15 November 2005

Bird Flu Hysteria

  • Chuck Simmins

  • gives a sane answer to the question I've been asking.

    Frightened by media reports?
    Go have a look.

    1 comment:

    GG said...

    Medical research is always tricky and the stats never prove anything for certain.

    For one thing, it’s hard to get very many people with exactly the same demographics to volunteer. Get 100 people who are the same age, same sex, same size, same co-morbidity? Doubtful. Now try to get them all to volunteer for an experiment that might be fatal. The sample size just went to zip.

    So researchers are often left to glean information from small samples of non-volunteers under less than prefect research conditions. I wouldn’t write off Chinese research too quickly, though. They have a long history of taking research seriously. There was a time when a Chinese physician could lose hands or even his head if his patient died,,, especially if that patient was the Emperor or a Royal. Good thing the Emperor gave his Docs thousands of peasants as test subjects.

    Thankfully, medical researchers have to use Independent Review Boards (IRB) now and the research is vetted for ethics, feasibility, and subject rights. It isn’t a perfect system but hopefully it prevents more Tuskegee incidents. The resulting statistics don’t always have a clear meaning but if it the paper is published in a juried publication, it has the benefit of independent expert opinion.

    I’m not sure if we should be worried about the Avian Flu or not. The CDC seems alert but not overly so. But then those guys are scare proof. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/gen-info/transmission.htm

    Anthrax and Ebola are examples of deadly organisms that we have recently begun to understand their limitations,,, things didn’t get as bad as predicted when people were exposed. Of course HIV is another example of a bug that got so out of control, it nearly shut down our Blood Banks. (It did get rid of all vampires though!)

    Of course, a worrisome thought is that there are people out there who would try to splice a deadly but limited virus’ with other organisms that can live anywhere. But that’s another discussion

    Higher on my list of bothersome germs are the ones we already have – penicillin resistant, Methicillian (souped-up penicillin) resistant and now Vancomycin (super souped-up penicillin) resistant. These little gems are alive and well in our hospitals, and they love the ICU. What’s worse is that if a patient receives antibiotic and their germs mutate to overcome that drug, the effect will be felt by everyone,,, not just the patient.

    Organisms mutate all the time. A few years ago, the CDC was called to a small area in South America where seemingly healthy infants would get sick and die within 2 or 3 hours. The infants would get fussy, spike a fever, develop a rash and then bullae. The bullae would become black, circulation to the limbs would shut down, hemorrhaging would start, and in a short time, the infant would die.

    It turned out the organism was a mutated form of the one that causes pink eye. Why would this happen in a place that rarely uses antibiotics? What kept it from spreading more than it did? Why didn’t it attack older children or adults? I don’t know. And I’d bet my birthday that the news media doesn’t know about that incident or they would have screamed terror from the mountain tops. Good thing they limit themselves to reporting what they hear from each other.

    There are lots of books about the Flu of 1918, the many plagues of the 13th Century etc. but three of my favorites are more contemporary – “Hot Zones” , “The Cobra Event”, and “The Demon in the Freezer” by Richard Preston. His writing is vivid and finely chiseled (but it is not for the squeamish) and his brother is a Doctor at the CDC.