Tag Archives: science

AVIAN FLU: I voted against it, before I voted for it.

Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is an infectious disease caused by a virus that affects both birds and mammals.  Notable symptoms include fever, chills, muscle and body aches, headaches, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea.  Most people who diagnosed with the flu may pop a few over-the-counter pills, miss a few days of work and survive the incident with little complication. 

Ferris Bueller is reminiscing about being sick and having a day off.

H5N1, commonly referred to as the “bird flu” or “avian flu,” is a subtype of an influenza virus.  Humans who contact infected poultry or contaminated material may develop the avian flu, which can result in severe respiratory illness, respiratory failure and other life-threatening complications.  According to the World Health Organization, most laboratory cases of humans infected with avian flu result in the death of the patient.

Alfred Hitchcock never imagined that the birds could wreck such havoc.

Still, although deadly, reported incidents of avian flu have been fairly limited.  The virus may be relatively common among poultry in several countries in Asia and the Middle East and it may have been observed in Europe and Africa, but as of last month only around 600 laboratory cases involving humans have been observed worldwide.  That’s a fairly positive statistic, given that those 600 laboratory cases resulted in the death of over 350 patients.  An extrapolation of that figure to a global scale would translate to a worldwide epidemic that may well rival the Spanish Flu and kill upwards of 50 million people to 150 million people.

We may well be moving closer to this type of widespread catastrophe.  Recently, researchers from Erasmus Medical College in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and the University of Wisconsin – Madison created a highly contagious strain of H5N1.  Their testing demonstrated that the virus could be transmitted from one ferret to another ferret.  These animals are fairly reliable indicators of the behavior of influenza viruses in humans, and the communicability of the virus suggests that this new strain of H5N1 may be capable of being transmitted from one human to another human.

Stephen King believes that we should take a stand against the creation of a deadly, man-made superflu.

He’s not alone, as many notable scientists have voiced concerns about the implications of the research.  For example, Dr. D. A. Henderson, a scholar at the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a leader in eradicating the smallpox virus, claims that the research should never have been conducted and that the risks outweigh any potential benefit that could be derived from the work.  Dr. Richard H. Ebright, a professor at Rutgers University and an an expert in bioweapons, agreed with Dr. Henderson, but further explained that “[t]his research should never have been done… [The strain] will inevitably escape, and within a decade…”

Michael Crichton understands the possibility that an andromeda strain may well escape heavily-controlled conditions.

He’s right, but the concerns associated with the man-made superflu are not limited to the possibility that it could escape the confines of a laboratory and infect tens or hundreds of millions of people.  Instead, researchers are determined to fully publish their research in Science and Nature, two prominent scholastic journals.  The publication of the full details of the research could enable terrorist groups or hostile countries to create similar, highly infectious strains that may be used as biological weapons of mass destruction.

Dr. Evil has raised his pinkie to his mouth, and he’s grinning.

The villain may be a work of fiction, but the concerns are embedded in reality.  The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, the federal advisory committee responsible for offering leadership and guidance on biological research that could be misused to endanger national security and public health, reviewed the materials.  It recommended against the publication of the entirety of the research.  The federal agency expressed its concerns to the original research teams, interested nations and the World Health Organization at a summit held in Geneva.  Regardless, attendees and world governments at the closed-door summit announced a surprising and unexpected agreement to publish the full details of the research.

Ronald Reagan is still reminding us about the terrifying implications of officials from the governing being here to help.

Other governments may have reached a terrifying conclusion, but the United States has continued to place an emphasis on the protection of the public…. at least until several days ago.  At that time, the U.S National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity reversed its position and declared that the studies should be fully and openly published in scientific journals.  Dr. Paul Keim, the acting Chairman of the committee, explained that it changed its recommendation because it now believes that the experiments were not as dangerous as originally believed and that the benefits are greater than originally perceived.  Not surprisingly, the editors of Science and Nature immediately declared that they would publish the research as soon as possible.

Although another political figure is reminded of the consequences of voting in favor of an important issue before voting against the same issue, I’m personally reminded that stories about pink slime, half-baked breadsticks and eight pound hamburgers cause much less stress than developments about an issue that threatens unprecedented global disaster.

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Feed a cold, starve a fever and use heroin to treat drug addicts

Question:  What is the most efficient means of treating a patient suffering from an addiction to heroin?

Answer:  Medical professionals should administer regular doses of heroin to the patient.

Wait.  What?

A new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal compared the costs and effectiveness of treatments using methadone, a synthetic opioid often used in treating addicts, with treatments involving diacetylmorphine, more commonly referred to as heroin.  The results demonstrate that long-time heroin addicts were more likely to remain in treatment when administered medically-supervised doses of heroin.  The authors also determined that the prescription of heroin instead of methadone resulted in a significant reduction of societal costs, such as those associated with the criminal justice system.

The study was based upon research conducted through the University of British Colombia, the University of Montreal and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.  The results were released on March 12, 2012.

