Avian/Swine Flu

So Long It’s Been Good To Know You

So… we're experiencing the deadliest outbreak of ebola in history.  It's so bad that the leading ebola doctor died yesterday.  Fortunately, it is all happening in Sierra Leone and other parts of Africa.

But then this happens:

Part of CMC ER roped off  officials say patient being tested   www.wsoctv.com


UPDATE:   They were checking out a patient who wanted to be checked out because s/he just came back from a country with infectious diseases (country and possible diseases unknown).

More Animal Carnage

Two million fish in Chesapeake Bay.  The somewhat unconvincing reason for their death, we're told, is "cold weather stress", because (I suppose) the Chesapeake never ever gets cold or something.

Let's add this to the recent of spate of silly animal deaths:

…hundreds of thousands of fish dying in the Arkansas River near Ozark (experts suspect some type of infection), thousands of birds littering the ground in Beebe, Ark., (fireworks may have literally scared them to death) and hundreds of birds dead along Louisiana's Route 1 (perhaps because of a "controlled kill" by authorities or an encounter with power lines).

The only thing needed now to propel this into a new lvel of ridiculousness is an interview with Kirk Cameron…. and even he can't believe he's being asked questions about it.


It’s A Bird — Nay, A Plane — Nay, It’s…..

Superbug!  And it's going to kill us all:

BOSTON, Massachusetts (AFP) – A new superbug from India thought to be resistant to nearly every known antibiotic poses a global threat, scientists warned Monday, urging health authorities to track the bacteria.

"There is an urgent need, first, to put in place an international surveillance system over the coming months and, second, to test all the patients admitted to any given health system" in as many countries as possible, said Patrice Nordmann of France's Bicetre Hospital.

"For the moment, we don't know how fast this phenomenon is spreading… it could take months or years, but what is certain is that is will spread," he told AFP, noting that measures have already been agreed in France and are under discussion in Japan, Singapore and China.

"It's a bit like a time bomb."

E Coli Conservatism

"E Coli conservatism", a phrase coined by Rick Perlstein several years ago, speaks to the call by conservatives to streamline or cut away at government services, and the consequences of such efforts.

We're experienceing e coli conservatism now, in the most literal sense of the phrase.

You've likely heard about the egg recall that's currently underway, in the wake of at least 1,300 salmonella-related illnesses spanning 22 states over the summer.  A midwest producer shipped tainted eggs to supermarkets across the country, causing more than 1,300 known infections — with more, possibly, to come. The company ran the kind of factory farming operation that, experts have long warned, made salmonella infection more likely. Its owner had previously paid millions in fines for violating labor and safety regulations. But nobody had inspected the plant and, as a result, nobody knew about the contamination until after people started getting sick.

But Jonathan Cohn reminds us:

This is not a story that begins with the administration of George W. Bush. It begins, instead, with the administration of Ronald Reagan. Convinced that excessive regulation was stifling American innovation and imposing unnecessary costs on the public, Reagan's team changed the way government makes rules.

Prior to the 1980s, agencies like the FDA had authority to finalize regulations on their own. Reagan changed that, forcing agencies to submit all regulations to the Office of Management and Budget, which cast a more skeptical eye on anything that would require the government or business to spend more money. The regulatory process slowed down and, in many cases, the people in charge of it became more skittish.

Clinton didn’t share Reagan's antipathy to regulation. Prodded by consumer advocates and more liberal Democrats, his administration announced its intention to impose new safety requirements on the egg industry. But that happened in 1999, a year before Clinton left office. When George W. Bush succeeded him, the administration’s posture reverted to its 1980s version.

Like Reagan, Bush was skeptical of government interference in the market. And, like Reagan, he appointed officials sympathetic to businesses that wanted to avoid the cost of complying with new federal rules. It was not until 2004, five years after Clinton had proposed the new egg rules, that the Bush Administration issued actual regulatory language. And by 2009, when Bush left office, the administration still had not finalized the rule.

