"A Man's a Man for all that!" - Rabbie Burns

"Religion? No thanks. I prefer not to outsource my brainwashing." - Bunc
Trying to get your average Joe creationist to understand the phrase scientific theory is as hard as getting a fish to enjoy mountaineering. Its an unimagined world for them - it requires a complete reversal of their normal modes of thinking and being. The fact that humans could explain the complexities of this world without a creating God is a world view they cannot grasp. It's like asking a tuna if it appreciates the view from the top of Mount Everest. Bunc

Apr 28, 2009

Swine Flu stalks Scotland

It's a good headline but just how risky is the current position? What are the chances that we might be standing at the brink of a flu pandemic that might kill millions worldwide?

First of all we must factor in that there is very strong evidence that regular and sometimes deadly flu pandemics have occurred in the past. Some of them within living memory. We have had an unusually long period without a pandemic happening so the odds are clearly shortening on another pandemic at some point in the not too far future. But is that future upon us?

Certainly the Mexican Swine flue virus would appear to have an unusual genetic mix. There were suggestions that this strain had different genetic material some typical of South American swine flu and some from North America. It was suggested that this was an unusual risk.

With my paranoid hat on I wondered if this had been a created strain that someone had released. An unlikely conspiracy I think, but who knows.

More likely there has been animal movement between North and South and different strains have found themselves in the same animal at some point and have exchanged genetic material. Evolution in action can be scary.

The virus has spread rapidly from its initial base camp in Mexico. It looks as though it has been there for between four to six weeks. One of the fortunate things is that the outbreak didn't occur at the height of the tourist season. That could have spread very large numbers of infected people all around the world. The pace at which infections would spread in our populations would have been all the faster.

Even so there have been a large number of people showing possible signs in other countries. Whatever happens it looks like this strain is with us for some time to come.

On the plus side there have , so far been no deaths anywhere but Mexico. This is interesting as is the percentage of deaths among the infected.

Figures i saw recently , if my memory is correct showed there had been around 140 plus deaths and around 1600 reported as infected. That's a death rate of 8.75%. The infections and deaths in Mexico are likely to have been among people who were poorer, less well nourished. The odds are that in a Western setting, with good health care systems the death rate will be lower. But how much lower?

There are around 20 reported case in the UK I believe. With a death rate at 5% we would be likely to see the first fatality over here as the next batch of cases are identified.

But all the reports so far are that people who have the infection have not been gravely ill. If this remains true over the coming days then the virus may be attenuating as it is passes from host to host or there may be some other factor at play ( climate, diet, population health or genetic makeup).

So what does this all mean for the chances of a Flu Pandemic?

My money at the moment would be on this infection continuing to spread through our populations. It's probably now at the point that this cannot be prevented. It's happening now. The evidence at present points towards the virus having some deadly effects but less so either as it spreads or in healthier populations. The infection rate will likely continue to build in the next few weeks. I wonder if it might hang around during the summer months here then really take off this autumn or winter.

So I think this one will spread and we will have deaths. But I don't think this is the really big one like the 1918 Spanish Flu. I hope I'm right.


Marf said...

I see it as similar to SARS that was hyped up a while back. I'm not going to get too worked up until we have a "serious" pandemic... On the order of at least 100,000 killed world-wide.

With the cruise ship season starting here in Ketchikan, I wouldn't be surprised if this Swine Flu finds its way here.

Looney said...

Here is my stupid theory:

A few years back, Mexico City was having riots because corn tortilla prices were soaring. The demand from the always altruistic USA to feed SUVs with ethanol resulted in a spike in corn prices. Certainly an American SUV is more deserving of corn than a hovel of Mexican peasants!

The riots were quieted, but I suspect the result was that the Mexicans simply adjusted to lower levels of nutrition. An ordinary influenza outbreak would then have rather nasty consequences in Mexico, but considerably less impact elsewhere.

muddywellies said...

You are right, Looney. America being blamed for the Swine Flu is a stupid theory. Not only stupid but also wreckless and prejudice. I agree that the poor Mexican people have suffered more but that's perhaps because of Mexico's poverty levels and over-crowding that is due to their own sad government. Poorer people won't eat as well naturally and have a weaker immune system. But the last time I looked, corn tortillas were not known to be on the immune boosting healthy foot list.

If the United States and their "always altruistic" ways wanted to really hurt Mexico then they would shut the border which they have not. Not BEFORE the flur and not even AFTER the flu.

Looney said...

Muddywellies, if our president blamed America and apologized to the French for what we did to them at Agincourt, I doubt that many Americans would see a problem. The recent effort at ingeniously re-defining torture so that we can blame America being a prime example. As long as we are blaming America for everything, why not include the Mexican swine flu deaths also? Certainly you can see the wonderful symmetry in all this!

justjohn said...

Actually, it looks to be singularly non-virulent at this point. In the US, 80+ cases with only a handful hospitalized and no deaths. It is spreading, but slowly when compared to other "pandemics", and (at this point) seems to be deadly to only those with previous severe illness. Further, this flu seems susceptible to two different anti-viral medications, both prophylactically as well as interventional.

I am not trying to downplay the potential risk, but panic does us no good either. (And neither am I a casual observer... my son is immune suppressed medically because he received a heart transplant at the age of six weeks.)

Be well.

rummuser said...

I expect it to grab headlines and pass off into the last pages in a few weeks just like the bird flu did a while ago or the mad cow disease did.

Bunc said...

Justjohn and Rummuser,
I think you are right. It looks as though we have been fortunate and that this is going to be much less virulent than was intitially feared.
In one sense it might prove to have been a good thing if it increases the readiness of gevernmennts to deal with the biog one when it does happen.

The only problem is that populations will start to think of al this as "crying wolf" and the worry is that people will juts dismiss it when the big one does arrive.

Marf said...

@ Bunc: I'm already kinda at that point. They keep making such a big deal over nothing.

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