The study primarily involved a mathematical analysis of data accumulated in NAOMI, an acronym for the North American Opiate Medication Initiative.  NAOMI is a three-year trial of the effectiveness of medically prescribed heron that was funded and approved by two government agencies, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and Health Canada.

An earlier study based upon data accumulated by NAOMI was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009.  At the time, the authors concluded that “diacetylmorphine (heroin) appears to be a safe and effective adjunctive treatment.” The most recent study draws upon this conclusion in determining that the use of diacetylmorphine is not only safe and effective, by may be the best treatment for a person addicted to heroin.  Dr. Aslam Anis, a professor at the University of British Columbia and lead researcher, explains that the use of heroin

would decrease societal costs, largely by reducing costs associated with crime, and would increase both the duration and quality of life of treatment recipients… Because opioid users commit less crime and have lower rates of health care use and death while in treatment, the benefits in cost and health utility attributable to diacetylmorphine (heroin) stemmed chiefly from its capacity to retain patients in treatment for longer periods than with methadone maintenance treatment.

The numbers seem to support the claim.  For example:

  • Nearly 90 percent of patients receiving heroin remained in treatment one year after the beginning of the study.  In comparison, slightly more than 50 percent of patients receiving methadone remained in treatment after the same period.
  • The rate of illegal activity perpetrated by addicts receiving heroin-based treatment decreased by a full 67 percent.  The rate of recidivism was under 50 percent for addicts receiving methadone-based treatment.
  • The researchers estimated that the average lifetime cost of treating an addict using methadone was $1.14 million, based on treatment expenditures, the costs of drug therapy and societal costs derived from criminal acts and law enforcement.  The estimated costs decreases to $1.09 million through the use of heroin.

In other news, scientists have determined that the most effective means of treating obesity is to promote the consumption of hamburgers and cupcakes.

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DOOMSDAY DECISION: could the end of a moratorium lead to the beginning of a pandemic?

Earlier this year, researchers from Erasmus Medical College in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and the University of Wisconsin – Madison created a new highly contagious and fatal strain of the H5N1 bird flu.  The new strain poses a fairly significant threat to the world’s health, given that testing shows that it may be capable of being transmitted from one person to another person.  Many scientists fear that its release could realistically result in a global pandemic marked by the deaths of upwards of 50 million people.

Not surprisingly, reports of the man-made strain sparked immediate controversy amid concerns that the researchers would publish a report that detailed their experiments.  The publishing of the report could very well serve as a blueprint for terrorists or hostile nations to engineer a biological weapon capable of killing tens of millions of people.  Several prominent scientists claimed that the research should never had been conducted, and the parties agreed to a sixty day moratorium to consider the issues.

At least the government has taken the matter seriously.  After all, it is now monitoring social networks and mainstream blogs that discuss this version of the avian flu.

And the government, like many others, is impatiently listening to the inevitable tick-tocking of the proverbial clock.  The moratorium will soon end, and somebody will need to make some sort of decision about something.

Well, here we go.

Keiji Fukuda, the Assistant Director-General for Health Security and Environment for the World Health Organization, has scheduled a meeting to proactively address the upcoming issues.  The meeting is set to commence today in Geneva, and it will be attended by officials from the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, the original research team and other parties.  They hope to determine whether the research should be published in its entirety or whether the research should be redacted or censored prior to publication.

It’s impossible to predict whether the meeting will result in any compromises or agreements.  The debate is being conducted behind closed doors and the public will only have limited access to information until those participating in the summit release the details.  Any decision, however, has the potential to have very significant implications for the future and, at the very least, could serve as precedent for other controversial scientific developments.

In the end, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens – which isn’t necessarily the most comforting scenario given the potentially grave ramifications.

Of course, many folks believe that the Mayan Calendar has already predicted that the world will end later this year.  Forget about Y2K and ignore Harold Camping and Marshall Applewhite – this whole darn argument may well be moot.

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A COMMUNICABLE COMPROMISE: scientists reluctantly agree to delay Armageddon for sixty days

Whew.  We’ve been granted a respite.

On Friday, researchers from Erasmus Medical College in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and the University of Wisconsin – Madison agreed to a sixty day moratorium on research involving a highly contagious strain of bird flu.  The voluntary agreement was published in Nature and Science, two prominent scientific journals.

The research involved earlier experimentation that created a new, fatal strain of the H5N1 bird flu.  The critical component of the new strain is its communicability: research has shown that is capable of being transmitted from one ferret to another ferret.  The animals are considered fairly reliable indicators of the behavior of influenza viruses in human communities, which means that this newly engineered strain of H5N1 may be capable of being transmitted from one human to another human.

The experimentation sparked immediate concern among the scientific community and world governments.  Many responses focused on the possibility that the new strain could escape from the confines of the laboratory, spread among the world’s population and kill upwards of tens of millions of people.  At least a handful of prominent scientists claimed that the research should never have been conducted and that the risks outweighed any potential benefit that could be derived from the work.

