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I hate cliffhangers

This is the sort of shit that scares the hell out of me. The CDC decided to mix up the relatively mild, yet highly contageous H1N1 (the swine 'flu that scared the crap out of everyone last spring and will end up getting about 55% of my friendslist sick this fall and winter) with deadly, yet difficult to transmit H5N1 (the bird 'flu that scared the crap out of everyone a few years ago and kills 60% of the people who get it). And they don't know yet whether introducing these two bugs in a petri dish blind date results in super-duper badness.
The CDC scientists don’t have results of their lab experiments in ferrets yet, said Michael Shaw, associate director for laboratory science for the agency’s influenza division. While the experiments could produce viable combinations of the two viruses, the real question is whether any could create a virus that would spread, he said. “Viability is one thing,” he cautioned. “Whether it’s easily transmissible is another.”

Other experiments conducted so far suggest the new H1N1 virus isn’t terribly prone to doomsday changes. Viruses can change through either mutation of genetic material, or by reassorting with another flu virus. The new virus is lacking certain characteristics that would allow it to mutate to become more virulent, said Nancy Cox, chief of the CDC’s influenza division. “It would be difficult for this virus to acquire some of those known virulence markers,” she said.

As for reassortment, so far the new H1N1 virus hasn’t shown a penchant for mixing with other common flu viruses. In a research note published in late August on the Web site PloS Currents: Influenza, scientists infected ferrets both with the new H1N1 virus and common seasonal strains of H1N1 and H3N2 flu. The new H1N1 pandemic virus didn’t reassort.

“Co-infection of seasonal and pandemic strains did not result in the rapid selection of reassortant viruses that either improved replication or transmission or exacerbated virulence,” they concluded. The federally funded study was led by scientists at the University of Maryland.

Whatever any of the experiments show, CDC officials warn against drawing definitive conclusions. “Influenza is really unpredictable,” Cox said.

As a general FYI, if you get the 'flu shot in the next few weeks, be aware that it does NOT contain any protection against the H1N1. Those vaccines have been approved by the FDA, but they will not be out until October. Ever since the eyball pain of 2005, I usually get a 'flu shot through my gym, though I may go through work this year.



( 6 comments — Say something )
Sep. 17th, 2009 10:36 pm (UTC)
Oh good lord. Because viri *never* accidently escape labs despite everybody's best intentions (much less someone working there getting bribed enough to try to take some out...)

Some days I wonder that the human race has lasted this long, I really do...
Sep. 17th, 2009 10:43 pm (UTC)
Actually, they generally don't. I work with labs all the time, and protocols are generally followed. There's a level 4 lab in Galveston, and it wasn't damaged at all in Hurricane Ike. Scientists take this stuff very seriously.

The scary part isn't that they're doing science. The scary part is what do we do if we learn from these experiments that these two bugs like each other very very much and want to have babies?

Edited at 2009-09-17 10:45 pm (UTC)
Sep. 17th, 2009 10:53 pm (UTC)
Really? I thought it was a huge problem when we were growing up (60s and 70s), but maybe that was just germ warfare propaganda?
Sep. 18th, 2009 01:18 am (UTC)
Labs are a lot more regulated now than they were in the past. Maybe it was true in the 60s and 70s, but I never hear about it now.
Sep. 18th, 2009 01:24 am (UTC)
That's comforting. I still don't like the idea of people combining a highly contagious flu with a deadly flu since it seems like asking for trouble to me, but I'm very glad they're regulated enough to not be as terrifying as it felt at first when I read it.
Sep. 18th, 2009 12:11 pm (UTC)
Can't wait until Tuesday, when Leander (barring, of course, yet another illness before then) gets his 1 year shots, and we all get flu shots...
( 6 comments — Say something )