William Hubbard, who was associate FDA commissioner from 1991 until 2005 and now advises the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, tells TNR that the delay was not accidental:

The FDA simply couldn’t get through to the White House. They were very hostile to regulation. … I was told that each time FDA tried to get the rule cleared through OMB, the response was that there were "not enough bodies in the street," — that the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths did not rise to the level to justify greater regulation of egg producers. Obviously, public health officials felt strongly that there was a strong justification, but the prevailing attitude at the time within the Administration was that regulation was an evil that should be avoided unless there was a compelling argument for government action.

The salmonella outbreak ought to remind many that the Republican crusade against government has its drawbacks.  Only government has the power to regulate and enforce businesses from the nefarious practices that led to this outbreak.  

In addition, the New York Times today has a piece on how the United States, suffering from deregulation fever, refused to vaccinate hens of the very same disease.  Smart, huh?

Sadly, I think the message will be lost.

Vaccine Waiver For Creationists

This guy has a good point. 

If you don't believe in evolution, you should not be getting any flu or H1N1 vaccines.  Why not?  Because flu strains evolve each year, and since you don't believe that living things evolve, then why are you taking a vaccine shot every year?  Especially this year, when flu vaccines are in short supply?

Instead, creationists should get a vaccine waiver.


Not Fearing The Reaper

Seeing as how the swine flu is no more deadly than the regular strains of flu that pass through every year, nor any more contageous, I'm officially calling this pandemic alert "overhyped" and removing info from the sidebar.

(On the other hand, we've got tornado warnings here….)

Great Moments In Punditry: Swine Flu Edition

Pat Buchanan:

Because of the peril of swine flu, Joe Biden said yesterday, he would urge his family to stay out of "confined places" like airplanes and subways here in the United States.

Yet, the Obama administration will not consider closing the United States to airplanes and buses coming in from the epicenter of the epidemic, Mexico City.

Does this contradiction make sense?

Pat, you get swine flu from exposure to the virus, not from Mexicans.  The virus is already here.

Closing the borders would be like installing Norton Utilities after your computer has been infected and spread the Trojan Horse to other computers.  Or running off to Target to buy a fire extinguisher when the entire first floor of your house is ablaze.  In other words, that horse has already left the barn.

This is a very infectious strain.  And symptoms show up long after infection.  So you're not going to prevent it from coming.  It's here.  The thing to do now is take precautions to prevent its spread.

On the other side of the coin, you will be doing harm to the economy of both countries by closing the border.

But thanks for sharing your xenophobia.


Time to spread a little lovin' once again to "America's Worst Legislator"TM, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN).

First of all, she weighs in with her thoughts about the swine flu pandemic alert:

"I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter," said Bachmann. "And I'm not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it's an interesting coincidence."

Interesting coincidence?  How?  If you're not blaming this on President Obama, then what is your point, Congresswoman?

Oh, and by the way, the swine flu outbreak occured in 1976…. under President Gerald Ford.

And earlier this week, Bachmann took the House floor to give a speech:

"As a matter of fact, the recession that FDR had to deal with wasn't as bad as the recession Coolidge had to deal with in the early 20s. Yet, the prescription that Coolidge put on that — from history — is lower taxes, lower regulatory burden, and we saw the 'Roaring 20s,' where we saw markets and growth in the economy like we'd never seen before in the history of the country. FDR applied just the opposite formula. The Hoot-Smalley Act, which was a tremendous burden on tariff restrictions. And then, of course, trade barriers, and the regulatory burden and tax barriers. That's what we saw happen under FDR that took a recession and blew it into a full-scale depression. The American people suffered for almost ten years under that kind of thinking."

Now, what is interesting about this is that she was reading from a prepared script, so she obviously had done some research.  

Or maybe not.

First of all, there was never such a thing called "the Hoot-Smalley Act".

Secondly, "a tremendous burden on tariff restrictions"?  What the fuck does that mean?

