[anzac] BIRD FLU - IS IT 'HYPE'??

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From: "REVIVAL List" <prophetic@...>
Date: Fri, 04 Nov 2005 12:46:45 -0600
NOTE:  Obviously, there is always the chance that an outbreak
will occur of some new disease that will wreak havoc on the world
population. I believe that we will certainly see this kind of thing in
these Last Days. However, the current scare about 'BIRD FLU'
may be dramatically over-hyped. This disease may not be the 
'pandemic' that many fear.  The below article is from STRATFOR -
one of the most respected Strategic/ Intelligence outfits in the
world. Please go to- http://www.stratfor.com  to subscribe to their
service.  The below piece was actually sent out by John Mauldin-

-from Stratfor & Investors Insight Publishing. (Oct 31).

Stratfor subscribers have been sending us a steady river of requests 
for our opinion on the bird flu situation. Although we are not medical 
experts, among our sources are those who are. And here is what 
we have been able to conclude based on their input and our broader 
analysis of the bird flu threat: 

Calm down. 

Now let us qualify that: Since December 2003, the H5N1 bird flu 
virus -- which has caused all the ruckus -- has been responsible 
for the documented infection of 121 people, 91 one of whom caught 
the virus in Vietnam. In all cases where information on the chain 
of infection has been confirmed, the virus was transmitted either 
by repeated close contact with fowl or via the ingestion of
insufficiently cooked chicken products. In not a single case has 
human-to-human communicability been confirmed. So long as 
that remains the case, there is no bird flu threat to the human 
population of places such as Vietnam at large, much less the United States. 

The Politics of Genetics 

An uncomfortable but undeniable fact is that there are a great 
many people and institutions in this world that have a vested 
interest in feeding the bird flu scare. Much like the "Y2K" bug that 
commanded public attention in 1999, bird flu is all you hear about. 
Comparisons to the 1918 Spanish influenza have produced death 
toll projections in excess of 360 million, evoking images of chaos 
in the streets. 

One does not qualify for funding -- whether for academic research, 
medical development or contingency studies -- by postulating 
about best-case scenarios. The strategy is to show up front how 
bad things could get, and to scare your targeted benefactors into 
having you study the problem and manufacture solutions. 

This hardly means that these people are evil, greedy or 
irresponsible (although, in the case of Y2K or when a health threat 
shuts down agricultural trade for years, one really tends to wonder). 
It simply means that fear is an effective way to spark interest and action. 

Current medical technology lacks the ability to cure -- or even 
reliably vaccinate against -- highly mutable viral infections; the 
best available medicines can only treat symptoms -- like Roche's 
Tamiflu, which is becoming as scarce as the oftentimes legendary 
red mercury -- or slow a virus' reproduction rate. Is more research 
needed? Certainly. But are we on the brink of a cataclysmic 
outbreak? Certainly not. 

A bird flu pandemic among the human population is broadly in the 
same category as a meteor strike. Of course it will happen sooner 
or later -- and when it does, watch out! But there is no -- absolutely 
no -- particular reason to fear a global flu pandemic this flu season. 

This does not mean the laws of nature have changed since 1918; 
it simply means there is no way to predict when an animal virus 
will break into the human population in any particular year -- or 
even if it will at all. Yes, H5N1 does show a propensity to mutate; 
and, yes, sooner or later another domesticated animal disease will 
cross over into the human population (most common human
diseases have such origins). But there is no scientifically plausible 
reason to expect such a crossover to be imminent. 

But if you are trying to find something to worry about, you should 
at least worry about the right thing. 

A virus can mutate in any host, and pound for pound, the 
mutations that are of most interest to humanity are obviously 
those that occur within a human host. That means that each 
person who catches H5N1 due to a close encounter of the bird 
kind in effect becomes a sort of laboratory that could foster a 
mutation and that could have characteristics that would allow H5N1 
to be communicable to other humans. Without such a specific 
mutation, bird flu is a problem for turkeys, but not for the 
non-turkey farmers among us. 

But we are talking about a grand total of 115 people catching the 
bug over the course of the past three years. That does not exactly 
produce great odds for a virus -- no matter how genetically 
mutable -- to evolve successfully into a human-communicable 
strain. And bear in mind that the first-ever human case of H5N1 
was not in 2003 but in 1997. There is not anything fundamentally 
new in this year's bird flu scare. 

A more likely vector, therefore, would be for H5N1 to leap into a 
species of animal that bears similarities to human immunology 
yet lives in quarters close enough to encourage viral spread -- and 
lacks the capacity to complete detailed questionnaires about 
family health history. 

The most likely candidate is the pig. On many farms, birds and 
pigs regularly intermingle, allowing for cross-infection, and similar 
pig-human biology means that pigs serving in the role as mutation 
incubator are statistically more likely than the odd Vietnamese 
raw-chicken eater to generate a pandemic virus. 

