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Bring out your dead!
December 1, 2004 4:00 AM   Subscribe

Up to 100 million dead within weeks. A pandemic of biblical proportions according to the latest World Health Organization warning about the bird flu virus H5N1. It is so lethal that it kills most people it infects. Some experts are even warning that the WHO are being too conservative and that a death toll of 1 billion could be expected.
posted by Meridian (87 comments total)

 
Woooohooo, nothing like a nice pandemic to brighten my day!

//epidemiology enthusiast
posted by Plinko at 4:06 AM on December 1, 2004


Yes, but the scary thing is there's no vaccine, and likely won't be until the spring, IIRC.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:07 AM on December 1, 2004


*cough*
posted by matteo at 4:11 AM on December 1, 2004


The who is working on the theory that domestic ducks are the main transmitters.

You better you bet.
posted by veedubya at 4:16 AM on December 1, 2004


Interesting how this is being so widely reported by american sources. I mean, christ it was all over the news, radio and tv, front page, above the fold in all the newspapers and pretty much every where else it could be.

Oh...wait...no it wasn't. My bad.
posted by damnitkage at 4:17 AM on December 1, 2004


Yes, but the scary thing is there's no vaccine, and likely won't be until the spring, IIRC.

Well, if you consider that one of the most interesting aspects of this virus is its impressive mutation rate, I can't imagine that the vaccine would be all too helpful once it hit the human population in a big way.
posted by Plinko at 4:19 AM on December 1, 2004


But his remarks on the likelihood that the disease would start spreading easily went beyond the assessment of many scientists, who say that too little is known about the virus to gauge the odds that it will become readily transmissible.
posted by anathema at 4:20 AM on December 1, 2004


Before everyone jumps into their bomb shelter, let's place some emphasis on a couple of important words:

"estimates of the number of deaths that could result if bird flu were to mutate into an uncontrollable form of human influenza"

Not saying it can't happen, or that it won't happen, or that it hasn't happened before.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:20 AM on December 1, 2004


What worries me is that we seem to be about due for a new pandemic of some sort. Influenza tends to develop new and nasty varieties every 30-40 years or so, and its been around 50 years since the last major outbreak. Of course its all just a matter of chance and coincidence that it tends to happen on a semi-regular cycle, but still...

A weak immune system is all you need for a new flu to become fatal. The 1918 variety had such a high mortality rate because trench warfare is a perfect recipe for weakening an immune system. Today we have AIDS victims; they have a weak immune system by definition. I wouldn't be surprised if the mortality among AIDS victims reached 90% (globally, that is, in the first world where medication is more easily available it'd be lower). I'm just glad my brother stopped smoking.
posted by sotonohito at 4:27 AM on December 1, 2004


It already has mutated into several human strains. For example: The first documented infection of humans with an avian influenza virus occurred in Hong Kong in 1997, when the H5N1 strain caused severe respiratory disease in 18 humans, of whom 6 died. Luckily, the pathogenicity level of the H5N1 strain was relatively low.

The WHO is worried about H5N1's ability to mutate, and to do so damned quickly. They're also worried about H7N7's high pathogenicity. So we have two different mutant strains with two abilities that would essentially shut things down should one mutation emerge with both abilities.

That's the scary thing.
posted by Plinko at 4:30 AM on December 1, 2004


I ride a crowded Tokyo subway to work every morning with people constantly coughing and sneezing over fellow passengers at this time of the year. The wearing of gauze face-masks seems to have gone out of fashion. I'm constantly feeling under the weather as my body fights off the latest cold or flu going around. This would spread extremely quickly in such an environment.

I wonder, if such a deadly flu ever evolved, how many of us Asian-region MeFi members would not survive?
posted by Meridian at 4:34 AM on December 1, 2004


Well, um, ... the subway wouldn't be so crowded anymore?
posted by Plinko at 4:35 AM on December 1, 2004


Well, um, ... the subway wouldn't be so crowded anymore?

lol Pinko, that's the power of positive thinking! I can imagine Anthony Robbins will be toasting marshmallows over the funeral pires with a big positive smile on his face.
posted by Meridian at 4:46 AM on December 1, 2004


This man was unavailable for comment.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:53 AM on December 1, 2004


After finding out Monday (with one class before graduation - bachelors) that universities around me are turning away PhD's for educator positions, perhaps I should reconsider going into microbiology. It's always been a hobby and a passion of mine.

