Monday, October 10, 2005
THE BABE IN THE BUNKER Barbara Simpson  2005

The survival crapshoot

By Barbara Simpson

You ain't seen nothin' yet!

If you think the reaction to how the devastation of Katrina was handled by authorities was strong, imagine what would happen if or when, as we're being told we're hit with a flu pandemic caused by the "H5N1" bird flu virus the virus responsible for the catastrophic influenza pandemic of 1918 the worst in world history.

[10-10-2005 ALERT: The U.S Health Secretary Warns of H5N1 Flu Pandemic]

It was not a flu season.   Nor a flu epidemic.

It was a pandemic. A worldwide spread of contagion and death on a scope that only people alive in 1918 experienced and might remember.

If that's not you, consider this: World War I was ongoing it lasted from 1914 to 1918 and 10 million people were killed. But in 10 months of 1918, the Spanish Flu killed between 21 and 40 million people worldwide. More than a billion got sick.

In October of that year, in India, between 12 and 20 million people died of influenza. The flu hit the United States in the fall of 1918. In 17-weeks, 25 million got sick some 670,000 died.

Then as quickly as the flu appeared, it was gone, having caused a public health crisis never seen before or since. Death was rapid and violent.

As described in "Influenza 1918: The Worst Epidemic in American History," by Lynette Iezzoni:

One moment a person was fine, the next incapacitated, delirious, dying. Wrenching coughs produced pints of greenish sputum. Blood gushed from the nose. Body temperature soared to 104 or 105 degrees. Oxygen-starved skin turned blue, purple or deep mahogany brown. Massive pneumonia set in ... patients literally drowned in their bloody, fluid-filled lungs.

Most of the victims were young.

What do you think the reaction would be if it became widely known that after 10 years of work, the genetic blueprint of that killer virus was finally replicated in a laboratory for the first time and that blueprint was published on the Internet not only the gene sequences, but also how to reproduce the virus.

It was announced last week.

Am I the only one upset about this?

The research was conducted under tight security in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labs in Atlanta. Top-secret stuff! Then, they post it on the Internet for all to see and copy and use?!

Are they crazy? Terrorists, anyone?

I'm not the only one concerned about this lapse of sanity. Arthur Caplan, University of Pennsylvania bioethicist, is quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle saying he's "nervous about the publication" of this information "In an age of terrorism, in a time when a lot of folks have malicious intent toward us."

Ya' think?

In fact, there are concerns about even trying to replicate the virus. What if it got loose? Since 1918, scientists had no idea what the Spanish Flu virus looked like. They had lung-tissue samples from a soldier killed by it, but it wasn't until 1997, that they got what they needed.

Dr. Johan Hultin, of San Francisco, went to a small Alaskan town where 72 of 80 residents died in 5 days in 1918. Years ago, he'd been unsuccessful in trying to find corpses with the virus. Then, in 1997, he tried again, on his own. This time he found what he wanted the corpse of a flu victim with intact lungs containing the actual killer virus. From those samples, scientists built a replica.

If there are those who are concerned about publishing the "recipe" for the virus on the Internet, there are those (including me) who have little confidence that the labs possessing vials of the virus can keep them safe from being lost, or misplaced, or stolen, or ..., or ..., or ...

But, there's another danger: natural virus mutation. The warnings began in 1997 as cases of bird flu were reported in Asia. Since then, millions of ducks, geese and chickens in at least 11 countries were slaughtered in hopes of containing the virus. It hasn't worked.

Just last week in Romania, three dead ducks were found and tests showed antibodies to bird flu. Further tests will determine the specific virus strain. A quarantine of all farm birds was ordered in the southeastern Danube delta.

The ultimate fear is for people. Since 2003, more than 100 people have been infected in Southeast Asia, 63 were killed. But they caught it from birds. But since the H5N1 virus mutates quickly, it could jump to humans and then the flu would spread person to person. When that happens, the world will face death in a manner and scope not seen since 1918. Remember, that flu spread from person to person with lightening speed.

The warnings are graphic. According to Michael Leavitt, secretary of Health and Human Services, deaths in this country could number from 100,000 to 2 million with upward of 10 million people hospitalized. He didn't estimate the worldwide total.

Should we believe the cautions? Unfortunately, people know that every "flu season," almost everyone is urged to get a shot. Too often, as happened last year, despite the warnings, the flu was mild.

But you know something is going on when the president calls together representatives from some 80 countries, members of Congress and drug company officials to discuss the possibility of a bird flu pandemic. They met at the State Department for closed-door briefings focusing on the potential danger and means of prevention and containment.

A major emphasis of the meeting involved drug companies and their role in the development, production and distribution of vaccines. The government wants to assure quick production in necessary quantities.

Manufacturers want protection from potential lawsuits because of possible negative vaccine side effects. They also want assurance of a market for the extra product they'll make.

It's not a stretch to anticipate mandated vaccinations, which would assure the market the company's desire. Not a bad deal.

Talk about living dangerously. Dare I say it? It's a crapshoot with our lives.

Barbara Simpson, "The Babe in the Bunker" as she's known to her KSFO 560 radio talk-show audience in San Francisco, has a 20-year radio, television and newspaper career in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.


ALERT:  08 March 2009 - Through lab error a hybrid breed of H3N2 viruses and H5N1 viruses may have been created capable of sweeping the globe in an historically unprecedented wave of human death.

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