Now, there was something passed during the Great Depression called the Smoot-Hawley Act, and it did exacerbate the bad economic conditions.  Except that FDR didn't pass it.  It was signed into law by Herbert Hoover, a Republican, in June 1930.  And the bill was sponsored by Sen. Reed Smoot and Rep. Willis Hawley.  They were both… yes, you guessed it… Republicans.  FDR showed up on the scene almost 3 years later, in March 1933.

Finally, the notion that "FDR took a recession and blew it into a full-scale depression" is simply false — you don't need me to tell you how to read graphs….


Swine Flu — How Bad Is It?

Not bad, but not good.

The World Health Organization raised it to a Phase 4.  The U.S. stll has it at Stage 0, but expect that to go up tomorrow.


P.S.  Yes, I know I'm blogging about this a lot.  I don't think we're at death's door, or the fall of civilization is imminent.  I just like the subject matter (I took a class in epidemilology once).  I understand that mass media is going apeshit over it, basically trying to get everyone to believe that we'll all die tomorrow.  Well, it IS sweeps week.

It’s Heeeeere…..(Maybe)

NC isolates patients who may have swine flu

An Open Letter To Rep. Susan Collins (R-Me)

Dear Rep. Collins:

Your website boasts that you led the fight to cut "$780 million" for pandemic-flu preparedness from Obama's stimulus package.

It kind of makes you look like a jerk now.

You're probably still wondering what pandemic-flu preparedness has to do with an economic recovery stimulus bill.  Sadly, I think you're about to find out.

But it was explained to you before:

When House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long championed investment in pandemic preparation, included roughly $900 million for that purpose in this year's emergency stimulus bill, he was ridiculed by conservative operatives and congressional Republicans.

Obey and other advocates for the spending argued, correctly, that a pandemic hitting in the midst of an economic downturn could turn a recession into something far worse — with workers ordered to remain in their homes, workplaces shuttered to avoid the spread of disease, transportation systems grinding to a halt and demand for emergency services and public health interventions skyrocketing. Indeed, they suggested, pandemic preparation was essential to any responsible plan for renewing the U.S. economy.

But former White House political czar Karl Rove and key congressional Republicans — led by Maine Senator Susan Collins — aggressively attacked the notion that there was a connection between pandemic preparation and economic recovery.

It's kind of like when Bobby Jindel mocked the stimulus package for containing a few million for "volcano monitoring".  Jindel claimed to not know what the hell that was about, therefore (he reasoned) it must be pork.  Less than a month later, an Alaskan volcano erupted.  But we were able to protect lives and divert plane flights, etc., thanks to… volcano monitoring.

I know, I know.  You were just trying to attack the spending in the stimulus bill, because that's how you maintain your GOP cred. 

Thankfully, you lost that battle.


The Seventh Sense

P.S.  I don't know if you know the governor of Texas — Governor Rick "Texas Can Secede" Perry.  But if you see him, perhaps you can ask him why the supposedly "self-sufficient" state of Texas has to borrow all kinds of federal money to fight the swine flu outbreak, and what Texas would be doing right now if it were, as many Texans hope, a totally independent nation.

It seems to me that bashing the federal government for spending is in vogue with a lot of conservatives, but they're more than happy to take the money.

Bad Bird Flu News

Not good news:

Tests on a father diagnosed with bird flu in China show he probably caught the disease from his dying son.

Scientists are concerned that if the virus evolves to pass easily from human to human millions could be at risk.

A genetic analysis of the Chinese case published in The Lancet found no evidence to suggest the virus had gained that ability.

But an expert has warned that failure to control outbreaks of disease in poultry is fuelling the risk to humans.

Note the word “easily.” It’s only a matter of time before the virus mutates to that point.

The Coming Pandemic

KisskisI haven’t written in a while about the Avian Flu — mostly because it looked like it was under check.  You know, a bunch of Asians french-kissing chickens.  The virus wasn’t something likely to spread from human to human.


Oh, crap:

A mathematical analysis has confirmed that H5N1 avian influenza spread from person to person in Indonesia in April, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday.

They said they had developed a tool to run quick tests on disease outbreaks to see if dangerous epidemics or pandemics may be developing.

