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A Flu Pandemic?

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the run-for-the-hills dept.

Science 830

Pedrito writes "Scientific American is running a story in this month's issue about preparing for a flu pandemic. What this article tries to convey is that a pandemic is definitely coming. Whether it's from the H5N1 strain (which would likely cause hundreds of millions of deaths) or another strain a few years down the road. There have been 3 other flu pandemics in the past 100 years. The 1918 strain being the worst, with 40 million killed. The reason H5N1 is being followed so closely is because it's already spread to people and because it's incredibly lethal (a roughly 50% fatality rate at th moment). Even if the fatality rate dropped to 5% when and if it mutates into an easily communicable form, it would be twice as deadly as the 1918 virus."

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830 comments

It's Captain Tripps! (4, Funny)

DurendalMac (736637) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022234)

Randall Flagg is cackling with glee right now. His plan as almost borne fruit. I'm stocking up on Nozz-a-la and heading for the hills. Who's with me?

Re:It's Captain Tripps! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022243)

M-O-O-N. This spells first post.

Re:It's Captain Tripps! (3, Funny)

BattleCat (244240) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022273)

Laws, yes ! Tom Cullen likes first posts ! But...

Re:It's Captain Tripps! (0, Offtopic)

wesw02 (846056) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022302)

sounds like a plan, a power line & an internet line is all i need.

Re:It's Captain Tripps! (0, Offtopic)

iggymanz (596061) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022393)

and your internet infrastructure will be so economical then, just a cross-over twisted pair to the other surviving human's machine! But which of you will control DNS?

More Info About The Flu Pandemic: +1, Helpful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022440)


can be found at Al-Qaeda Headquarters [whitehouse.org] .

Remember: Be Patriotic: Deport The Cheney-Rumsfeld Cabal To Iraq!!!!

Patriotically as always,
K. Trout, C.E.O.

I like pie! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022238)

Obligatory pie first post!

Sensationalist Journalism? (5, Insightful)

external400kdiskette (930221) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022242)

Whilst this sort of thing has happened before saying it's definitely going to mutate is an overstatement. The same kind of sensationalist journalism not to long ago likened mad cow disease to a new sort of plague with predictions of obscene death rates when in reality it was statistically low. It could end up the same for this with a few hundred people dieing over several years ... nothing huge is definitely going to happen.

Re:Sensationalist Journalism? (5, Insightful)

stevelinton (4044) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022305)

Certainly H5N1 could go that way, but the flu virus is incredibly flexible, and there is
absolutely no reason why it won't come up with another variant as communicable and as lethal as the 1918 variant. If it does, the experts tell us that nothing modern medicine has come up with will help a whole lot. Basically it will infect everyone and kill a proportion and then the rest of us will be immune. Unless we can find a treatment that blocks, or ameliorates all varants of the influenza virus at once, or a way to mass produce a new vaccine in weeks rather than years, then we are still wide open to whatever mutation comes along.

Re:Sensationalist Journalism? (5, Insightful)

kenrick (888343) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022306)

Whilst this sort of thing has happened before saying it's definitely going to mutate is an overstatement.

Hardly - influenza viruses display both antigenic shift and drift: they are gentically one of the more unstable family of viruses. It is inevitable that H5N1 will mutate. What is debatable is whether it will mutate to a form where it is more infectious to a human host, or maybe some other (e.g. porcine).

Whilst sensationalist journalism is never good, it is important not to sideline flu - there will be a pandemic sometime in the near future, maybe not with H5N1, but we are 'due for one'.

Re:Sensationalist Journalism? (-1, Troll)

Seumas (6865) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022308)

I don't even know what to say about stuff like this. I just know that I don't think all these morons who rush out to get flu shots are exactly helping it (and they probably don't understand even the slightest about biology - not that I do all that much, either).

I do know that I haven't had the flue since I was a kid. It's probably been fourteen years since I've had the clue. I don't take flu shots. I don't take medication. I'm not in excellent health. And if I do get sick, I just tough it out. That's life. I'm not going to contribute to the next evil strain by helping it mutate.

Re:Sensationalist Journalism? (5, Funny)

BushCheney08 (917605) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022323)

It's probably been fourteen years since I've had the clue.

Ummm...Not gonna comment on that one... : p

Re:Sensationalist Journalism? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022356)

It's probably been fourteen years since I've had the clue.

Well, at least you're honest.

Re:Sensationalist Journalism? (1)

equex256 (927355) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022355)

"saying it's definitely going to mutate is an overstatement."

This probably isn't the mutation we are fearing the most, but it's quite eerie anyway:

http://msnbc.msn.com/id/10020499/ [msn.com]

Re:Sensationalist Journalism? (1)

IanDanforth (753892) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022367)

The Value of Sensationalist Journalism

If there is a threat which requires world-wide coordination I cannot imagine a more effective tool for creating action than fear. I like to look at this from a pragmatic point of view, if you have a real chance that something like this could happen and happen soon you have to make careful decisions on how you publicize it. If you say "year on year there is a 5 to 15% chance of pathogenic mutation cumulating in an 80% chance over the next decade." People simply won't listen. If however you say 40 million dead! DEAD!!!!! Then there is a better chance to get a reaction.