Heck, last night during one of my history classes, I was watching an episode of "House, M.D."
posted by Beansidhe at 5:04 AM on December 1, 2004


Wolfdog - that link is to tinyurl. So where does it go after that? goats.cx? tubgirl? emptybottle.org?
Who knows? Not me, because I won't click it.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:14 AM on December 1, 2004


Interesting stuff, but ... I'm not going to hold my breath.
posted by blacklite at 5:15 AM on December 1, 2004


It goes here, thatwhichfalls.

Anyway, a little tubgirl is good for you every year or so. Keeps the neurons dusted off.
posted by blacklite at 5:17 AM on December 1, 2004


Hmm, I don't think sending a few people to tubgirl is worth $5. :)
posted by Vulpyne at 5:18 AM on December 1, 2004


Ah, thanks blacklite. It's just that I'm at work and have to be careful.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:23 AM on December 1, 2004


Yes, but the scary thing is there's no vaccine, and likely won't be until the spring, IIRC.

Yeah, and then they will discover that half of it is no good!!


We won't get fooled again !!!!

Everyone who gets infected: They're all wasted !!!!!
posted by a3matrix at 5:38 AM on December 1, 2004


Peep *cough* peep

Seriously, why worry? Considering how well we handled HIV...no, wait, I mean SARS...um, no, wait, I mean BSE...

*settles into armchair with a nice glass of rainwater, waiting for the pandemic to be televised...*
posted by FormlessOne at 6:00 AM on December 1, 2004


I'd like to know when the word "pandemic" was first coined, and why it's taken over situations in which the word "epidemic" would have been used, say, 20 years ago.
posted by clevershark at 6:01 AM on December 1, 2004


Uh-huh, a3matrix. And Soylent Green is people.
posted by paddbear at 6:03 AM on December 1, 2004


We're all gonna die!!! Well, I had a good run while it lasted.

/flip response

God help us all.

/sombre response
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:08 AM on December 1, 2004


Suddenly my dream of having a horde of pet ducks sounds much less appealing...

I'm actually kind of surprised that our species hasn't been devastated by an epidemic in such a long time. Thanks to the increasing interconnectedness of most areas of the planet, you can bet that if one does erupt, it'll spread nice and widely too.

I always tell myself I'll head for a remote forest as soon as I hear about a strain that's easily transmitted person-to-person, but then again, I'd probably just starve or be eaten by bears or something. Plus, I hear they don't have high-speed internet out there.
posted by introcosm at 6:10 AM on December 1, 2004


Epidemic: Spreading rapidly and extensively by infection and affecting many individuals in an area or a population at the same time: an epidemic outbreak of influenza.

Pandemic: Medicine. Epidemic over a wide geographic area and affecting a large proportion of the population: pandemic influenza.

(From dictionary.com)
posted by Vulpyne at 6:18 AM on December 1, 2004


Holy crap this sure helped my insomnia. I'm not a germ freak but it's sounding awfully sensible at the moment.

*scrubs entire body with lye concentrate, scrubs brain while he's at it for good measure*
posted by loquacious at 6:23 AM on December 1, 2004


Beansidhe, go for it. That's actually precisely what I'm going to grad school for. Let's hear a w00t for microbiology.
posted by Plinko at 6:26 AM on December 1, 2004


Anyway, a little tubgirl is good for you every year or so. Keeps the neurons dusted off.

A little tubgirl goes a long way. Bleh.
posted by PossumCowboy at 6:26 AM on December 1, 2004


By the way, just who is "this man" at the end of the TinyUrl? I haven't any idea.
posted by Plinko at 6:32 AM on December 1, 2004


There is a difference between a pandemic and an epidemic, clevershark. They're not interchangeable. An epidemic is a disease that is not native to a given community (i.e., smallpox in North America, c. 1492). Because such diseases find little to no resistance in the population, they typically burn through very quickly and go out, leading to the more colloquial usage you're referring to. This is in sharp contrast to an endemic, which is native to a population (like chicken pox), so it makes its rounds in regular, expected ways. A pandemic is a special case of an epidemic, where we're talking about the worldwide population of a species--in this case, us. Hence the prefix pan. It was first used as an adjective in 1666, with the noun form first being used in 1853, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Plinko, I think it's Stephen King's Satanic Randall Flagg, from The Stand.
posted by jefgodesky at 6:39 AM on December 1, 2004


"The 1918 variety had such a high mortality rate because trench warfare is a perfect recipe for weakening an immune system."