Health officials around the world agree that a pandemic of influenza is overdue, and they are most worried by the H5N1 strain of avian influenza that has been spreading through flocks from Asia to Africa.

It rarely passes to humans, but since 2003 it has infected 322 people and killed 195 of them.

Most have been infected directly by birds. But a few clusters of cases have been seen and officials worry most about the possibility that the virus has acquired the ability to pass easily and directly from one person to another. That would spark a pandemic.

The sucker has mutated.  It’s deadly.  There is no known vaccine.

Don’t panic.

Bird Flu Update

"Whatever happened to the bird flu?" my mother asked me when I was up for Christmas. "Wasn’t that supposed to be the next big thing to kill us all?"

I pondered the question and bluffed an answer, laced with cynicism: "Oh, it’s still around.  In fact, it’s worse.  You don’t hear about it on the news because it’s not as much of a ‘grabber’ when compared to some missing blond teenager, or the latest antics of Tom Cruise."

Turns out I was right:

Bird flu killed three members of a family in Egypt, pushing the number of fatalities worldwide this year to 79, more than reported in the previous three years combined.


The H5N1 virus is known to have infected 261 people in 10 countries in the past three years, killing 157 of them, WHO said yesterday. Last year, 42 fatalities were confirmed, after 32 in 2004 and four in 2003. Six of every 10 reported cases have been fatal and a majority of cases has occurred among children and young adults.

The article goes on to explain that while fatalities have gone up, actual infections have gone down recently:

Since July, 26 human cases have been reported in four countries, compared with 88 infections in eight countries in the first half of the year.

But this dropoff in the last half of 2006 is not necessarily something to celebrate.  There were also similar dropoffs in the last halves of 2005 and 2004:

A few slow months in cases doesn’t mean that the threat of pandemic is at an end, said Peter Sandman, a risk communication specialist in Princeton, New Jersey.

"When you install a smoke alarm in your house and then go a year without a fire, that doesn’t mean you were foolish to install a smoke alarm,” said Sandman, who consults to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on pandemic communication. "It means it’s time to change the batteries.”

Now, some may wonder: "Wait a second…. we’re only talking about 261 infections in the past three years?  This isn’t an epidemic that I sholud worry about!"

Well, perhaps.  But just because we didn’t have a category 5 hurricane this year doesn’t mean we’re never going to see another Katrina.  And, as DemFromCT explains, even the pandemic influenza of 1918 started off as a few fatalities per year.

An ounce of prevention and all that….

Bird Flu Update

Ot121904s Look, I’ve blogged about this subject before, so obviously I’m concerned.  But I don’t think we need to instill panic:

In a remarkable speech over the weekend, Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt recommended that Americans start storing canned tuna and powdered milk under their beds as the prospect of a deadly bird flu outbreak approaches the United States.

Ready or not, here it comes.

Storing canned tuna under the bed?  This is what our government is telling us to do?

I’m sure the people at "Chicken Of The Sea" will be grateful for the panic shopping, but are probably huddling right now in the conference rooms to give serious consideration to a name change for their product.

It is being spread much faster than first predicted from one wild flock of birds to another, an airborne delivery system that no government can stop.

"There’s no way you can protect the United States by building a big cage around it and preventing wild birds from flying in and out," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Michael Johanns said.

I have an idea.  How about Minutemen?  Why don’t they guard our borders?  Dick Cheney, an avid bird hunter, can teach them to shoot.

No, wait.  Maybe not that last part.

U.S. spy satellites are tracking the infected flocks, which started in Asia and are now heading north to Siberia and Alaska, where they will soon mingle with flocks from the North American flyways.

"What we’re watching in real time is evolution," said Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. "And it’s a biological process, and it is, by definition, unpredictable."


Even on a model farm, ABC News saw a pond just outside the protected barns attracting wild geese.

It is the droppings of infected waterfowl that carry the virus.

Okay.  Well, so much for the pool this summer.  Shit.

The bird flu virus, to date, is still not easily transmitted to humans. There have been lots of dead birds on three continents, but so far fewer than 100 reported human deaths.

