Archive for swine flu

The Scientific American

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2011 by rgwallace

Science is the business right now. If the science works, the business works, and vice versa. –Craig Venter

Bird flu marinates a chicken in its own juices, a satay best avoided whatever the menu special. In such short an order better for the bistro than the barn infected birds rapidly bleed from the inside out.

What to do about this bit of bad news?

Broilers and layers are as much commodities as they are birds. As much engineering problems as living organisms. So ask research and development for a solution comes the answer.

It was, after all, by virtue of its open morphogenesis and behavioral flexibility that the chicken was first domesticated multiple times from red and grey jungle fowl distributed across South and Southeast Asia, artificially selected for the backyard, then scaled up in size and population to its factory model.

Continue reading

Advertisements

The Great Recession Flu

Posted in Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , on January 2, 2011 by rgwallace

Swine flu is so 2009. Like La Roux and v-neck t-shirts.

And yet here we are nearly two years later and the United Kingdom is suffering a swine flu attack worse than anything it previously faced. The number of flu patients in intensive care has risen by 60% in the past week to 738, four times greater than at the pandemic’s peak in 2009. Some hospitals are on ‘black alert,’ canceling non-urgent operations and running short on intensive care beds.

Children are taking the worse of the blows. The incidence for the under-four age group is approaching 200 per 100,000, the epidemic threshold, even before the post-holiday return to school, where flus best incubate.

Since its emergence the novel H1N1 strain which swept the planet mid-2009 has quietly remained the world’s dominant influenza strain, sharing the stage with seasonal H3N2 and influenza B. As we’ve discussed several times here, the sustained global presence would likely permit the virus the opportunity to evolve independently across multiple populations under different social and public health regimens.

Continue reading

Pigs Do Fly! Implications for Influenza

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , on December 3, 2009 by rgwallace

The influenza genome is segmented. Eight pieces of single-stranded RNA encode for 11 proteins: PB2, PB1, PB1-F2, PA, HA, NP, NA, M1, M2, NS1, and NS2. The segmentation allows influenza of different subtypes infecting the same host to trade segments like card players on a Friday night. Most of the resulting viruses will express phenotypes for the worse, but a small subset may be transformed into strains more infectious in their usual hosts or to a new host species.

This reassortment accounts in part for the origins of this year’s pandemic. Livestock pigs have long hosted their own version of seasonal H1N1, evolutionarily related to our own. From 1930-1998 the pig version evolved only slightly. But starting in 1998, the virus was subjected to a series of reassortment events. In North America, an aggressive swine H1N1 emerged with internal genes of a human H3N2 virus and an avian influenza. That virus subsequently spread across pig populations, with limited transfer to humans, usually to farm workers, who routinely offer the influenza virus human test subjects every step in its evolution.

Continue reading

Breeding Influenza: The Political Virology of Offshore Farming

Posted in Evolution, Influenza, Sustainable farming with tags , , , , , on November 25, 2009 by rgwallace

What better way to medicate against a holiday’s genocidal origins and the hunger now swelling worldwide in the wake of a banker-brought recession than with a bellyful of turkey, stuffing, yams, and pumpkin pie? Despite its dark ambiguities, Thanksgiving remains my favorite American holiday. Take a breath, eat well, love your family, make time for friends, and, a few drinks later, curse God, badmouth your boss, and regroup for the descent into winter. Here in Minneapolis, dusk is approaching its solstice nadir. Five in the afternoon and pitch black.

Thanksgiving obviously reminds us too of the pathogens the livestock breeding that produces the birds most of us will be chowing on also offers. If the bone breaks your way, you might with sardonic irony wish for a way out of this and subsequent pandemics. It isn’t, of course, merely a matter of a little luck (although that would help). There are due causes for the bad things that happen, often specifically related to the decisions people in power and in the money make. I believe we can think through these fixes and with enough courage to act in the face of threats to life and fortune change the world’s course.

Continue reading

A Visitation of the Influenza

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Farming Human Pathogens book, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2009 by rgwallace

DefoeIn seeping through the world’s every nook and cranny, pandemics have a way of forcing themselves into our lives as a lurking presence. Even the most insular of functionaries, who typically makes his living solving problems by ignoring them, straightens up and takes notice.

As an epidemic wave arrives, each of us faces intimate decisions we may have thought a concern only for someone somewhere else far, far away. Should my family flee, vaccinate, wear masks, scrub regularly, shun crowds, isolate itself, drink brandy-infused elderberry, or, for the jittery among us, just crawl into bed until 2011? Others, on the other hand, may ask whether we should even bother worrying.

The answers are as variable as the people who arrive at them. Over the past two weeks I’ve heard friends and family heatedly talk through their positions online and in the real world. I’ve overheard strangers in cafes, on buses, and on the street wrestle with what were months ago only abstract possibilities better left to the eggheads.

Continue reading

‘Biosecure’ Farms Not So Biosecure

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , on August 26, 2009 by rgwallace

There are times when perniciously false premises are treated as the criteria by which truth is determined. We lose the argument before it’s begun. And where does that leave us in our efforts to control mortal dangers of our own making?

An article of faith among veterinarians and epidemiologists is that large industrial farms are both biosecure and biocontained: livestock pathogens such as highly pathogenic influenza can’t check in, and if they do, they can’t check out. The premise is so engrained that international health agencies have codified levels of biosecurity by the size of farming sectors alone. The operational standard is the bigger the farm, the better its protection.

A paper published last year cuts against the grain. Graham et al.’s review shows industrial farming can promote the spread of pathogens to other farms, to the outside environment, and to farm workers. All three modes can expose surrounding communities to daily doses of the latest and greatest in xenospecific bugs, some of which, as this spring’s swine flu pandemic attests, may take root as widespread human outbreaks.

Continue reading

Yes, Swine Flu Is Worse Than Seasonal Influenza

Posted in Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , on July 15, 2009 by rgwallace

Although most cases of swine-origin H1N1 influenza have been ‘mild’, half of those hospitalized with severe illness have none of the pre-existing conditions that might complicate an influenza infection: asthma, heart disease, hepatitis, immunosuppresion, pregnancy, among others.

A new study explains why. Itoh et al. demonstrate swine-origin H1N1, now pandemic, to be intrinsically more virulent than previously assumed. Indeed, the infection expresses characteristics of some of the more deadly influenzas, including highly pathogenic H5N1, the bird flu virus.

Itoh and colleagues tracked the pathogenesis of the new H1N1 infection. They conducted experiments on mice, ferrets, pigs and macaques, comparing the effects of swine-origin H1N1 and recent strains of seasonal H1N1. The team discovered,

Continue reading