Paul Ewald argued in "The Evolution of Infectious Diseases" that the particulars of trench warfare and WWI combined to strongly encourage the flu to evolve into a very virulent strain rather than the idea that the soldiers had weakened immune systems.

His argument is built around external disease vectors.

Normally, the flu we're used to (and the rhinoviruses) depend upon relatively close contact between people to spread. This means that if a flu strain becomes too virulent, it will be selected against because the carrier will not be very mobile and won't infect many other people.

Other diseases that are more virulent notably tend to be carried by external vectors: like malaria and mosqitos, for example. Malaria doesn't have to "worry too much" about killing it's victims too soon (or disabling them) because it has the mosqito to do the traveling. Cholera has contaminated water systems to spread it around. Doesn't matter much if people are prone on their backs.

But if people have to come into contact with another to spread the disease, then there's going to be selection pressure against any strains that are too virulent.

He shows that this happens pretty quickly: competition between strains of pathogens happen immediately and selection pressures come to the fore right away.

So how does this relate to the Spanish flu during WWI?

Well, there you had these huge numbers of men being transported all over the place and then put in very close proximity to one another. They'd get sick, and they'd be taken away and someone new would replace them. The flu pathogen no longer "needed" people to be very ambulatory and didn't need them to be alive that long, either, because the sick people themselves were being moved around. This encouraged selection for more virulent strains. The immune-suppressing things were a factor in terms of it establishing an easy early foothold.

This is what is happening in hospitals, too. There, a bunch of pathogens, even just staph, that are normally very mild have become very virulent because the hospital staff are the transmission vectors, not the ill people themselves.

Part of his argument and a big part of the new field of "evolutionary medicine" is taking into account how selection pressures can make a pathogen more or less virulent. Pallative remedies, for example, encourage virulency because they keep people ambulatory without making them actually any healthier. Going to work sick only "encourages" more virulent pathogens to evolve than otherwise would have.

Typically, it's assumed that "new" virulent pathogens are species jumpers, like this avian flu. That's why they are looking at this carefully. However, Ewald argues that any old long-adapted to humans pathogen could become very virulent under the right environmental conditions. That's his argument about the Spanish flu.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:41 AM on December 1, 2004


If this were 10 years ago, you could substitute "Ebola" for "Asian Flu" and "Africa" for "Asia" and have the exact same story. These kinds of "super diseases" pop up from time to time. Some argue that we've just been lucky so far. The Hot Zone is a good book on the subject.
posted by mkultra at 6:43 AM on December 1, 2004


I just like to imagine CIC and WHO workers going home at night, secretly harboring hope that some dreadful disease will come along and they'll get to say they told us so, through fits of coughing. Nobody seems to listen to these guys until it's too late, or it's no longer an issue.
posted by dougunderscorenelso at 6:46 AM on December 1, 2004


I knew something like this was on the brink. Four days ago I had a dream and one of my spiritual teachers arrived in it and said "if something doesn't occur in humanity by November 30th, another pandemic will begin happening".

...and now i've solved what that something was, we did not devour all the winged creatures in time. I mean many tried last Thursday to get a good lot of them, but many went unnoticed, nestled in tree tops, huddled in coupes or floating in ponds worldwide.

They're all so sinister looking, it's surprising we've kept them around this long. No look what's happened.


vegetarian
posted by mic stand at 6:51 AM on December 1, 2004


Could this finally be the mass human extinction Mother Earth has been hoping for? True environmentalists hope so. We'll make good compost.
posted by Shane at 6:55 AM on December 1, 2004


I envy the wage-earners who survive...
posted by runkelfinker at 6:55 AM on December 1, 2004


Paging Captaintripps!
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:58 AM on December 1, 2004


mkultra:
Ebola, IIRC, was quite different, in that it kills its victims too quickly to spread far. Airborne spreading of the virus is also minimal. Influenza can be airborne, and an infected person can conceivable cough on a lot of people before the disease overtakes him.