But should that change, the spread could be rapid.

ABC News has obtained a mathematical projection prepared by federal scientists based on an initial outbreak on an East Coast chicken farm in which humans are infected. Within three months, with no vaccine, almost half of the country would have the flu.

But, of course, the most powerful nation in the world has the best health care system in the world, so there’s no need to panic, right?  Right?

Anyway, here’s a handy dandy fact sheet (click on it to enlarge):


Have a nice day.

Cat In Germany Has Bird Flu

This menace is getting closer and closer every week it seems:

Sylvestr BERLIN – The deadly strain of bird flu has been found in a cat in northern Germany, the first time the virus has been identified in the country in an animal other than a bird, a national lab said Tuesday.

The cat was found on the northern island of Ruegen, where most of the more than 100 wild birds infected by the H5N1 strain have been found, the Friedrich Loeffler institute said.

Bird Flu Getting Closer

R1631448150The avian flu has moved from third world countries to second world countries.  Specifically, it’s arrived in Germany.  Only two swans affected so far, but it’s only a matter of time.

I have to run to the ATM machine and stock up on canned goods.

Our Mayor Freaked Out Over Bird Flu

From today’s Winston-Salem Journal:

Mayor Allen Joines said that mayors from cities nationwide who attended a conference in Washington are getting sobering information about the threat of a bird-flu pandemic in the United States.

"It’s not a question of if it’s going to come, it’s a question of when it will hit," he said.

And when it does, it could affect 15 percent to 35 percent the U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Winston-Salem, that would mean that 28,544 to 66,604 people would be affected, according to the latest Census figures, which show the city with a population of 190,299.

That’s it.  I’m moving to Kernersville.

Better Early Than Late

I was watching a Tivo recording of Bill Maher’s HBO show from last Friday.  I forget now what the topic was, but one of the panelists noted that Bush has such low expectations now (even from his supporters) that when he does something even half-way  right, everybody tends to applaud and praise him.  You know, as if he is a child who says — for the first time — "excuse me" after he burps.

So I originally wanted to be magnanimous and applaud Bush for taking a pre-emptive stance on this bird flu thing well before it strikes.  After all, the federal should prepare for things like this, rather than scramble around in a Katrina-like sideshow after the disaster strikes.

But the thing is, by praising Bush for doing the minimum of what is expected from a leader, I play into the "lower expectations" game.

That said, I’m pleased that — at least on this issue  — Bush seems to be forward-thinking:

President Bush said Tuesday that his flu pandemic plan calls for investing in technology for greater vaccine production and breaking down barriers to bring it online quicker.

In a speech at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, Bush said the plan provides funding for early detection, containment and treatment of an outbreak.

The strategy also calls for improving the process of creating flu vaccines and stockpiling antiviral drugs.

Let’s hope it’s not political posturing, and we actually see some plans being implemented.

UPDATE:  Yeah, I figured this was the angle: Rumsfeld has made $1 million dollars off the flu vaccine.

Holy Crap

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — The likelihood of a human flu pandemic is very high, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said as he began a tour of Southeast Asia to coordinate plans to combat bird flu.


Avian Flu Update

I think this is going to be a big story, so I am inventing a separate category for it:

WASHINGTON – In developing a plan to deal with any possible outbreak of pandemic flu, the Bush administration has concluded that the United States is woefully unprepared for what could become the worst disaster in the nation’s history.

A draft of the final plan, which has been years in the making and is expected to be released this month, says that a large outbreak that began in Asia would, because of modern travel patterns, likely reach the United States within "a few months or even weeks."

If such an outbreak occurred, hospitals would become overwhelmed, riots would engulf vaccination clinics, and even power and food would be in short supply, the plan says.

The plan, a 381-page document that was obtained by the New York Times, calls for quarantine and travel restrictions but concedes such measures "are unlikely to delay introduction of pandemic disease into the U.S. by more than a month or two."

The plan outlines a worst-case sequence of events in which 1.9 million Americans will die and nearly 9 million will be hospitalized with costs exceeding $450 billion.