Friday, January 02, 2015

"Avian Flu": straightforward documentary from Spain lays it on the line

On this blog, I’ve tried to pick out films or television episodes that demonstrate serious threats to our “western” way of life.  Some items here probably really should have been placed on the regular movie or TV blog.

Of all the major challenges that we may face, outside of war or terrorism, from the natural world, another “superflu” epidemic may be the most likely.  Avian influenza (or “bird flu”) is more likely to cause widespread death or mandatory changes to our way of life than SARS or Ebola (or HIV).  It might be more likely that a major solar storm.

There is a 25-minute Spanish documentary (in English) on YouTue by Graziella Alemdrall from “New Atlantis Full Documentaries” titled simply “Avian Flu”. 

Appearing in the film are Marshall Bloom, of Rocky Mountain Laboratories, as well as Dick Thompson and Juan Ortin Montin (in Spain).  The film explains that all influenza may have originated from birds, and often makes the migration to mammals and then humans when wild migratory birds mix with local birds (especially geese).  The main avian strains are H5N1 and H7N9 but others will appear.  H1N1 is a strain that had migrated to swine and for which we now seem to have an adequate vaccine.

Influenza tends to spread to other animals and then people in crowded agricultural environments, such as are common in SE Asia.  The virus might become more transmissible person to person through mutation.  So far, there haven’t been any long chains of human transmission from the deadliest strains, like that of the 1918 epidemic.

Toward the end of the documentary, Thompson warns that societies need to plan strategies for social distancing should a pandemic occur. It's obvious that the public health measures could destroy many businesses (like bars and restaurants) forever.  He says it would take about four months to start a vaccine, but why don’t we work on this now, and give people some immunity to specific H5 and H7 proteins, to make the cases milder?  We need some kind of “Andraka miracle” in the vaccine development world. (Sorry, it will still take eight "clock" years before Jack has finished medical school. I guess the good Dr.Daniel Jonas on "Days of our Lives" would love to get credit for solving a problem like this.)

The film says that Avian influenza will normally cause a deep, lower lung pneumonia. In the very worst pandemics, those who had recovered might be asked to work as "volunteers" taking care of those still sick.  The same idea has been mentioned for smallpox.
A 90 minute lecture video by Dr. Michael Osterholm and Helen Branswell, at the Woodrow Wilson Center, “Emerging Pandemic: Costs and Consequences of an Emerging Influenza Pandemic” explains how mutation happens, and how HA anitgens let the virus into cells, and NA antigens enable them to leave and spread to other cells.  The link is here

Stephen King based his 1978 (revised 1990) novel "The Stand" on a superflu that sounds like bird flu -- and it became a TV miniseries in 1995 (four parts, eight hours, with the "good people" winding up in Boulde, CO and the bad people --  Randall Flagg or "The Walkin' Dude" -- in Cibola, Las Vegas).  And don't forget the 2005 ABC-TV film by David Pearce, "Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America".  I remember watching that with Mother! 

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