Archive for U.S.

The Hog Industry Strikes Back

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2009 by rgwallace

Swine flu H1N1 appears at one and the same time moving full-boar and on its cloven heels. The World Health Organization reports 15,510 official cases in 53 countries, with new countries regularly reporting in. An order or two more cases are likely unreported and together represent an atypical spring surge for influenza. At the same time, the strain’s virulence appears presently no more than along the lines of a bad seasonal influenza.

One of the mistakes we need avoid is to assume we’ve been victimized by a media-fueled hysteria. Given the mortality rates reported at the beginning of the outbreak in Mexico—exceeding that of the 1918 pandemic—it looked like we were in for it. Previous pandemics teach us that preparing for the worst is the prudent option. Imagine the reaction if only feeble preparations were made in the face of a truly deadly pandemic. The cost of a Type II error, thinking no pandemic possible with one imminent, is catastrophically greater than that of its Type I sibling, thinking a pandemic imminent with none in the offering.

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The NAFTA Flu

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2009 by rgwallace

Cases of swine flu H1N1 are now reported in Honduras, Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, Austria, Thailand, Israel, etc. Can’t keep up at this point.

H1N1 is making its way across the world by hierarchical diffusion. By the world’s transportation network it is bouncing down a hierarchy of cities defined by their size and economic power and their interconnectedness to Mexico City, the international city closest to the initial outbreak. It’s no coincidence that New York and San Diego were among the first cities hit. The virus is also engaged in contagious diffusion, spreading out within each new country hit.

For the most part only a few cases have been reported in countries other than Mexico. But as influenza, unlike SARS, can transmit before symptoms show, there may be no way to stop H1N1 now. New York now reports hundreds infected.

What is clear is that the more countries affected, the more likely the virus will find chinks in the world’s epidemiological armor. The new strain may develop the right epidemiological momentum once it reaches those countries whose public health infrastructures are underdeveloped or undermined by structural adjustment programs. On the other hand, that may have happened from the start. Since the early 1980s Mexico has been subjected to IMF-specified truncations in animal and health infrastructure.

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