The truth is that our species is increasingly vulnerable to viruses like Bird Flu and our medical science has not advanced at the same pace that our intermingling has, thus we need a solution to this general vulnerability even if this specific threat is being over-played.

I recommend people take all these reports as intelligent people should, as reminder that we need to have a solution in advance of encountering the problem. "The masses" if you will may need to be afraid before they will act, but I like to think the average /. geek has the forethought to have water and food on hand if you are ever forced to stay at home for a week due to quarintine. If you haven't made those preperations...well, maybe you do need to be frightened.

-Ian

Re:Sensationalist Journalism? (4, Insightful)

smallpaul (65919) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022414)

Did you RTFA? It says: "Scientists cannot predict which influenza strain will cause a pandemic or when the next one will break out. They can warn only that another is bound to come and that the conditions now seem ripe."

Maybe the bird flu is "the big one". Maybe it isn't. Even if it isn't, we should use the opportunity of its media ubiquity to figure out what we will done when the next big flu does hit. When, not if (unless there is a surprising development in medicine!).

Re:Sensationalist Journalism? (2, Informative)

barakn (641218) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022417)

Greedy opportunists are trying to cash in, like the author of this story [sciscoop.com] that somehow got onto Sciscoop. At the bottom is a url to his website [avoidbirdflu.com] , which is nothing more than a giant ad for some extremely over-priced PowerPoint presentations and a respirator.

Re:Sensationalist Journalism? (1)

audioinfektion (849134) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022424)

I too am getting tired of this journalistic retardation. Most of the deaths from ANY flu have been from the SECONDARY respratory infections that take hold once a person is sick. The flu did not kill them, the bacterial pneumonia they caught did. In 1918, we didnt have antibiotics. Now days, we'd just give someone a Z-pack and call it done. Only the most immunosensitive people would actually die from the flu virus itself.

Causing Panic (4, Insightful)

AndyFewt (694753) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022246)

Yep, this is definitely the way to keep the public feeling safe. Tell them something is definitely coming to kill 40 million or more, only 50% of people infected will survive and that there is no cure yet.

I can see the same panic buying of the drugs that can help just like the panic buying of gas masks which happened when someone said that terrorists would use bio/chem weaps.

Re:Causing Panic (2, Insightful)

Duncan3 (10537) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022329)

Everyone I know that actually deals with disease for a living, and has the knowledge to know what to worry about and not worry about is scared, and takes bird flu VERY seriously.

The public on the other hand is far more worried about gays getting married, or terrorists attacking them in rural Kansas.

I'd say the press is doing a very good job keeping people worried about whatever the politicians want them to worry about, distracting them from any real problems.

Anyone on /. should be able to tell the difference (ignore whatever the media wants you to pay attention to), and prepare appropriately.

Re:Causing Panic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022331)

Hey, maybe there'll soon be War Against Influenza.

Re:Causing Panic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022333)

That's how it is these days... people are driven by fear and the media only talks about the bad sides of life. Terrorism, war, WMD's, murderers, people gone missing in Aruba...

Even looking at CNN's US News, I see this:
Democrats criticize 'KKK' joke
Firefighters combat huge blaze
FEMA provides trailers to Wilma victims
ER waits reach crisis proportions
Rep. faces drunken driving charges
Police: Parent attacks coach
Ex-councilman given another chance
Officials: Marsupial smuggled onto flight
Study to protect children ready
Man accused of killing family arrested
Boy attacked by pit bulls loses arm
Veterans Day funeral set for soldier

And some World news:
France hopes for peace in cities
Social unrest spreads to Belgium
UK troops 'may leave Iraq' in 2006
U.N.: Ivory Coast rebuilding air force
Woman confident vote will hold up
Violence a concern before constitution vote
Presidential primary vote in Mexico
Police: Children die in Colombia grenade blast
Officials: Gang robs armored car workers
New Delhi 'bomb mastermind' arrested
Bus falls in river near quake zone
Pakistan seeks quake volunteers
Rice criticizes Syria at Mideast summit
Thousands mourn Rabin

Where's any good news at?

Re:Causing Panic (4, Funny)

Hogwash McFly (678207) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022384)

Today's good news:

Boy Crosses Road Unharmed
Apartment Building Completed On Time And On Budget
A Man Loves His Wife And Tells Her Of That Fact
Ice Cream Is Enjoyed By Many
Zero Asteroids Hit Earth

I hope that makes you feel better about humanity.

HealthScare (1)

rsborg (111459) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022347)

Nation Scaring Time [comedycentral.com] !!!

Get it in perspective (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022399)

So far about 60 people have died in Asia, mostly people who sleep with chickens in their houses.

Asia has a population of, say 10x USA, so that's 6 people gonna die in the USA, unless it mutates.

A mutated virus does not get nailed by a vaccine. A mutation that causes the flu to move to humans is a serious mutation, so the existing vaccines are likely useless. So why the big scramble for them?

