Sunday, March 05, 2006

H5N1 Panic Indicators

Reporting of H5N1 is a bit slow at the weekends due to the fact that many of our heros, like those in our Weybridge Laboratory are enjoying EastEnders, fishing or probably both activities at the weekend. As our experts travel back to work during the week reports pick up and so I expect lots more exciting news of H5N1 movement over the next few days. It appears half of the world need the experts at Weybridge, England, to be on hand to tell them the news that H5N1 has visited their chickens, but EastEnders is a very important part of Britains heritage so the world must be patient, especially as things can get very exciting on the EastEnders soap at times.

So what does a non H5N1 expert like me who has no interest in EastEnders look for from a virus with attitude? Well I am very interested in the movement of H5N1 towards England on account of me living there. It is all very well reporting on killer viruses doing in the native population in exotic countries, with unpronouncable names, that are a million miles away, but having a virus that could kill you in your own backyard generally takes on a new meaning, especially when it comes to the subject of self preservation. I am a coward you see. I view a killer chicken virus in the same way I would view a hungry pitbull. Generally I prefer not to be in the vicinity of both occurrences, on account of my love of life, especially my own.

All this said what am I looking for? For Britain I am watching for any movement of H5N1 flying West, especially towards Normandy, Brittany and the Netherlands. When H5N1 reaches these countries then I know H5N1 will be in Britain within a few days.

I am of course also interested in what H5N1 will do in the Americas. Good early warning points are Alaska and Hawaii as these countries are on the flight path of bird migrations over the coming months. How the US public will view all this is hard to say as they have been brought up on decades of disaster movies where the population is saved just in the nick of time by a brilliant scientist or hero like Rambo. So one will have to wait so see if a country, that has spent an impressive amount of money on protecting the public from terrorists and their own citizens, are ready to handle a chicken virus. Noting what happened in New Orleans after a hurricane visited, I believe the USA will be ready for a whole rerun of the Cosbys to forget the whole horrid thing when H5N1 finally does touch down. The joke doing the rounds is that George Bush intends to address the bird flu issue by bombing the Canary Isles, however one cannot put it past the US President to take out Turkey as an afterthought, being as it is an Islamic country after all. Further south is South America and it is hard to say how H5N1 will be able to cope in hot wet countries where even the fish have teeth.

Then there is H5N1 itself. I am watching those genes resorting themselves into new terrifying combinations as H5N1 views humans as the main course after the chicken starters have been served. This area is very hard because apart from
Recombinomics there are few other sources of information about genetic changes in H5N1. People in WHO like to horde their data you see as there is money to be made from developing vaccines for billions of people who will possibly start dying from a chicken virus at anytime soon. It is a new and promising market for the businessman with the right connections, so one cannot blame WHO for showing a shrewd interest in making a quick killing when the time comes. Another way of following the progress of H5N1 is the trail of dead bodies it leaves behind. For instance if minks and cats start dying in their millions there is a strong hint that H5N1 has changed its genetic code to become an expert cat or mink killer. The same could be said about humans. In most cases, except for China, the deaths of humans by H5N1 is reported quickly. When the body count increases beyond a certain number even the most thick observer can conclude there is something wrong.

So there you are. Now you know what I am watching for amongst the latest H5N1 trends. Personally I consider H5N1 watching is better than train spotting. Train spotters may disagree with me on this point, but I am unable to compare H5N1 to train spotting on account that the Government closed down the railway in my town 40 years ago. Watching H5N1 is great fun and plus I have a subject to write about in a blogger.

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