowledged.

The numbers are still relatively small, and they do not mean that the virus has mutated to pass easily between people — a change that could touch off a worldwide epidemic. All the clusters of cases have been among relatives or in nurses who were in long, close contact with patients.

But the clusters — in Indonesia, Thailand, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Vietnam — paint a grimmer picture of the virus’s potential to pass from human to human than is normally described by public health officials, who usually say such cases are “rare.”

AIDS and fuzzy math

Sunday, June 4th, 2006

Numbers don’t lie, except when they do:

[UNAIDS director for East and Southern Africa Mark] Stirling said that despite the advances, the [AIDS death] toll over the next 25 years will go far beyond the 34 million thought to have died from the Black Death in 14th century Europe or the 20 to 40 million who perished in the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic.

Yes, because clearly, an epidemic that may kill 100 million people at a time when the world’s population is 6 billion is far worse than an epidemic that killed one-third of the population of Europe. (And the fact that George W. Bush in 2004 got “more votes” than any other candidate in history is oh-so-significant.) Ever heard of percentages? They provide what we call context. Absent context, statistics are virtually meaningless. Sheesh.

Human-to-human bird flu in Indonesia??

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

This is Drudge’s top story right now:

All seven people infected with bird flu in a cluster of Indonesian cases can be linked to other patients, according to disease trackers investigating possible human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus.

A team of international experts has been unable to find animals that might have infected the people, the World Health Organization said in a statement today. In one case, a 10-year- old boy who caught the virus from his aunt may have passed it to his father, the first time officials have seen evidence of a three-person chain of infection, an agency spokeswoman said. Six of the seven people have died.

Almost all of the 218 cases of H5N1 infections confirmed by the WHO since late 2003 can be traced to direct contact with sick or dead birds. Strong evidence of human-to-human transmission may prompt the global health agency to convene a panel of experts and consider raising the pandemic alert level, said Maria Cheng, an agency spokeswoman.

“Considering the evidence and the size of the cluster, it’s a possibility,” Cheng said in a telephone interview. “It depends on what we’re dealing with in Indonesia. It’s an evolving situation.”

The 32-year-old father in the cluster of cases on the island of Sumatra was “closely involved in caring for his son, and this contact is considered a possible source of infection,” The WHO said in its statement. Three others, including the sole survivor in the group, spent a night in a “small” room with the boy’s aunt, who later died and was buried before health officials could conduct tests for the H5N1 virus.

“All confirmed cases in the cluster can be directly linked to close and prolonged exposure to a patient during a phase of severe illness,” the WHO said.

The “close and prolonged” phraseology is important:

Health officials earlier found strong evidence of direct human-to-human spread of H5N1 in Thailand in 2004. Scientists reported in the Jan. 27, 2005, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine that the H5N1 virus probably spread from an 11-year- old girl in Thailand to her aunt and mother, killing the mother and daughter. People who had more casual contact with the girl didn’t become infected.

In the Sumatran cluster, close, direct contact with a severely ill person was also needed for spread, Cheng said. Preliminary findings from the investigation indicate that the woman who died, considered to be the initial case, was coughing frequently while the three others spent the night in the same room. One of the three, a second brother, is the sole survivor. The other two, her sons, died.

“It looks like the same behavior pattern” of close contact and caretaking during illness with the bird flu virus, Cheng said. To raise the level of pandemic alert “it would have to be transmissible from more casual contact.”

“Mild” bird flu in New Jersey

Monday, May 1st, 2006

It was inevitable: of course bird flu would first reach America’s shores via New Jersey (sorry, Vicki).

I say these illegal immigrant birds should go back to wherever they came from! They’re taking all the good perches and worms from decent, non-diseased American birds! :)

Bird flu jumps to pigs

Saturday, November 12th, 2005

I don’t know much about bird flu, but this seems like very bad news. (Hat tip: InstaPundit.)

The Daily Show‘s take on bird flu

Friday, November 4th, 2005

“It’s called avian flu, a fatal killer that, when lethal, can be deadly.” –Rob Corddry, “HealthScare” (see video clip here).


Friday, November 4th, 2005

Finally, the government has a plan to stop bird flu!

Bird flu, or merely pining for the fjords?

Sunday, October 23rd, 2005

Now that’s what I call a dead parrot!

(Hat tip: the WSJ‘s Avian Flu News Tracker, via the H5N1 blog.)

All about H5N1

Tuesday, October 11th, 2005

Speaking of bird flu… here’s a bird flu blog.

UPDATE: Here’s another. And here’s a great article, if you have some time to sit and read for a while.

1918 was a bird flu too

Saturday, October 8th, 2005

Oh, poo. ;>

Confident that we’ll get the Real poop presently from Perfesser Mike :), this is guestblogger Joe Loy again already :), Rounding Out today’s Triptych of Doomy Gloom. ;>

Thursday’s New York Times reported scientists (and no, not Mad ones ~ well, apparently not; hi Mike :), in an Astounding achievement (no, really, it IS), have reCobbled together the 1918 Pandemic Killer-of-Multi-Millions Flu Virus and found, Guess What, that it Began as ~ Yup. “Peep Peep!” (Flapflapflapflap…Flop.) :|

Well, yes but did it Mutantly Migrate to Man? OH yeah. BIG time.

The 1918 influenza virus, the cause of one of history’s most deadly epidemics, has been reconstructed and found to be a bird flu that jumped directly to humans, two teams of federal and university scientists announced yesterday.