More and more this looks like a big money grab, as well as a bit fear mongering exercise. Scared people are easier to control.

More people means... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022247)

...means more sick & thus more dead. This doesn't make the coming pandemic more deadly.

8 click-through pages?! (5, Informative)

Ctrl+Alt+De1337 (837964) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022259)

Here [sciam.com] is a one-page, ad-free version of the article. Seriously, when articles are formatted like this, submitters should use the "printer friendly" version of the article as the submission.

Infect al Quaida (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022260)

Make sure those bastards get infected.

A haven't heard anything about this! (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022262)

As I've been living in a cave with a sneezing chicken. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Slashdot.

Discovery Channel (5, Informative)

Dreoth (544253) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022268)

The Discovery Channel will be having a special on about this at 10:00pm EST, it was on last night and I believe it was nearly a 60% fatality rate. In Holland they had to slaughter nearly 30 million birds (mostly chickens) because the disease spread there. The most cases and deaths have been reported in Vietnam, 41 deaths out of the total of 62. You might want to watch this special, it even talks about how they found out the 1918 flu was originally a complete avian strain, much like how this new one is.

Re:Discovery Channel (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022358)

Related news, this just in...
http://msnbc.msn.com/id/10020499/ [msn.com]

HANOI - Scientists in Vietnam, where bird flu has killed 42 people, said the deadly H5N1 influenza virus had mutated into a more dangerous form that could breed more effectively in mammals, state media reported on Sunday.

Pandemic (1)

42Penguins (861511) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022269)

Am I the only one, having a somewhat strong immune system, that is not in the least bit worried about a pandemic?

On a side note:
Cue the tinfoil wearers saying that the possible pandemic is a vast right-wing conspiracy (tm)(c) to convince people that evolution and survival of the fittest is BAD.
Think of the millions of children (possibly) dying!

Re:Pandemic (3, Informative)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022312)

Am I the only one, having a somewhat strong immune system, that is not in the least bit worried about a pandemic?

A string immune system is not garuntee that you will survive. The 1918 flu killed a lot of healthy people.

The flu was most deadly for people ages 20 to 40. This pattern of morbidity was unusual for influenza which is usually a killer of the elderly and young children.
http://www.stanford.edu/group/virus/uda/ [stanford.edu]

The 1918 virus sometimes killed completely healthy people in killed overnight.
"Some people would go to bed healthy and never wake up."
http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/flu/fluepidemic. html [www.cbc.ca]

This was one of the flus that worked so fast the immune system couldn't keep up.

Re:Pandemic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022332)

42Penguins, you're WAY off. For starters, tin foil hats don't work, see this: http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/11/10/183922 4&tid=133 [slashdot.org] secondly, its not a right-wing conspiracy, but rather a winged conspiracy. The birds are tired of being subservient to humans and so they have intentionally created this virus to fight back. Viva la revolution!

Re:Pandemic (4, Informative)

Fourier (60719) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022373)

Am I the only one, having a somewhat strong immune system, that is not in the least bit worried about a pandemic?

Start worrying. Many of the deaths from the 1918 pandemic and from H5N1 have been related to a "cytokine storm [msn.com] ," resulting in an overly vigorous immune response. The typical "healthy young adult" is very much at risk.

In 1918, the young and healthy were dead by night (5, Informative)

coyote-san (38515) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022397)

Short subject line -- in the 1918 pandemic the young and healthy were often fine in the morning and dead by nightfall. Even in the more common situation where it took a few days to kill, it struck the young and healthy disproportionately harder.

The problem? An immune system has to be _reactive_. Your immune system has to develop sensitivity to the new virus and that takes some time. The usual flu strain isn't a problem since it's very similar to the strains we've already seen (in infection or innoculation) and our immune system can quickly respond. There's also a lot of natural selection going on over time -- a virus would rather see us miserable and contagious for a week than dead and non-contagious within a day.

But we have no natural immunity to an entirely new strain, and some can kill before our immune system can develop an effective response.

That's why older people faired better in 1918. They hadn't seen the same strain, but they had seen enough variety that they had a stronger initial response than their younger peers.

Re:Pandemic (2, Informative)

EvilSS (557649) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022400)

You should be more worried about it. H5N1, just like the 1918 flu, kills healthy people as easily, if not easier, than those with weakened immune systems. The virus causes a disastrous immune response in the lungs, damaging the tissues. The result is people with strong immune systems end up dead from pulmonary edema. Your strong immune system will drown you.

Re:Pandemic (3, Informative)

waytoomuchcoffee (263275) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022405)

Am I the only one, having a somewhat strong immune system, that is not in the least bit worried about a pandemic?

Actually, this is to your disadvantage, as a strong immune system is probably what is going to kill you. Your immune system could trigger a Cytokine Storm which will basically dissolve your lungs through severe inflammation.

That's how it goes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022270)

Such are the hassles of packing 6.5 billion of us into a single planet; If as many of us died as nature probably intended, proximity, and thus the spread of such diseases, wouldn't be such an issue.