Ebola's symptoms are scarier, though, and therefore make better copy for the news.
posted by bashos_frog at 6:59 AM on December 1, 2004


The 1918 variety had such a high mortality rate because trench warfare is a perfect recipe for weakening an immune system.

Actually, no. What makes the 1918 flu strain so fascinating is that it killed so many young people at what would be considered the peak of health. Yes, many soldiers died, but so did many people at home. In America it killed 18 year old co-eds, 24 year old farmers, 28 year old stock brokers.

The Hot Zone is a great, adventure story. Another terrific read is The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett. The subtitle is "Newly Emerging Diseses in a World Out of Balance."

And Yeah! Microbiology! I strongly considered it, but in the early 80's I figured a degree in micro would mean ending up in a large pharmaceutical lab.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:03 AM on December 1, 2004


Bashos_Frog, it depends on the form of Ebola. Ebola Zaire has a 98% mortality rate (also IIRC) and it usually only takes two days for its host to kick the bucket, so to speak.

By the way, thanks jefgodesky.

... Being new to MeFi (at least in the ability to join the conversations), I'm starting to notice that most of the comments in the larger threads are simply other members reiterating what has already been said, frequently in a less efficient way.
posted by Plinko at 7:05 AM on December 1, 2004


I just like to imagine CIC and WHO workers going home at night, secretly harboring hope that some dreadful disease will come along and they'll get to say they told us so, through fits of coughing. Nobody seems to listen to these guys until it's too late, or it's no longer an issue.

And that Pierce Brosnan will play them in the movie.

This story isn't too big in the American papers because if it hit, it would hit elsewhere first, thus justifying America shutting its borders like its been wanting to do for awhile. It worked for Prince Prospero, after all.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:05 AM on December 1, 2004


EB: Interesting post.

I'm moving to the sticks in a month, so if this will just hold off till then I might get away with it.
posted by biffa at 7:16 AM on December 1, 2004


Okay, so for our Earth-Shattering Catastrophes so far we have Asian Bird Flu, the Collapse of the Dollar, and waiting in the wings is Peak Oil.

Anything else lined up to kick the collective ass of humanity? Seems like we've got more catastrophes coming than The Discovery Channel during Sweeps Week.
posted by briank at 7:20 AM on December 1, 2004


Thanks, EB.
posted by yerfatma at 7:25 AM on December 1, 2004


Um, where is the 1 billion estimate coming from? I click on that link and see just 100 million.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:33 AM on December 1, 2004


Seriously, why worry? Considering how well we handled HIV...no, wait, I mean SARS...um, no, wait, I mean BSE...

You were being flippant, of course, but in all seriousness, those diseases - and indeed, almost all of the ones that wreak the most havoc in our society- happen to fall under the heading of "zoonotic," meaning that we've picked them up from (non-human) animals. And how do we get them from animals? By putting animals into unduly close contact with each other and ourselves for the purpose of making them into food. (On World AIDS Day I think it's appropriate to remember that AIDS most probably infected people originally through the practice of killing chimpanzees for food.)

Unless and until we, the human population, wean ourselves from the needless, archaic habit of eating other animals, these diseases will continue to present an ever increasing threat to our survival.

One other thing that has not been mentioned here is that the 1918 epidemic - you remember, "Spanish" flu? - almost certainly originated here in America among farmed pigs... who had picked up a mutated form of... that's right, bird flu.
posted by soyjoy at 7:34 AM on December 1, 2004




Up to 100-million people could die in weeks if ...


I'll see your 100 million and raise you 6 billion in minutes
posted by jim-of-oz at 7:37 AM on December 1, 2004


Don't forget The Flu Hunters from a few weeks ago in the NYT (archived now, $$ required). My favorite passage: They discover avian flu to be spreading in one Chinese province because cockfighters are using their mouths to clear mucus from the roosters' throats.
posted by fungible at 7:39 AM on December 1, 2004


a death toll of 1 billion could be expected

Some might call that a good start.
posted by jellybuzz at 7:40 AM on December 1, 2004


On World AIDS Day I think it's appropriate to remember that AIDS most probably infected people originally through the practice of killing chimpanzees for food.

AIDS is God's punishment for meat eaters, and for the society that tolerates them.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:50 AM on December 1, 2004


Live life!

Live life ... like you're gonna die.

'Cause you're gonna.