And once the virus mutates into a form that is pig-pig transferable, 
a human pandemic is only one short mutation away. Put another 
way, a bird flu pandemic among birds is manageable. A bird flu 
pandemic among pigs is not, and is nearly guaranteed to become 
a human pandemic. 

Pandemics: Past and Future 

What precisely is a pandemic? The short version is that it is an 
epidemic that is everywhere. Epidemics affect large numbers of 
people in a relatively contained region. Pandemics are in effect 
the same, but without the geographic limitations. In 1854 a 
cholera epidemic struck London. The European settling of the  
Americas brought disease pandemics to the Native Americans 
that nearly eliminated them as an ethnic classification. 

In 1918 the influenza outbreak spread in two waves. The first hit in 
March, and was only marginally more dangerous than the flu 
outbreaks of the previous six years. But in the trenches of war-torn 
France, the virus mutated into a new, more virulent strain that 
swept back across the world, ultimately killing anywhere from 20 
million to 100 million people. Some one in four Americans
became infected -- nearly all in one horrid month in October, and 
some 550,000 -- about 0.5 percent of the total population -- 
succumbed. Playing that figure forward to today's population, 
theoretically 1.6 million Americans would die. Suddenly the fear 
makes a bit more sense, right? 


There are four major differences between the 1918 scenario and 
any new flu pandemic development: First -- and this one could 
actually make the death toll higher -- is the virus itself. No one 
knows how lethal H5N1 (or any animal pathogen) would be if it 
adapted to human hosts. Not knowing that makes it impossible to 
reliably predict the as- yet-unmutated virus' mortality rate. 

At this point, the mortality rate among infected humans is running 
right at about 50 percent, but that hardly means that is what it 
would look like if the virus became human-to-human 
communicable. Remember, the virus needs to mutate before it is 
a threat to humanity -- there is no reason to expect it to mutate
just once. Also, in general, the more communicable a disease 
becomes the lower its mortality rate tends to be. A virus -- like all 
life forms -- has a vested interest in not wiping out its host population. 

One of the features that made the 1918 panic so unnerving is the 
"W" nature of the mortality curve. For reasons unknown, the virus 
proved more effective than most at killing people in the prime of 
their lives -- those in the 15- to 44-year-old age brackets. While 
there is no reason to expect the next pandemic virus to not have 
such a feature, similarly there is no reason to expect the next 
pandemic virus to share that feature. Second, 1918 was not 
exactly a "typical" year. World War I, while coming to a close, 
was still raging. The war was unique in that it was fought largely 
in trenches, among the least sanitary of human habitats. Soldiers 
not only faced degrading health from their "quarters" in wartime, 
but even when they were not fighting at the front they were living 
in barracks. Such conditions ensured that they were: a) not in the
best of health, and b) constantly exposed to whatever airborne 
diseases afflicted the rest of their unit. 

As such, the military circumstances and style of the war ensured 
that soldiers were not only extraordinarily susceptible to catching 
the flu, but also extraordinarily susceptible to dying of it. Over half 
of U.S. war dead in World War I -- some 65,000 men -- were the 
result not of combat but of the flu pandemic. 

And it should be no surprise that in 1918, circulation of military 
personnel was the leading vector for infecting civilian populations 
the world over. Nevertheless, while the United States is obviously 
involved in a war in 2005, it is not involved in anything close to 
trench warfare, and the total percentage of the  U.S. population 
involved in Iraq and Afghanistan -- 0.005 percent -- is middling 
compared to the 2.0 percent involvement in World War I. Third, 
health and nutrition levels have radically changed in the past 87 
years. Though fears of obesity and insufficient school lunch 
nutrition are all the rage in the media, no one would seriously 
postulate that overall American health today is in worse shape 
than it was in 1918. The healthier a person is going into a 
sickness, the better his or her chances are of emerging from it. 
Sometimes it really is just that simple. Indeed, a huge 
consideration in any modern-day pandemic is availability of and 
access to medical care. Poorer people tend to live in closer 
quarters and are more likely to have occupations (military, 
services, construction, etc.) in which they regularly encounter 
large numbers of people. According to a 1931 study of the 1918 
flu pandemic by the U.S. Public Health Service, the poor were 
about 20 percent to 30 percent more likely to contract the flu, and 
overall mortality rates of the "well-to-do" were less than half that 
of the "poor" and "very poor."

But the fourth factor, which will pull some of the strength out of 
any new pandemic, is even more basic than starting health: 
antibiotics. The 1918 pandemic virus was similar to the more 
standard influenza virus in that the majority of those who perished 
died not from the primary attack of the flu but from secondary 
infections -- typically bacteria or fungal -- that triggered pneumonia. 
While antibiotics are hardly a silver bullet and they are useless
against viruses, they raise the simple possibility of treatment for 
bacterial or fungal illnesses. Penicillin -- the first commercialized
antibiotic -- was not discovered until 1929, 11 years too late to 
help when panic gripped the world in 1918. 

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