Come on, you have to have realized we're nearing "maximum density" here; something's gotta change, quick.

Re:That's how it goes (1)

badfish99 (826052) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022293)

So having 50% of those people die of bird flu next year would be a step in the right direction, then?

Re:That's how it goes (1)

tomjen (839882) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022429)

Cruel as it is, yes it would be a step in the right direction. No nature is not known for being soft, and yes I hope we will be saved but there are too many people on this planet and we are all going to die someday.

still waiting (5, Insightful)

BushCheney08 (917605) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022272)

I'm still waiting for SARS to get me, cos that's what I was told was going to kill me before. And then there was West Nile Virus. And we can't forget those killer bees that'll be here any day now. Shouldn't we all be dead from ebola by now, too? Or how about monkey pox?

Re:still waiting (1)

MrP- (45616) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022280)

don't forget the hanta virus

Re:still waiting (1)

Hogwash McFly (678207) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022406)

Don't forget the AIDs-infected needles in movie theatre seats!

The late, great, Scientific American (1, Interesting)

treehouse (781426) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022274)

Scientific American used to be a fine magazine with level-headed articles, which presented difficult scientific topics in language that a well-read lay person could understand and appreciate. In the last few years, however, it has increasingly moved toward the sensationalistic article which predicts that doom "could happen any day now." It's bad journalism and it's bad science but it does sell subscriptions. For some reason, I still have mine.

"Politics of pandemics" (1)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022277)

This Boston Globe [boston.com] article is interesting... it's essentially a summary of a new book by Mike Davis.

It puts pandemics into their political and social context. The article says that if flu does develop into a planetwide scourge, it "will be a largely man-made disaster" caused by "overseas tourism, wetland destruction, a corporate 'Livestock Revolution,' and Third World urbanization.

Re:"Politics of pandemics" (1)

aelbric (145391) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022380)

Riiiiight. No political agenda in THAT writeup.

Re:"Politics of pandemics" (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022441)

s/overseas tourism/foreign investment/g
s/wetland destruction/creation of arable land/g
s/corporate 'Livestock Revolution'/selective breeding/g
s/Third World urbanization/Save The Children/g

Interesting how the article has a totally different meaning if a few select substitutions are made. Where's the article on the billions of people who have NOT died in places like Bangladesh due to the above?

Captain Tripps is here! (1)

oDDmON oUT (231200) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022278)

And we've already been sold the "official party line"!

Now, where's my tinfoil hat?

Latest fad (3, Insightful)

ch-chuck (9622) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022282)

Sounds like in "Things to Worry About", Asteroid Impact and Global Warming is OUT, and Flu Pandemic is IN. You have to know what the latest popular intellectual fashion is!

Overblown? (0)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022283)

I've read an article somewhere that stated that the 1918 flu was so bad because of horrid war conditions, such as sick soldiers being sent back into battle and shipped around in crowded trains and boats.

Such flus are allegedly only that deadly when there are secondary conditions to boost them. Still, a flu that kills tens of thousands is possible and scarry.

(Iraq is not that desparate..........yet.)

I'll see if I can find the link.
           

Re:Overblown? (2, Informative)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022395)

Here is the link I talked about:

http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/l a-op-bird23oct23,0,2282635.story [latimes.com] (free registration may be required)

But the 1918 pandemic strain was different. According to evolutionary biologist Paul W. Ewald of the University of Louisville, its lethality evolved in the trenches, the trucks, the trains and the hospitals of World War I. Infected soldiers were packed shoulder to shoulder with the healthy, and even the deadliest virus can jump from one host to another. The Western Front was a disease factory, and it manufactured the 1918 flu. The packed chicken farms of Asia are a close parallel. H5N1 evolved the same way as the 1918 flu did in the trenches.

We don't know what will happen to H5N1 as it moves through Europe. It is certain, though, that the longer it lives in wild birds, the more likely it will become mild, at least for its wild-bird hosts. This is what happened to the 1918 flu after soldiers abandoned the Western Front. In just over a year, the virus lost its virulence and wandered the planet as an ordinary flu.

rush hour quote (1)

42Penguins (861511) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022285)

slightly altered:
Carter: We have just received a threat on the planet. We ask if you please exit as soon as possible and please do not panic.

Carter: Did you hear what I just said? Get your shit and go out the door!!

Damn (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022292)

Better save up some sick days. Wish I hadn't already 'had the flu' twice this year.

Re:Damn (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022421)

Better make sure your cemetery plot is paid up.

Re:Damn (1)

Hogwash McFly (678207) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022437)

Just say that it's "woman's problems" and the laws of the universe state that the conversation with your boss is instantly terminated and a maximum of 3 sick days are automatically allocated without question or further detail.

Note: Will only work if you are a woman.