-William Shatner
posted by bwg at 7:52 AM on December 1, 2004


Well, if you consider that one of the most interesting aspects of this virus is its impressive mutation rate, I can't imagine that the vaccine would be all too helpful once it hit the human population in a big way.

The WHO is worried about H5N1's ability to mutate, and to do so damned quickly. They're also worried about H7N7's high pathogenicity. So we have two different mutant strains with two abilities that would essentially shut things down should one mutation emerge with both abilities.


Okay, first, this is Influenza Virus A with a certain serotype, H5N1, not some freaky new virus. (H5N1 stands for the "Hemagluttin" and "Neuramimidase" proteins, both of which are present on the outer surface of the virus and therefore help identify it.) The WHO is worried (and has always been worried) about Influenza A's ability to go through genetic shift; that is, it can mix its genetic code with bird influenza viruses. The reason this is scary is because, as has been said, we humans have no immunity built up to this--we haven't ever been exposed to H5N1 before, so it would take at least 10 days to build up immunity. But we've lucked out so far; when this virus has cropped up in Asia, it hasn't really been able to be transmitted from person to person. When this mutation happens, then we're screwed. (Influenza B virus undergoes genetic drift--it has a high mutation rate and changes a lot, but can't totally change itself like A can.)

A weak immune system is all you need for a new flu to become fatal.

A weak immune system is all you need for any infection to become fatal--the common flu or this avian version. But again, the scary thing is how greatly the Spanish flu killed off young people. 1918 was the only year that the US actually had a decrease in population (probably since the Civil War).


posted by gramcracker at 7:54 AM on December 1, 2004


Anything else lined up to kick the collective ass of humanity?

Asteroid 2004 VD 17 has been upgraded to a 1 on the Torino Scale, due to a chance of hitting the Earth in May, 2091. And if it misses that time, it could hit in May, 2095.

(Only about a 1 in 63,000 chance based on current observations, so don't change your picnic/wedding/vacation plans yet....)
posted by gimonca at 7:55 AM on December 1, 2004


gramcracker: I'm aware of this, but I usually don't launch into long dissertations of a technical nature because it has a tendency to cause my audience to glaze over. Vernacular is a good thing when you're dealing with the public. /ego save
posted by Plinko at 8:02 AM on December 1, 2004


Unless and until we, the human population, wean ourselves from the needless, archaic habit of eating other animals, these diseases will continue to present an ever increasing threat to our survival.

See Diamond, Jared, "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race," Discover Magazine, May 1987.

You'll notice that it's not just eating animals that's problematic, it's specifically domesticating animals.

Living in the sort of large, dense, urban communities that are heavily connected by trade doesn't help, either.

So, soyjoy, I think your case glosses over some very important details. Foragers had almost no epidemic diseases, but ate diets that were anywhere from 50% - 100% meat (by weight), depending on latitude.

The cat is really out of the bag at this point. Sure, we'd probably all be better off if the Neolithic had never happened, but it did, Pandora's Box is open, and vegetarianism isn't going to do much to stop the spread of AIDS, malaria and influenza now that the damage is already done.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:06 AM on December 1, 2004


Note to self: Delete Chickenlady from contacts.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:20 AM on December 1, 2004


The cat is really out of the bag at this point. Sure, we'd probably all be better off if the Neolithic had never happened, but it did, Pandora's Box is open, and vegetarianism isn't going to do much to stop the spread of AIDS, malaria and influenza now that the damage is already done.

I rather think the point is avoiding the next AIDS or the next round of animal-->human flu.
posted by biffa at 8:21 AM on December 1, 2004


Thanks for that link, soyjoy.

Seems like Ewald was wrong on two specific examples in his book. The 1918 epidemic (which he thought was a benign strain that had become virulent) and his speculations on HIV.

Still, though, his science is fine (as I understand from other sources), his reasoning persuasive, and it's hard not to believe that the effects he's describing aren't extent and important. I'm personally quite sure that the iatrogenic (virulent hospital staph etc.) stuff strongly relates to what Ewald describes. His examination of what's happened in several maternity wards is frightening. (Hospital environment, close attention to babies in nurseries, super-virulent pathogens killing the babies.)
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:31 AM on December 1, 2004


Hope I get bird flu before I get old.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 8:42 AM on December 1, 2004


Does anyone disagree with the idea that the human population needs thinning anyway?
posted by Plinko at 8:49 AM on December 1, 2004


Bah, this isn't really the bird flu... that's just a clever cover story for what's really happening. The zombie apocalypse is upon us!
posted by TheGoldenOne at 9:03 AM on December 1, 2004


Damn right, Plinko - the problem has always been "But who gets thinned?" - now we can let the chickens decide.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 9:10 AM on December 1, 2004


Sorry to be a dick about this, but there is an apocalyptic plague predicted every six months or so, and YOU IDIOTS FALL FOR IT EVERY TIME.

