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Location: Georgia, United States

I am me. More than I was, less than I will be. This is difficult. Facts-female, southern, mother and grandmother. Abstract-a Christian, a loner, intelligent, somewhat arrogant, impatient with stupidity, an unusual sense of humor.


The Hammer Falls Again

I am no slouch in the intellect department, but Charles Krauthammer (aka The Hammer) rises above pretty much everyone else and never fails to inspire awe and perhaps a little jealousy. The link is to an article written by him and published recently in the WaPo. I am including some excerpts-- It was announced last week that U.S. scientists have just created a living, killing copy of the 1918 "Spanish" flu. This is big. Very big.

He talks about three separate elements. He first speaks highly of the scientific achievement, of the "enterprise, ingenuity, serendipity, hard work and brilliance" in finding tissue samples from victims of the Spanish influenza, then the resurrection of of a once dead and deadly pathogen.

The second element for him is sheer terror, because the Spanish influenza was the deadliest pandemic in recorded history. The Bubonic Plague killed 137 million people during three separate outbreaks in three different centuries. It works out to about 2 million people a year. The Spanish influenza killed more 25 million people in a single year. 28 % of the entire United States population was infected, with approximately 800,000 dying from it. One of most frightening things about that particular flu strain is that it breaks the usual virus protocol of attacking the old, the ill and the very young. For some reason, adolescents and young healthy adults were the most likely to become infected and the least likely to survive. The mortality rate for 15 to 34 years olds rose 20 times higher in 1918 than any year before. One physician reported that it was simply a struggle for one more breath of air until they suffocated. From a report by the Division of Molecular Pathology, Department of Cellular Pathology, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, DC---The surface proteins of influenza viruses, hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, play important roles in virulence, host specificity, and the human immune response. The virus was speculated to be of bird origin which recombined with swine flu which then recombined with human influenza to mutate and produce a whole new virus that targeted the least likely of victims, the young and healthy.

Krauthammer then goes on--Now that I have your attention, consider, with appropriate trepidation, the third element of this story: What to do with this knowledge? Not only has the virus been physically re-created, but its entire genome has also now been published for the whole world, good people and very bad, to see. The decision to publish was a very close call, terrifyingly close. On the one hand, we need the knowledge disseminated. We've learned from this research that the 1918 flu was bird flu, "the most bird-like of all mammalian flu viruses," says Jeffery Taubenberger, lead researcher in unraveling the genome. There is a bird flu epidemic right now in Asia that has infected 117 people and killed 60. It has already developed a few of the genomic changes that permit transmission to humans. Therefore, you want to put out the knowledge of the structure of the 1918 flu, which made the full jump from birds to humans, so that every researcher in the world can immediately start looking for ways to anticipate, monitor, prevent and counteract similar changes in today's bird flu.

But researchers aren't the only people who will be paying attention, reading, studying and planning.

My last excerpt from his article says everything that needs to be said and says it succinctly, particularly the third sentence -- Why try to steal loose nukes in Russia? A nuke can only destroy a city. The flu virus, properly evolved, is potentially a destroyer of civilizations.
We might have just given it to our enemies.
Have a nice day.

I think about the world and the way it was in 1918. World travel in 1918 wasn't common or easy. No airlines, just slow moving ships and trains. The majority of travel was done by the very wealthy or troops heading to and from the conflict in Europe. And yet the virus spread rapidly and easily over Europe, Asia, Africa, Brazil, the South Pacific, America.

I think about the world as it is now. The Atlanta airport alone handles about 7 million passengers a month. Even cutting that number in half to account for round trip flights, that is an incredible number of people who are coming and going to and from every part of the world. A deadly, untreatable pathogen exists once again in it's original lethal form and it isn't difficult to imagine how fast it would be able to spread if a human ever became infectious again.

Children, with their peculiar ability to adapt to horrific situations, used to jump-rope to this rhyme--

I had a little bird

It's name was Enza

I opened up the window

And in-flu-enza.

I will admit that in a small corner of my heart and mind, I am afraid.


Blogger Cosmic Siren said...

Macabre children's rhymes are a constant in human history. If they aren't taught them, they make up their own. I've feard some really interesting adlib stuff over the years that was more than a little disturbing. Kids are a lot more on the ball than we realize sometimes.

Check out http://rhymes.org.uk/

5:03 AM  

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