Can We Shut the F*ck Up About Bird Flu Now?

Ok, so it turns out that the reason bird flu does not get passed from human to human is the same reason it's so lethal. Which means a mutation that makes it passable from human to human will also turn it into your run-of-the-mill non-lethal flu virus.

In other words, even if bird flu does start passing from human to human, we still wouldn't have a problem. If it starts passing from human to human and then mutates into something that's lethal in a completely different way, we'll have a pandemic on our hands. But isn't this true of every flu virus every year? To become a pandemic, a virus must be lethal and easily transmissible. This virus has one of those charactistics and can't acquire the other without losing the first. That would seem to make bird flu less dangerous than other flus.

So we have the press on one side who know that fear sells, and we have the scientists on the other side who know that fear gets grants, and on the third side we have our "fascism lite" governments who will take any opportunity to acquire more power. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Westerners don't raise birds and therefore doesn't need to hear another f*cking peep about a disease that's killed on the order of 100 people in the entire world and requires intimate contact with birds. Here, I'll give you all of the information you need to know: don't get intimate with birds. There. Done.

Of course, poultry farmers do need to know about bird flu, but guess what? They have their own publications that the rest of us don't read.

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I'm still waiting for SARS

I'm still waiting for SARS and West Nile to make their comeback!

But I realize that when this dies down, those won't come back. MSRA (or is it MRSA) will become the new boogeyman...

What I don't understand is that it took me until I was about 20 years old to realize it was a bunch of BS and that I'll be a lot happier not worrying about it. Why is it that there are plenty of 40-year-olds who can't seem to figure this out?

Yep. Paul Ewald has been

Yep. Paul Ewald has been saying this for several months, and it's exactly why I've tuned out every bird flu story. It's shocking how many biologists and "public health specialists" don't understand (or simply don't take seriously) natural selection.

Brad: Because the

Brad: Because the alternative is realizing the government and media and "experts" they were taught to worship as kids are really just as fallible and susceptible to incentives as the rest of us.

According to the biologist I

According to the biologist I work under, the biological community realizes that there is a high probability the mutated virus will not be terribly harmful to humans. However, the problem lies in the fact that even though the virus is relatively harmless, the human immune system will not recognize this, and run at full speed until the human is killed by their own immune system.

The last (and only studied) case of this was the »

There is no scientific

There is no scientific research which indicates H5N1 must weaken should it go H-H. That has been the usual history but that does not have to be the future.

This latest study concerning the virus lodging deep in the lungs is not new. That is what influenza which has a limited ability to infects humans does. What makes this influenza unique is the range of species it affects and its lethality. the A/Vietnam/1203/04 strain of H5N1 lysine has been substituted for glutamic acid at position 627 of the PB2 gene.

Guess what? Lysene is found at that spot in every human HPAI including, of coursed, the H1N1 of 1918. Glutamic acid is found in every avian HPAI at that spot. The speculation is that the viral RNA, which is tweaked to run at the higher temps found in birds and which finds some foothold deep in the human lungs, has tweaked itself, by this replacement to run a lower human temps (btw...H5N1 doesn't even have to get into the lungs. Human eyeballs have receptors..hence the googles you see health care workers wearing in the EU).

What is it with the emotionalisms about this virus? It is what it is. Saying SARS was hyped (it wasn't, had it not been for the courage of Guan Yi facing down the PRC. the economic and death toll would have been far worse) therefore H5N1 is hyped is illogical and does a disservice to those who fought the disease. SARS was a cornovirus. It can be contained. Influenza A has never been contained. Claiming that because "A" did not happen "B" will not happen is irrational.

David, Oh I don't know, I'd


Oh I don't know, I'd say what's irrational is ignoring natural selection in your thinking about this. There are very good evolutionary reasons why influenza has always weakened when it goes H-H, and you've given no argument why those same reasons might suddenly stop applying. High virulence causes immobility which ipso facto curtails transmission. The 1918 pandemic is the exception that proves the rule because trench conditions on the Western Front (where it originated) were such that immobile patients were able to infect others. Transmisibility didn't depend on host mobility under those conditions, so high lethality remained. But right after the war ended, just as you would expect, the virus soon regressed to a weaker form.