Aren't we all still too busy dying of Ebola, the Hanta virus, SARS, last year's flu, and this year's flu to worry about the next flu strain?
posted by Hildago at 9:23 AM on December 1, 2004


insert welcoming chicken overlords joke here
posted by jesourie at 9:30 AM on December 1, 2004


Hildago, there's a difference between the reporters getting worried and the scientists getting worried. The reporters get worried all the time, just like you say. But the people who knew what they were talking about always looked at Ebola and SARS as interesting, not apocalyptic. Unfortunately, the journalists have ignorantly cried "wolf" so many times that when something really serious comes down the pike--like now--your response is a pretty understandable one.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:36 AM on December 1, 2004


Oh, why worry about the NEW stuff.

http://www.smallpoxbiosecurity.org/default.asp

All Smallpox, all the time!
posted by rough ashlar at 9:42 AM on December 1, 2004


I can't think of a time where my internet handle would be more appropriate.
posted by Captaintripps at 9:43 AM on December 1, 2004


Plinko: Does anyone disagree with the idea that the human population needs thinning anyway?

Probably, but thats just becuase you can't get those fatties to take responsibilty and get off the damn couch.
posted by Endymion at 9:44 AM on December 1, 2004


I don't like the fact that I happened upon this post the day after I caught a cold.

ugh
posted by craven_morhead at 10:27 AM on December 1, 2004


Oh for chrissake. I don't even eat all that much meat and used to be a strict vegetarian, but this whole "eating animals kills fat Americans dead" thing is starting to bug. I see it everywhere.

Proto humans started killing animals for food for whatever reason. Brains got bigger due to these sources of rich fatty acids. Humans are now omnivores. Now we need vitamin B12 for lots of stuff, like cell division. A lack of B12 can cause early mortality. The *only* reliable source of B12 is eggs, dairy, and meat. Now we can buy B12 vitamin supplements and fortified cereals and soy milks and all that happy jazz, meaning we don't have to soil ourselves with those dirty chickens or cows. Well, rich people can. I'm broke, so I am not a vegetarian anymore. Have you seen how much vitamins and fortified milks and cereals cost? I can spend 88 cents on a package of eggs and a $1.50 on a carton of milk and satisfy my B12 needs. Sadly, these cheap items require chickens and cows. And this is just B12. To get all those other good fatty acids and happy meat by-products that the human body needs, be prepared to shell out the big bucks at the grocery store.

Certainly humans eat far too much meat. My nutritionists always recommended a general vegetarian diet with occasional meat and meat by-products to satisfy nutritional requirements. I think this is sound advice. But vegetarians who run around and try to say that animals and animal by-products are completely nutritionally unnecessary are dispensing dangerous advice.
posted by xyzzy at 10:50 AM on December 1, 2004


I suggest to start killing all ducks and chickens
posted by dov3 at 10:51 AM on December 1, 2004


CDC Plans Controversial Bird Flu Experiment - this was on the radio the other night on the way home (.ra or .wma audio). The gist of it was that the CDC wants to mutate the virus into the version that would cause the epidemic in a "controlled" environment so that they can come up with a vaccine.
posted by GrumpyMonkey at 10:56 AM on December 1, 2004


Wash your hands. Often.
Get plenty of rest.
If you do get sick, stay home.

Love,
mom
posted by killy willy at 11:27 AM on December 1, 2004


I suggest eating the vegetarians.
posted by PossumCowboy at 11:43 AM on December 1, 2004


The raised death toll estimate seems to be based on what one guy said who has no new evidence or data, according to The New York Times.
Dr. Omi said the toll "may be more - 20 million or 50 million, or in the worst case, 100" million...

W.H.O. officials in Geneva said later that they had not received an advance copy of Dr. Omi's remarks and did not know the basis for his estimates and why he believed a pandemic was so likely.

