Everything Old is Flu Again

April 25, 2009

DR. HENRY NIMAN, founder and president of Recombinomics, Inc., makes his living by tracking the evolution of viruses. We interviewed Henry on P.I.D. Radio several times in 2005 about a strain of swine flu in China that looked like a recombinant form of Ebola, an influenza virus that surfaced in Korean pigs that appeared to trace back to laboratories in England in the late 1930s, and the general spread of avian flu around the world.

Dr. Niman has been watching the new strain of swine flu spreading northward from Mexico in recent days, and he doesn’t like what he sees:

The confirmed cases in the United States likely represent a pandemic of H1N1 swine flu. At this point, most confirmed cases in the United States have been mild and there have been no confirmed fatalities. However, in Mexico there has been a high case fatality rate among young adults, 25-44, with atypical pneumonia, which has similarities with the 1918 pandemic.

Moreover, the 1918 pandemic was composed of eight gene segments representing recombination between H1N1 seasonal flu and H1N1 swine flu.

The 1918 pandemic, in case you didn’t catch the reference, was the deadly Spanish flu.

So far, there are 81 reported deaths in Mexico out of about 1,300 cases. If those numbers are accurate, that’s a case fatality rate of over 6%.

In 1918 and 1919, the Spanish flu killed between 20 and 100 million people worldwide and the mortality rate was estimated at between 2.5% and 5%.

The world population in 1920 was about 1.86 billion. Today, there are approximately 6.78 billion people in the world. Do the math. Is the world ready for 70 to 300 million dead over the next 18 months?

Now, modern health and nutrition will shape the way this plays out. It appears that this strain of H1N1 has been far more deadly in Mexico than in the cases reported here in the U.S.

Still, Dr. Niman believes the situation is grave enough to warrant moving the World Health Organization’s pandemic alert monitor to Phase 6, which is the highest number on the scale. If this is indeed a replay of 1918, I’d have to agree.

Sharon has an excellent article about this outbreak at her website. Without trying to capitalize on human misery, I note that her novel The Armageddon Strain is premised on a weaponized variant of the avian flu — a plot point that also figures into my new novel (which is set in the same fictional world as Armageddon Strain), The God Conspiracy.

And this all serves as a reminder that none of us is guaranteed even one more day on this Earth. Are you ready if today is your last?

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