As Ewald says in the link above:

"The last century represents countless thousands of 'natural experiments' involving countless trillions of mutation-prone viruses. If the highly virulent variants were able to spread in competition with strains of low or moderate virulence we would see some evidence of regional outbreaks. Instead we see only epidemics and pandemics of low to moderate virulence."

The argumentative onus here is very clearly on the chicken (ha) littles.

"There is no scientific

"There is no scientific research which indicates H5N1 must weaken should it go H-H. That has been the usual history but that does not have to be the future."

There is also no scientific research that suggests we won't spontaneously combust without warning. That has been the usual history but does not have to be the future.

So what. Bird flu = slow news day.

dearieme, Are you saying

Are you saying that first-hand effects of smoking, or second-hand effects, are not overblown? I'd say first-hand effects are quite possibly underestimated (after all, if you look at anyone who has smoked for > 15 years, they look about 15 years older than they should), but I think secondhand effects have been overblown considerably. As far as I'm aware, unless the secondhand exposure is highly concentrated over a long period of time, the effects are negligible.

Brad, I was slack; I meant

Brad, I was slack; I meant the first-hand effects. As for the second-hand effects, I suspect that there's lots of exaggeration going on, but I can't really be fagged to look into it.

Sean: I can understand you

Sean: I can understand you saying that once bird flu mutates to humand to human spreading that it probably wont be as deadly, but the link you provided to the Detroit Free Press didnt say suggest that anywhere.

I'm no medical expert of course, so are you saying that if H5N1 isn't located at the deep place in the respiratory tract it is now, that it wouldnt be as deadly? I'm just wondering because the link you provided seemed to not suggest that, and in fact from the scientists quotes suggested that it would still be deadly if it mutated to a higher place in the respiratory tract.

Chris- The Spanish Flu of


The Spanish Flu of 1918 was deadly in large part because of the deep nature of the infection- the infected almost literally drowned due to the fluid buildup deep in the lungs. Thus location of primary infection does matter quite a bit in determining potential lethality.

The reason I think the fears are somewhat overblown, aside from the long term evo-biology, is that in the US and elsewhere (a) the populations are healthier, which will mitigate mortality, and (b) the public health infrastructure is greater; acute cases may be treatable in ICU whereas in 1918 acute cases were fatal with no hope of treatment or mitigation of symptom. B would include antiviral drugs *and* antisymptom drugs. Simply lowering temperature often helps against viruses (less heat shock protein synthesis = less viral DNA replication, ceterus paribus). Thus even with greater transport, it did not worry me too much.

Now generating a chimeric virus with the transmission/infection power of influenza with an actually nasty virus, well....

My apologies, Chris, for not

My apologies, Chris, for not linking to the original article I had read that specifically mentioned that the virus's attaching in the alveola is what makes it so lethal. Here's a New Scientist article that talks about it. I was being lazy before.

For people who are mentioning natural selection: natural selection tends to make a virus *less* lethal while making it more contagious. There is no evolutionary advantage for a virus to kill its host unless the host's death somehow spreads the virus better than a living, infected host would, for example of the host would frequently die in the water and the virus spread by water, which does not describe H5N1 or most of the Western world. Therefore, while natural selection is very likely to cause H5N1 to become human transmissible, it is also very likely to make it less lethal, and those are very likely to be caused by exactly the same mutation.

BTW, I'm pretty sure this same reasoning applies to HIV and the potential for it to become airborne. HIV is hard to transmit because it it very fragile and doesn't survive outside the body for long, but it's hard to develop a vaccine or immunity for for the same reason. If it ever becomes easier to transmit, it should also be less lethal.