Bird Flu's Environmental Components (3, Informative)

Michael Ross (599789) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022299)

Here [pristineplanet.com] is an article on "Bird Flu's Environmental Components", for those interested in the ecological side of it.

concern? (4, Interesting)

Rinisari (521266) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022303)

One thing that bothers me about all this sudden talk of pandemics, how much cause for concern is there for the average American citizen? This flu strain is apparently more dangerous than SARS, yet it has recieved nowhere near the amount of press that SARS did, and SARS primarily affected the elderly and people with poor immune systems (there were exceptions, though, back off).

In my case, I haven't been sick enough to need antibiotics in more than a year and a half. I'm a full time college student living in a thirty year old dorm in western Pennsylvania. I regularly have contact with over 1000 people on any given weekday. At any given moment, there is at least 5 people in my hall who are sick.

Is this pandemic something that American college students at small schools should worry about? Obviously, there is a much higher chance at a university or much larger school (like Penn State with ~45,000 students from all over the world).

Re:concern? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022378)

Are you really this retarded, or did you have to try? Are you seriously asking if disease spreads in confined areas with high population densities such as dormitories?

Jesus Christ, you even said in your own post that at any given moment 5 people in your hall are sick. Do you think that every person that's been sick has had a unique illness and that the fact that there's always someone new sick is meaningless?

It's a good thing you're in college, because the real world would eat you alive.

Re:concern? (3, Insightful)

ctid (449118) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022389)

Is this pandemic something that American college students at small schools should worry about? Obviously, there is a much higher chance at a university or much larger school (like Penn State with ~45,000 students from all over the world).

It's impossible to answer this because as yet there is no pandemic. All of these stories boil down to speculation that the earth is due another flu pandemic because: (a) they have happened several times before; and (b) we haven't had one for a long time. People are fixating on bird flu simply because it has made the jump from birds to humans. And of course it seems to be coming from the far east and that is where SARS seems to have originated. In broad terms, the press is lazy and uninformed - sickness stories that have far east angle have more currency at the moment, so you hear more about them.

The seriousness of any pandemic will depend on how deadly the strain is and how readily it can jump from human to human. At the moment, H5N1 can't be transmitted from human to human. In order to be able to, it will have to mutate - what we don't know is how dangerous the mutation will be and how easily/quickly we can manufacture a vaccine. I would suggest that there is not much you can do about it, so don't worry too much. One thing that is fairly certain is that the healthier you are in general, the less vulnerable you are likely to be. Of course that's true of any illness, not just flu!

Re:concern? (1)

Scarblac (122480) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022403)

Don't worry about bad things that may possibly happen in the future but that you have no influence over whatsoever. It's a waste of energy.

Re:concern? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022439)

yet it has recieved nowhere near the amount of press that SARS did

You're absolutely right. Clearly, the current strain of avian flu is nowhere nearly as dangerous as all those damned Iraqis running around blowing up our buildings and those gay people using their megagaybeams to disintegrate churches all across the country while unholy darwinists fight tooth and nail to force our children to act like monkeys...

It's in the news, so it must be true!

Human Death Fetish (4, Insightful)

Tim (686) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022307)

"The reason H5N1 is being followed so closely is because it's already spread to people and because it's incredibly lethal (a roughly 50% fatality rate at th moment)." ...maybe.

So far, fewer than 150 people worldwide have been infected with HN51. Many of those people were old and poor, and didn't have regular access to modern medical treatment. Estimating a human mortality rate from these cases is virtually impossible.

It's one thing to say that a flu pandemic is inevitable. But then, so are earthquakes, volcano eruptions, giant asteroids, and the heat death of the universe....

Agh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022311)

Jeez-us enough with inane fear mongering already. Comparing now to WW1 is incredibly inept, a lot of people who died in 1918 were soldiers who sat in muddy trenches and were malnourished. If a disease is too lethal it will kill off its host before it has time to spread significantly, and if its not eventually nature (which inlcudes us) just deals with it. Were all going to die of aids, or sars, or whatever the media is predicting. If a virus realy was going to wipe us out Ebola would have killed off everyone long ago. Maybe we'll have a realy bad flu season, but the Andromeda strain this is not.

About those numbers... (5, Insightful)

Ari1413 (872981) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022313)

I keep seeing these 50+% mortality figures being thrown around, which seems slightly misleading to me. Imagine if 100 people get a disease. 30 might get it asymptomatically. 60 might get the disease to such an extent that they're "sick" (feeling flu-ish, missing work, etc). 10 might get it to the extent that they wind up in the hospital. If 5 of those 10 die, what's the mortality of the disease? It might seem like 50% to a doctor treating these patients, but the actual number would be 5 percent.

Because we can only report mortality of cases which we actually see, health officials are already biased towards observing the most severe forms of the disease. With something like, say, HIV, or ebola, it might be safe to say that all reported cases = ALL cases. But with something like a strain of the flu, which people suffer to varying degrees, I'd guess there's some much larger number of cases that are simply never seen in hospitals.

Death rate -- 50%? (3, Interesting)

jdludlow (316515) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022317)

50% of what? Of people who got sick enough to go to a doctor. Where do the people who never showed up at a hospital fit into this statistic?

