Tuesday, October 11

Bad news about H5N1 flu virus

If you did not see Tuesday's NBC Nightly News, you might want to stop by the MSNBC website and read the transcript of Robert Bazell's interview with Dr. Rob Webster, the physician who discovered that human flu is related to bird flu. The discovery was in 1957 but few paid attention to the implications until was too late in the day to stop a pandemic.

One fact emerged from the interview that I'd not come across before:

Webster observed, "This [H5N1] virus spreads outside the lungs to the central nervous system ... This is the first influenza virus we've seen that does this in a mammal."

I knew that H5N1 is incredibly deadly -- if I correctly recall, one of the problems with making a vaccine from the virus is that it's so powerful it kills the embryos used to culture the virus. Vaccine developers had to work around that. But I had no idea until the Bazell interview that this strain of Avian flu spreads outside the lungs.

I note that Webster did not say that CNS paralysis has accompanied human cases of H5N1 virus; he was speaking about tests done on laboratory animals. But a flu virus jumping the lungs is very bad news.

Is there anything that can be done at this late stage to ward off the pandemic, or at least slow it down? Yeah, sure. First, every government watch everything Hong Kong does in the effort to catch a breakout of the virus in the human population and do the same, as baseline efforts.

For starters, install human temperature sensors at all international airports -- the kind Hong Kong set up when they battled SARS to a standstill on the island.

The sensor is hooked to a computer screen that gives an instant temperature readout of every passenger who walks by the sensor. If the passenger has a temperature, a big red light turns on.

Sound draconian? It's a fighting chance to stop a H2H (human-to-human transmissible) mutation of H5N1 from getting on a plane 10,000 miles away and a few hours later, sitting down next to you in a coffee shop.

On that grim note, I will be on leave for the rest of the week. Until Saturday, then. Best wishes to all.

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