It was the culmination of work that began a decade ago and involved fishing tiny fragments of the 1918 virus from snippets of lung tissue from two soldiers and an Alaskan woman who died in the 1918 pandemic. The soldiers’ tissue had been saved in an Army pathology warehouse, and the woman had been buried in permanently frozen ground.

This is huge, huge, huge,”…

[interlude: y’know, somehow I’m reminded…Oh my God, never mind. :> / ~ the guestblogger :]

…said John Oxford, a professor of virology at St. Bartholomew’s and the Royal London Hospital who was not part of the research team. “It’s a huge breakthrough to be able to put a searchlight on a virus that killed 50 million people. I can’t think of anything bigger that’s happened in virology for many years.”

The scientists painstakingly traced the genetic sequence, synthesized the virus using tools of molecular biology, and infected mice and human lung cells with it in a secure laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The research is being published in the journals Nature and Science…

The findings, the scientists say, reveal a small number of genetic changes that may explain why this virus was so lethal

The research also confirms the legitimacy of worries about the bird flu viruses, called H5N1, that are emerging in Asia…

The research on the 1918 virus is directly applicable to current concerns, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a joint statement. “The new studies could have an immediate impact by helping scientists focus on detecting changes in the evolving H5N1 virus that might make widespread transmission among humans more likely,” they said.

The bird flu viruses now prevalent share some of the crucial genetic changes that occurred in the 1918 flu, scientists said, but not all. The scientists suspect that with the 1918 flu, changes in just 25 to 30 out of about 4,400 amino acids in the viral proteins turned the virus into a killer. The new work also reveals that 1918 virus acts much differently from ordinary human flu viruses. It infects cells deep in the lungs of mice and infects lung cells, like the cells lining air sacs, that would normally be impervious to flu. And while other human flu viruses do not kill mice, this one, like today’s bird flus, does

The research, and its publication, raised concerns about whether scientists should actually resurrect this killer that vanished from the earth nearly a century ago…

Richard H. Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers, said he had serious concerns about the reconstruction of the virus. “There is a risk verging on inevitability, of accidental release of the virus; there is also a risk of deliberate release of the virus.” And the 1918 flu virus, Dr. Ebright added, “is perhaps the most effective bioweapons agent ever known.”

But Dr. D. A. Henderson, a resident scholar at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Biosecurity and a leading expert on bioterrorism, said he agreed with the decision to reconstruct the virus and publish its genetic sequence. “This work is of the greatest importance, and it is very important that it be published,” he said…

In gene-swapping experiments, the scientists found that small substitutions weakened the reconstructed virus so that it could no longer replicate in the lungs of mice, kill animals, or attach itself to human lung cells in the lab.

The ultimate goal, Dr. Taubenberger says, is to make a checklist of changes to look for in the bird viruses. “Now you have all these viruses going around and we don’t know, is it going to adapt to humans? Is it going to cause a pandemic? We don’t understand the rules,” he said. “There is a lot of science to go.”

Highly recommended: read the whole thing. It’s a Remarkable story of Scientific Sleuthery. :>

Today’s NYTimes has a Bad-news/Good-news Editorial on it.

There are both frightening and promising implications in this week’s announcement that research teams have deciphered the genetic sequence of the devastating 1918 influenza virus…The worrisome news is that the 1918 virus appears to have jumped directly from birds to humans, and that the genetic changes that allowed it to do so are already beginning to appear in the [present-day] avian strain…

…it may be traveling slowly down the same evolutionary path as the 1918 virus. Two top federal health officials said that the H5N1 virus has already acquired five of the 10 genetic sequence changes associated with human-to-human transmission of the 1918 virus…

The new findings offer promising leads to health officials who are concerned about preparing for a possible pandemic. Scientists should be able to prepare a checklist of the most worrisome genetic changes so they can monitor the evolution of the avian flu virus and rush medical help to any area where it looks as if the virus is becoming more transmissible. They may also be able to develop drugs and vaccines aimed at the most important genetic targets, thus allowing them to treat or even prevent influenza more effectively.

Nobody knows whether the avian strain now under the spotlight will become a big threat to humans. But some day a potential pandemic strain will arrive. The new findings could help develop tools to contain it.

Whole editorial.

All righty then. / Paging Dr. Mike. PAGING DR. MIKE! :)

Footnote: on Thursday Brendan’s “Around the Brendansphere” post (see Section on Modesty archives :) linked to “Andrew Leyden talks about resurrected viruses“, wherein said Andrew linked to the also-excellent Washington Post piece re all this ~ beneath Andrew’s mournful headline :), “Yeah, but can they bring back my dead cat?“, and with his moving comment :) “I have a dead cat buried in my sandbox back home. Maybe he is next in line?…” To which may I say, we all devoutly Hope so, Andrew Leyden; but just do us a favor and don’t climb over the deadfall behind that sandbox, there, Church old pal. ;> mmwaah-ha-haaaa…(cc: the Wendigo :)

Avian flu: Holy crap!

Saturday, September 17th, 2005

It could kill a billion people worldwide“? WTF?!? Why am I blogging about hurricanes? WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!

Okay, maybe that’s a little alarmist… but still!

P.S. Okay, I don’t normally see earthly disasters as signs of God’s wrath (that’s so Middle Ages!), but if 9/11, the quadruple Florida hurricanes, the tsunami and the Katrina calamity are followed by a worldwide plague that kills a billion people, and it all happens on George W. Bush’s watch, I’m going to have to wonder… ;)

Worse than Ebola

Saturday, April 9th, 2005

An outbreak of the Marburg virus in Angola is being called worse than Ebola.