Who knows? (1)

Goonie (8651) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022396)

You're right; I've seen at least one report of subsequent discovery of bird flu infections in people who weren't sick enough to seek medical treatment. Secondly it's common for epidemic bugs to become less lethal as they spread; killing the host is a bad way to reproduce yourself. So, as I understand it, a pandemic strain that kills 50% of the people it infects is pretty unlikely. But even a 1-2% mortality rate is going to make even the Indian Ocean tsunami look pretty trivial in terms of death toll.

BBC1, Panorama, Now (1)

WarwickRyan (780794) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022318)

Tune in for an hours worth of "public information broadcast", or why I like to call "it's been a few years from CJD so we need a new overblown threat to hype".

Focusing on a specific strain, which isn't causing humans problems (if it mutates, it's a different strain) is idiotic.

If we're really worried about this, then we just need to subsidise even more PUBLIC (*NOT* private) medical research..

FUD (1)

bergeron76 (176351) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022327)

Fud, if it's good enough for US Corporations, it's good enough for the [current] US Gubernment. Afterall, privatization is much more efficient (except when it comes to FBI, Policing, Military, etc.)

it would change the pharmaceutical industry (2, Insightful)

thogard (43403) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022328)

Right now the US pharmaceutical industry makes most of its money with drugs the reduce symptoms and doesn't cure anything. Right now the flu symptom fixing drugs is about a 10 billion dollar a year industry. The common cold industry has a number of of drugs that make you feel much better but you end up being more contagious for longer so you can spread your cold to even more coworkers.

This is in sharp contrast to the pharmaceutical research done in other countries that are more interested in finding real cures.

Fear-mongering (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022334)

I'm not at all worried about this whole bird-flu thing. The administration is exploiting the bird-flu threat a means to soften up the public to the idea of martial law for quarantining. Less than 70 people have died, it does not spread between humans and is not even here in the US. Once I see people in the US dropping left and right from this then I'll be worried, but right now I'll just wait and see, this will probably turn out to be like that whole y2k flop.

Are you paying attention? (4, Insightful)

sane? (179855) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022335)

If you're not frightened by a flu pandemic, you haven't understood what it is or what it means. If the average case happens we could likely lose 150m worldwide, most probably from the wage earning, productive heart of each community. The speed and breadth of the disease will run it around the world in a matter of a few weeks with air travel and no medical system will have the chance to do much more than count the corpses. Governments are playing down the numbers, predicting from the basis of mild pandemics and allowing years to act.

Its no exaggeration to say this is the most significant threat we have faced in decade - orders of magnitude more important than a few terrorists. Yet there still is a sleepwalking feel to people's reaction.

So how are you prepared?

Ok, I'll bite... (1)

Tuirn (717203) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022420)

Ok. So what do you propose we do to prepare for the end of the world. So far I havn't seen much anything that the average person could do (go hide out in the woods, in my van down by the river?). I got to be honest, if there is absolutely nothing I can really do about something, then I'm not going to worry about it much. The "running around like a chicken with it's head cut off" thing just doesn't work for me.

50% vs 2.5%? (1)

Whumpsnatz (451594) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022336)

I wonder how accurate either of those percentages is. Can we really know who has gotten either disease? Or is it a SWAG both ways? Isn't it possible that people are getting the current bird flu, and recovering without ever knowing they had bird flu? Maybe an epidemiologist could explain the statistical methodology.

(BTW, those specials about pandemics were great. Scary and compelling.)

It seems somewhat overstated right now. (2, Insightful)

Tuirn (717203) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022339)

While I don't doubt that it could eventually get that bad, it seems like a lot of ifs have to happen. As it is, I think what a few hunderd people have been killed by the current version (not exactly a pandemic or communicable). I think scientists should continue keeping an eye on it, but we don't seem to be at the "sky is falling" stage we get from the media. At this point, one of the worst aspects to all of this must be the destruction (or possible destruction) of so many birds and the environmental impact that has.

*yawn* (0, Redundant)

Jeian (409916) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022341)

West Nile and mad cow disease were also going to be crises, as I recall.

Don't believe it... (1)

electrosoccertux (874415) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022342)

Whats with all the flu coverage lately? If we didn't have a vaccine, this wouldn't have even been covered.

I think its silly that people fuss about not being able to get the flu vaccine when 10 years ago they couldn't anyways. I'd tell them to start running or get in shape so that they'd better be able to combat the virus.

So why is Tamiflu withdrawn from customers? (4, Interesting)

dindi (78034) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022348)

Being somwhat affiliated with a few online pharmacies, I know, that Tamiflu (possibly a cure, or at least a good suport medicine to avoid getting any flu) has been withdrawn form public pharmacies and are stocked by the government.

Why is that happening ?
Is this flu propaganda for the drug companies, and fear mongerin ?

These questions came up almost every day looking at searches for that medication, and many claim that this flue, when getting ins a country with decent medical practices/health services has a very small fatality rate. Most people get it in developing countries, and get it in agricultural professions (e.g. farmers being exposed to chickens)....

Before you start trolling on online pharmacies, I never send spam, or sell dangerous meds such as hydrocodone, so don't bother. .....