In an uncanny coincidence, two days after researchers declared the moratorium, China announced that a 39-year old man who had no contact with poultry died from the bird flu.  The report of the death came just one week after separate deaths from bird flu were reported in Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.

Pretty eerie timing… almost too eerie.  It’s really hard to pass up this opportunity to try to make a tongue-in-cheek comment about coincidences, conspiracy theories and the frightening possibility that the influenza virus has already escaped the laboratories.

But I won’t.  Not this time.  Not ever again.  I promise.

Instead, I’ll simply close by very, very, very carefully noting that the media is now reporting that the Department of Homeland Security is actively monitoring blogs that  cover the avian flu.

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THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: infectious diseases, conspiracy theories and a couple of birds give rise to a very contagious new year

I’ve already proudly admitted that I’m a bit of a geek.  I own multiple editions of the original Star Wars trilogy, know far too much about the secret origins of comic book heroes, and long ago recognized the literary genius of George R. R. Martin.  Hell, at any given time there are more USB cables dangling from my computer than cans of food in my pantry… and I get really, really excited when I find an effective way to simultaneously use each of those USB cables.

This also means that I’m privy to secretive knowledge and information that often eludes the general public.  I understand, for example, how to recognize the cunning actions of a global conspiracy that seeks to suppress contemporary political, economic and social systems and install the fabled New World Order.

It’s true folks.  You may not want to believe it, but you really need to believe it.

The latest treacherous ploy was subtly undertaken while the country was distracted by Thanksgiving, Christmas and National Cupcake Day.  It almost slipped the attention of the mainstream media… perhaps because these mainstream media is largely a pawn for these dark forces.

The plot originates with Aves Palaneognathae and Aves Neognathe.  The general public often refers to these vicious little harbingers of death as “birds.”  They’re again spreading the bird flu, and humanity needs to stand up and take notice of the implications.  Again, you may not want to take notice, but you really need to take notice.

Look, I’ve seen enough George Romero flicks to know that outbreaks of disease are often the result of seemingly inconspicuous medical research gone awry.  Max Brooks holds a special place on my bookshelf, if for no other reason than his written effort to explain the implications of these outbreaks.  Fox Mulder and Dana Scully tried to bring widespread attention to the manipulation of these situations by powerful yet secret organizations.  They were, however, discredited by the unseen powers, who falsely depicted them as fictional characters and cancelled their broadcasts.

Not surprisingly, researchers have created a new highly contagious and fatal strain of the H5N1 bird flu.  They manipulated the existing virus, mucking around with its structure and tinkering with its properties, until they crafted a new strain that is now likely able to be transmitted between humans.  If the genetically altered strain is truly able to be passed from one person to another, it could cause a global flu pandemic that could kill upwards of 50 million people.  Or more.

The World Health Organization’s response has been underwhelming.   In its initial statement, WHO minimized the global consequences of the research, likely in an attempt to quell the public’s appreciation of the gravity of the situation.  It first said that

[w]hile it is clear that conducting research to gain such knowledge must continue, it is also clear that certain research, and especially that which can generate more dangerous forms of the virus….has risks

Of course, the organization followed this statement by issuing more nonsense.  It almost casually noted that it was “deeply concerned about the potential negative consequences” of the research.

Potential schmotential.  There are actual consequences.  Even the current strain of H5N1 is highly pathogenic and kills most birds and nearly 60 percent of the people it infects.  It has already infected nearly 600 people, killing nearly 350It has also resulted in the culling or killing of over 400 birds and has caused economic losses that have been estimated at $20 billion.

Fear not, though.  The media claims that bird flu should have already been eliminated from nearly all of the countries that experienced exposure to it.

Whatever.  Two birds recently tested positive for H5N1 in Hong Kong.  Eight Cambodians recently died after being infected with the bird flu.  Not surprisingly, several weeks ago, a Chinese male recently tested positive for a contagious strain of avian flu.  He almost immediately died of multiple organ failure… yet the populous is supposed to take comfort in the suggestion that the disease has been eliminated in nearly all relevant countries.  Again, whatever.

At least two fearless men are now demonstrating remarkable courage in speaking out against the manipulation of the H5N1 virus.  Dr. D. A. Henderson, a scholar at the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a leader in eradicating the smallpox virus, claims that the research should never have been conducted and that the risks outweighed any potential benefit that could be derived from the work.  Dr. Richard H. Ebright,  a professor at Rutgers University and an an expert in bioweapons, agreed with Dr. Henderson, but further explained that:

This research should not have been done…  [The manipulated strain] will inevitably escape, and within a decade.

If their opinions and predictions translate to reality, 2012 is going to be a wild ride.  Break out those tinfoil hats, folks.  They may not protect you from the bird flu, but at least they block the mind probe.

/sarcasm

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