Sunday, April 26, 2009

US Declares Flu Emergency

"We are declaring today a public health emergency," said Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano at today's White House news briefing.

The swine flu outbreak is a public health emergency because of it's fast spread from human-to-human without physical contact. It is an airborne disease that has sickened at least 20 people in the US, by the latest count of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. The CDC has lab-confirmed reports of swine flu in eight people in New York, seven people in California, two is Texas and Kansas each, and one in Ohio. The eight cases in New York involve students at Saint Francis Preparatory School in Queens; at least one of the students was recently on spring break in Mexico. The California cases had not been to Mexico, however all the victims reside in areas with large Mexican populations, many of whom are recent and illegal.

To present, the swine flu has been mild in the US and has not resulted in death. However, in Mexico of the some 1000 suspected case, 81 persons have died, 20 of those are confirmed swine flu deaths. This is a new strain of swine influenza, A/H1N1, a recombinant of Asian and European swine flu RNA, avian flu RNA, and human DNA. The necessary influenza viruses or partially combined viral RNA plus the human DNA had to be present in at one porcine or avian host in order for the current recombinant strain evolution.

Viruses are unable to reproduce outside of a living cell. Because the virus is not technically alive, it must find a host organism where the virus takes over the host cell's reproductive ability and reproduces itself. In doing so, the viral RNA combines with the host DNA most often making a hybrid that is of no consequence, but sometimes, as in the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic, a very virulent and deadly strain is created.

In the 1918 Flu Epidemic, there were two distinct phases. The first round was in the spring and was fairly mild producing few deaths beyond the norm. However, there was an upsurge the following late summer that was far more deadly, or at least set the stage for greater mortality. The influenza virus had mutated to a stronger strain that severely weakened the victims immune system which then was open to a pneumonia bacterium that quickly led to death sometimes in a matter of hours. Normally, influenza strikes the very old and the very young sparing the the 25-45 age bracket. The Spanish Flu and the current Swine Flu A/H1N1 is so far repeating that pattern.

The ability of viruses to exchange DNA and RNA as single chromosomes or strings of chromosomes makes virulence and morbidity prediction impossible. The choice of chromosomal material is more or less random and can only occur if the major virus has a chromosomal opening, each new piece must fit the existing strand like a key to a lock. And strands from any viral or bacterium RNA will do. As well as any human or animal DNA.

The CDC received samples of porcine tissue from pig farms outside of Manila, Philippines Oct 25, 2008. The tissue was found to have multiple swine pathogens including Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) virus and porcine circovirus type 2, and for the first time Ebola-Reston virus. Ebola-Reston is a hemorrhagic virus that causes severe bleeding from the bodies orifices. It is related to the deadly Ebola virus that has killed many people in Africa, but the Reston variety infects only Philipine macaque monkeys. It's called Ebola-Reston because of an outbreak at a research facility in Reston, VA. In one lab, the monkeys all died from hemorrhagic fever. Other monkeys in the facility were believed to have been safe from infection because they were in a different lab and the virus was not known to be airborne. Soon after the deaths of the original macaques, the macaques in the other labs became ill and died, with the only connection being the air ducting. The virus had aerosolized and was transported through the ventilation system to the other labs. Humans remained immune to the disease, but the disease was not supposed to be transmissible by air, either. Somehow, Ebola-Reston had picked up a viral RNA or DNA strand that allowed for the aerosolization.

Viruses are tricky things. They mutate quickly, spread quickly, and disappear quickly. Exactly what form they may take is anyone's guess. What is known is that they can kill very effectively and should never be taken for granted or dismissed as just another cases of the sniffles. In 1918, people were dead within four hours of symptom presentation. Today, there is still no fast and effective treatment, cure, or diagnosis. If this Swine Flu A/H1N1 mutates into something more deadly, there will be a pandemic with little if anything to stop it.

Some Asian nations are already declaring or preparing to declare quarantines on infected people to prevent the spread of the disease. The Philippines is considering a quarantine for passengers of international flights from Mexico. Japanese officials at Tokyo's Narita Airport have installed a machine at the arrival gate from Mexico to measure passenger's temperatures. China has issued instructions that anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms within two weeks after visiting an infected area must deliver themselves to the authorities.

The World Heath Organization, WHO, uses a disease risk scale ranging from Phase 1 (low risk of pandemic) to Phase 6 (too late, pandemic is already ahead of us.) Government health agencies are consulting among themselves and waiting for more data before raising the threat level from 3 to 4.

It seems that what the smart guys have been warning about for the last few years is very close to happening. Avian flu has combined with pig flu and finally with human DNA. Flying Pig Flu is here.

As bad as this episode may turn out, it could be worse. The combination could include HIV, or Ebola, or any number of other horrific diseases. With influenza we at least have a fighting chance. Stay home if you are sick, do not touch others unnecessarily, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, wash your hands frequently.

The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.


Indigo Rose said...

Ahhh, but Obama has spoken.... there is no cause for alarm.
Just today, 4/28, my Army daughter had to be tested for the Swine Flu. She lives in Texas. We'll know in 3 days....

Indigo Red said...

3 days!! By that time, she could already be demonstrably sick.

Indigo Rose said...

4/29... daughter on prednisone for ailment. What ailment.... well, I still don't know for sure, as the medical staff at Ft. Bliss misdiagnosed her several times over the past few days.
Because the prednisone seems to be it's job, I can only presume it is not Swine Flu.