Anyway I am exposed to medication news because it became part of my revenue, and dunno what to think anymore about that flu panic....

Most people I know say, that it is just a panic by the drug mob to boost sales, but the stocking of flu meds by governments send me a different message....

Re:So why is Tamiflu withdrawn from customers? (1)

Whumpsnatz (451594) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022431)

.... by the drug mob to boost .....

Ya got that right!

Highly lethal viruses (4, Insightful)

JohnsonWax (195390) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022349)

Highly lethal viruses tend to not spread terribly far if they incubate quickly for the simple reason that those who are infected die before they can infect many others. This is one of the reasons why Ebola tends to be limited to individual communities - nobody lives long enough to get it to the next community.

A 5% fatal virus will leave 95% of those infected to act as carriers - and because of the low fatality rate, some percentage of those won't realize that they're sick and will take it on planes, etc. without being diagnosed.

Shocking readers = VIEWERSHIP! (1)

mister_llah (891540) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022350)

Step 1 - Shock viewers
Step 2 - Increase viewership
Step 3 - PROFIT!

===

It sounds like a bunch of FUD to me, the same stuff you hear advertised about the 10 o'clock news... about 'your next drink of milk could be your last' or 'decapitated head found in newly purchased toilet'...

Sensationalism sells... heck, why do you think eggs are good, bad, then good, then bad again, etc... ... because these 'new studies' are a good way to get people to keep tuning in when there really is no news...

Hey, at least it beats starting wars for viewership, I'll give 'em that...

"The reason is because" (goodbye karma) (1)

RPoet (20693) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022352)

I'm seeing this more and more, also on slashdot. "The reason is because ..." is strange and redundant. Please use "The reason is that ..." (more info [getitwriteonline.com] )

Re:"The reason is because" (goodbye karma) (1)

gkwok (773963) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022449)

Even better, eliminate "the reason" altogether: "H5N1 is being followed so closely becaue...."

Vigorous writing is concise. Eliminate unnecessary words.

Furthermore, please use real sentences! "Whether it's from the H5N1 strain...or another strain a few years down the road," causes me to backtrack and read the whole fragment again looking for a main verb, as does, "The 1918 strain being the worst, with 40 million killed."

Long overdue (-1, Flamebait)

ThePlaydoh (248874) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022353)

We could use some population control right about now anyways.

I for One (0, Offtopic)

Saiyaman (859809) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022359)

I for one welcome our new H5N1 overlords.

50% of DIAGNOSED victims (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022365)

You probably need to have pretty bad symptoms and seek treatment to be diagnosed in the first place. Plenty of people are likely to only suffer a (nasty) flu.

Surely high lethality makes for SLOWER contagion? (1)

haggais (624063) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022369)

Every so often one of these very lethal soon-to-be almost-upon-us epidemics is explained (at least in the popular media) to be a great worldwide risk, because it is highly lethal, and those who contact the disease frequently die within a short period.

This does not make sense. To create a proper epidemic, what you really need is sick people walking around for weeks, coughing, sneezing, or otherwise transmitting their contagious disease. If they die shortly after becoming ill, the personal tragedy remains the same, but they have less chance to pass it on...

Re:Surely high lethality makes for SLOWER contagio (2, Informative)

xchino (591175) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022398)

Highly lethal doesn't mean quickly lethal. AIDS is highly lethal, but it takes years or even decades to kill.

50% may be wayyyy too high (4, Insightful)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022385)

Please remember that this is 50% mortality among REPORTED cases. There may be plenty of people out there who get sick with mild or moderate symptoms and treat it like the regular flu, stay home, take lots of liquids, etc. The mortality rate is among people who are admitted to the hospital, and this is probably only people already showing severe symptoms.

The 1957 influenza epidemic (4, Insightful)

eric76 (679787) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022386)

The influenza virus in the 1957 influenza epidemic may have actually been considerably worse than that in the 1918 epidemic.

What made a difference was the incredible advances in medicine between the epidemics.

As for the avian influenza, there is little indication that the virus is being spread between humans and no indication that it spreads easily between humans. If and when the virus mutates and that becomes possible, the mutation may also change the severity of the resulting illness.

Prepare for the worst and be thankful for the best.

Factors in our favor (4, Interesting)

StefanJ (88986) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022388)

We all know that the news cycle runs on hype, and that there are always charlatans, snake-oil salesmen, and fear mongers waiting to pounce when danger threatens.

However, immediately dismissing pandemic warnings is foolish. It makes sense to develop a vaccine and work on contingency plans.

That said:

There are a lot of differences between 1918 and 2005, and 1963 and 2005.
Diabetes and obesity epidemic aside, people are a lot healthier:

* Vitamin deficiences and plain malnutrition are rareities.

* Lice, bedbugs, intestinal worms and such, while not unknown and on the rise in certain populations, are very, very rare on the whole.

* The vast majority of people sleep in their own beds, in warm bedrooms.

