Friday, April 24, 2009

Watch me play expert....


Okay, probably not something to joke about. But the media has quickly whipped itself into a frenzy over the new influenza strain wreaking havoc in Mexico City. Why? Because it's a pretty rough one, and it's apparently spreading human-to-human. The story only broke within the last 48 hours or so, so there's still plenty of time to bring back all the avian flu / SARS hysteria, which looks like the media's game plan. Only this time it's closer to home and certainly more virulent. And now every pair of kids with a cough and a headache are going to be suspected of having the now dreaded H1N1 SIV strain.

Now watch me play pseudo-scientist / pseudo-journalist and make a prediction: This flu strain will hit tropcial areas much harder than temperate ones.

Recent research has shown that typical influenza strains do not spread well in warmer temperatures, and are not even viable at very warm temperatures. Quoting from this article:
"...results showed that the virus spread more easily at 5°C (41°F) than at 20°C (68°F), with no transmission at 30°C (86°F)."
That's why we sometimes get summer colds but not summer flu's. That's also why influenza is pretty rare in warmer climates.

This strain is apparently different in that regard, as its epicenter is Mexico City - and in April no less, which is its warmest month, with an average daytime high of 79°F (26°F).

A warm weather flu. What a horrible thought.

But because of that, people living in these areas have much less exposure to influenza strains in general, and so presumably, much less immunity to them. This could explain why the handful of cases on US soil have been fairly mild, while Mexico City is practically in lockdown, with schools and businesses closing, and people wearing surgical masks all over the city. There have been an estimated 1000 cases in Mexico City and perhaps dozens of fatalities attributed to it already.

And as you read this, keep in mind my awesome credentials. I'm basing this on, well, uneducated guesswork. What I know about influenza, epidemiology, and human immune response comes mostly from playing Oregon Trail.

I'll make another prediction: This will not be a Spanish flu-like pandemic. But on that one, I'm just playing the odds. There are a thousand flu strains floating around out there, and they pretty much all suck. But real pandemics are extremely rare. And the media certainly has incentives to stir the pot whenever they get a chance.

Here's hoping this flu strain has something in common with avian flu and SARS: A high hype-to-substance ratio.


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At 4/24/2009 10:53 PM, Blogger Katie said...

You have died of dysentery.

Interesting post!

At 4/26/2009 7:04 PM, OpenID onestraw said...

Other things that come to mind are the rate of fatalities vis a vi the available health care in Mexico City compared to NC.

Things that concern me -

#1 those that have died and / or severely infected are young adults, not the very young or very old as is typical. In 1918, the pandemic was similar - healthy immune systems flooded the victims lungs with mucus in an attempt to defeat the virus. Ironically, those with the best immune systems faired the worst.

#2 The shear virulence of it. By the time we were looking for it, it is in 19 of Mexico's 32 states and at least 3 of ours.

#3 Its a new and unknown strain. Given the rate of mutation in influena this is not surprising, but that doesn't make it any more heartening.

#4 Compared to SARS, it appears we have exceeded the death toll on Day 1 vs. its entire cycle.

Hopefully the cases continue to be mild, and the WHO's efforts in Mexico are able to limit the deaths there.


At 4/28/2009 12:35 PM, Blogger e4 said...

But let's keep in mind that those cases and numbers didn't happen all in a day or two.

We only get these numbers after a) somebody notices, b) somebody identifies the virus, c) somebody makes a test for it, d) somebody compiles a list of suspected cases, e) somebody runs the tests, f) somebody tabulates the results, and g) somebody reports it to the media.

At 4/29/2009 9:46 AM, Blogger thenn said...

Realizing your education is not biological sciences, I still feel much less panic than I did before your post. Because worrying won't actually stop a virus, I have decided to accept your theories as fact. I can't actually wash my hands more than I was before, unless I either get a mobile sink, or never leave the bathroom again.


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