The agency previously has expressed concern that the avian strain has become a more dangerous threat as it has jumped species. But Dr. Omi's estimates are not based on any new scientific information about the virus's ability to cause human disease or ways to assess the odds that the virus will become readily transmissible among people.
posted by stevis at 11:46 AM on December 1, 2004


See how I live in Scotland, where it's cold, will that be any help? I suppose at worst them hills aren't far off ... and I could unwittingly take my plague there, heh heh
posted by bonaldi at 12:24 PM on December 1, 2004


The gist of it was that the CDC wants to mutate the virus into the version that would cause the epidemic in a "controlled" environment so that they can come up with a vaccine.

Oh, that makes me feel safer, cuz you know there is some evil dude working in the lab that will use the mutated virus for his world domination fantasies.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:25 PM on December 1, 2004


You see? Chairman Mao was onto something.
posted by Human Stain at 1:13 PM on December 1, 2004


While I think that the "What, me worry?" response is a little naive, there's no doubt that Meridian, er, chose his/her "facts" carefully for that "Oh My God" effect.

The mortality statistics are based on 32 deaths. The putative variety that could transmit easily from human to human does not currently exist. It does not currently transmit easily from fowl to human. Whether such a "worst case" variety could exist, and whether it would maintain its degree of predicted lethality (such as it is), is unknown. The 100 million number is NOT the "latest World Health Organization warning." The statement in question from the interview is:

WHO's thinking is that if this pandemic does take place, there will be at least two million to seven million dead people. That's a cautious number that we get from a reliable American institution.

There are others who are no less reliable who look at world populations. They look at globalisation, they look at the pathogenicity of this virus, and they have estimated up to 100 million. That's not a number we're using, but it's a number that's in that back of our minds.
Emphasis added.

And those "experts" who threw out the big 1 billion figure are actually one expert... well, one surgery instructor at the Harvard/Massachusetts General Hospital - who appears to have a habit of countering WHO/CDC statistics with hyperbolic claims.

A poorly written, sensationalistic post, in other words.
posted by nanojath at 1:22 PM on December 1, 2004


Jeez -- Robocop, it's the Masque of the Red Death; as in, masquerade.
posted by Tlogmer at 2:01 PM on December 1, 2004



Hildago, there's a difference between the reporters getting worried and the scientists getting worried.


Jefgodesky: thanks for your measured response to my assholish outburst.

However, I don't see a preponderance of scientific evidence for this conclusion, or even, frankly, that many scientists with meaningful credentials making dire forecasts.

And there were scientists who predicted doom as a result of all those other "pandemics", I saw them on the news and read the articles on metafilter. Eventually, you just start to ignore them. The kinds of scientists who go out and make statements about wildfire diseases killing millions of people are not the good scientists, they're something else entirely.

The point I'd like to make is that certain parties benefit when people get panicky about their health. However, since worrying about catching a disease does no good to actually keep you from getting sick, one of those parties is not the public.
posted by Hildago at 2:16 PM on December 1, 2004


Thankfully, Hildago, a little more homework on the matter seems to support your conclusion that this is more Chicken Little than Eschaton. That's a load off my mind.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:22 PM on December 1, 2004


xyzzy - I can spend 88 cents on a package of eggs and a $1.50 on a carton of milk and satisfy my B12 needs. Sadly, these cheap items require chickens and cows.

Umm... eggs and milk are also produced by other creatures you know.
posted by Meridian at 2:35 AM on December 2, 2004


I can spend 88 cents on a package of eggs and a $1.50 on a carton of milk and satisfy my B12 needs.

So when you argue that eating animal products is "necessary," you actually mean "convenient." Got it.

I won't even go into how the meat and dairy industries are disproportionately privileged in American (and most Western) economic systems.

For the record, the fact that modern-day urbanized consumers need to get B12 through supplements in no way argues against a "natural" plant-based diet (even though I don't really care how "natural" meat-eating might have been at some distant time, since you and I are not living in that time). B12 is actually bioavailable through many plants that take it up from the soil (it's also, of course, naturally in the dirt we used to eat along with our plants). It's our own recent (over the past couple centuries) relentless despoiling and sterilizing of the soil that has made getting B12 solely through plants untenable.
posted by soyjoy at 7:17 AM on December 2, 2004


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