* Simple palliative medicines like aspirin, decongestants, anti-diarrheals, and re-hydration drinks can turn what in 1918 were deadly menaces into something merely serious.

* Most people take hot soapy showers every day; soap and hot running water are available in restaurants and workplaces.

A pandemic would certainly be bad news for people on the margins, especially the very poor, very old, and recent illegal immigrants crammed into shared housing. But on the whole, the factors listed above will work together to turn a life-threatening menace into something serious -- possibly temporarily debilitating -- but survivable for most people.

Stefan

P.S. Hey! You! Wash your goddamn hands after you use the bathroom and cover you mouth when you sneeze. Yeah, you!

Just when my karma got back up (1)

MrShaggy (683273) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022413)

At least geeks in general dont really go out, so I think that this will pass us by.. (its a joke, read it that way)

It'll be a sad state of affairs when this happens. (3, Insightful)

steelfood (895457) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022422)

What really gets me is that even if there's some pandemic that could potentially wipe out half of the human race, at the same time, there's also a company that's charging $100 per dose for the treatment of the disease because they hold the patent to the medication or technique and they can milk it for all its worth.

I wholeheartedly applaud governments that step in and invalidate such patents under these circumstances so that they can procure and administer the treatment to their people as they see fit. However, I still find it unfortunate that only the wealthier governments can do this (look at AIDS and Africa). The poorer governments still need to rely on complying with the treaties to the letter or risk becoming even poorer. Even then, not all governments, regardless of wealth, will do this.

I am, of course, specifically talking about the good ol' US of A. When this killer flu arrives in the US, we all know the government isn't going to step in like some of the Asian governments. So what'll end up happening is that the poor and needy who have no health care are completely devastated because they can't afford the treatment or the insurance to pay for the treatment, while the wealthy survive unscathed because they can afford to. And that's really what's most sad--that the wealthiest nation in the world isn't charitable enough to care for its own people. Public welfare be damned, so long as the pharmaceuticals can make back their research money.

As for those screaming that the patent holder will likely license the patent for making generics in such an event, I have two things to say:

1) Licensing takes care of supply, but still doesn't address the cost issue for low-income, medically uninsured people.
2) The way diseases can so quickly spread, by the time anyone recognizes the gravity of the situation, it'll be likely to be too little, too late. Again, supply will go up moderately, but demand will skyrocket.

It's not a lottery (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022428)

The 50% most likely to survive this flu are young children and the elderly. The mortality rate for most geeks is closer to 90%. The healthier you are, the faster you die.

I've been polled twice about the flu (1)

saskboy (600063) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022433)

So far in the past week I've been polled by two major Canadian polling groups, at least partially on the Bird Flu in the news.

I tried my best to show I'm not as concerned as the media is about this threat, since I feel there are more important health measures we can be taking than preparing for a bug that doesn't exist, when there's so many that do exist we don't prepare for or wipe out while the technology exists for us to do it.

You'd think microbes must think the human economy is the only thing keeping polio, TB, Measles, and Chicken Pox from being wiped off the earth like Small Pox was.

Little bird, little bird (3, Funny)

0xC0FFEE (763100) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022434)

I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window
And in-flu-enza.

Stolen from: http://www.stanford.edu/group/virus/uda/ [stanford.edu]

Leet speek should be "H3N1" (1)

swotl (24969) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022442)

after all, it it is a chicken disease we're talking about.

Don't worry- Intelligent Design will Save us! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14022448)

Not. But a solid understanding of Evolution will allow us to *predict* how the lil' nasty evolved, or better yet *predict* how it will evolve in the future (emphasis on predict morans, i.e. a chance of failure, perhaps great, is implied). The theory of intelligent design allows us to predict nothing. Thanks Kansas.

A few things to consider... (1)

c0dedude (587568) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022451)

The world population is at what, 6 billion and some change? When the previous outbreaks occured, world population was much smaller. This has significant epidemiological implications. The First and Third Worlds are now significantly more densely populated. IIRC, the First World, which suffered heavy casualties during the previous epidemics, was already densely populated and the bulk of casualties were in densely populated areas.

Now consider the dense population of the Third World. This is a recent phenomenon - see India's rapid growth (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/Organizations/healthn et/SAsia/suchana/1028/C02_328.htm [harvard.edu] ). Consider the public health infrastructures in India and the US. An outbreak of a highly contagious, highly lethal flu in a newly dense Third World would would wreak devistation on a scale the world has never seen. It would travel quickly and the infrastructure would not be able to respond. Mobility increases -- airports etc. -- would spread such a flu over the earth rapidly.

Here's hoping it doesn't become contagious!

Fearmongering... (1)

RexRhino (769423) | more than 8 years ago | (#14022452)

The world is going to end... you are all going to die from birdflu!!! Unless of course, you decide to give the government billions to "fight" birdflu, you agree to give the government the power to impose martial law and put all resources under the control of the military for the duration of the "epidemic", and we lock up our borders and don't let those possibly infected foriegners in!

Geez, Bird Flue is like terrorism, or global warming, or all those other things that provide fodder to fearmonger people into giving the government more power
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