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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Bird Flu, Jews, Ducks And Watersports

As H5N1 is identified in one location after another in Europe, three things become clear.
1) No one was prepared, and
2) No one can stop it, and
3) Most are still not ready to sit down and think carefully about the implications.

In France, bird flu was discovered on a turkey farm last week. The farmer and a vet suspected the birds were contaminated via straw from a field. Another French farm has widespread illness not yet confirmed as H5N1. The virus is of course in the wild bird population, and a CurEvents FluClinic poster from the area reports that she saw 13 dead pigeons last night. A few weeks prior she couldn't get any of the local authorities to take her reports of dead birds seriously. She says she still can't.

Germany has confirmed H5N1 in multiple location, including in one cat on Ruegen, the island where most cases have been confirmed. This is not a surprise either; cats are known to be infected by H5N1 and have also been confirmed as capable of spreading the disease to other cats (and probably humans). Germany also conceded, after H5N1 was confirmed at Lake Constance, that the infection seems to have arrived last year. Dogs can also be infected.

Sweden reported H5N1 on the Baltic coast today. We can pretty well assume that it will be all around the Baltic. (Good map here.) Interestingly, Sweden's ag minister said that the birds would have wintered there and the implication is that the initial infection occurred last fall as well. Die-offs in Finland occurred and they are testing the birds. Switzerland confirmed H5N1 today.

The implication of the northern European findings for North America are that some H5N1 likely made it to NA last fall. Not surprisingly, HHS Secretary Leavitt testified before Congress today that we should expect outbreaks in the US soon.

The news from Africa is pretty bad. Egypt has a major infection. The Nile runs through Egypt as we all know, and H5N1 seems strongly associated with bodies of water. Most of the ME is now confirmed or suspected. Wild birds will shortly be flying north from Africa for the spring migration, which should make things even more interesting for Europe.

Not that any of this changes the overall risk picture much. All of this has been known - it's just now being conceded officially.

What should concern us all are the very odd pattern of cases in Thailand and Indonesia. I cannot believe that they don't have some H2H going on there, and their doctors seem to believe that they do. The incidence of clusters in Indonesia is very high, although only deaths are usually confirmed. This may be because swab testing for H5N1 usually is negative after the initial phase of infection; after that likely confirmations of human cases would arise from antibody testing 4-8 weeks later in survivors (which has not been routinely done), or autopsies - which are. This also accounts for the staggering reported death rate in Indonesia, which means nothing.

A die-off at a bird sanctuary in the Bahamas is being investigated. It could well be West Nile. But think of H5N1 in Haiti, and shudder....

Right now, my guess is that H2H will come from India or Indonesia. And within a year or two at most. There is an absolutely alarming rise in deaths in Indonesia. See Effect Measure for some background on this topic:
On a different but related note, a few days ago we posted on an interview given by Dr. Andrew Jeremijenko in Australia. There he said the Indonesian virus isolated from birds differed from that isolated from humans and the closest match to the human version came from a kitten he swabbed. I have since had some communication with Dr. Jeremijenko and he clarified the difference in the bird and human viruses lay in a single amino acid in the polybasic cleavage site. This kind of difference would not be expected to affect pathogenicity or host specificity, but it is striking that almost all the human isolates have one version and almost all the avian isolates the other. The cat has the human version, suggesting it is related to, or a marker for, mammalian host adaptation. Dr. Jeremijenko repeated to me his interview assertion that Indonesia authorities are struggling to cope with an ongoing outbreak and needs immediate high level international expertise. The US NAMRU2 lab is still operating but hs no significant input to the Indonesians.
As for India, aside from the fact that they do have H5N1, only God knows what is going on there. It would be impossible to pick up human cases sparking against the background roar of the ongoing flames of regular contagions. I remind you all that the Qinghai strain of H5N1 was first apparently observed in bar headed geese which migrated into Qinghai, China last spring.

Many of them fly over the Himalayas from India and Tibet to China as they head north for their spring migration. In less than a year, this strain of the virus has reached Africa and Europe. It's almost time for the same migration; we could be looking at the next jumped-up strain in about three months. It's known that India vaccinates its domestic fowl for various diseases and that H5N1 exposure was found in blood samples from Indian poultry workers years ago. There are some puzzling aspects to the recent outbreaks in India, regardless.

Expect rumors of a Zionist conspiracy against Islam when this does go H2H. Because, you know, it's always the Jews and their collaborators! Always.

I don't know if any of you are familiar with the exceedingly dark joke about the SS man interrogating a Jew in Nazi Germany in an attempt to get him to admit that Jews were responsible for Germany's defeat in WW I. Finally the man cries out "Yes. It's true! Jews and bicycles undermined the war effort!" Puzzled, the SS man asks what bicycles had to do with Germany's defeat in WW I. His victim responds, "The same thing Jews had to do with it." Well, a spectacularly morbid new version of this joke is in the making. Jews and ducks are next up as the common enemies of the people.

It is time for US and Canadian residents to start thinking about watersports. Swimming, boating and skiing in natural bodies of water may not be the most brilliant idea in the world in the coming year. H5N1 infected birds shed huge amounts of the virus in their droppings. It's believed that the virus is spreading mostly through water contamination.

Great post. So much for sleeping tonight.

The slow, steady march.
The pace seems to be picking up now.

Indonesia looks bad. The army study reported that the virus circulating there has little relationship to the strain used for the vaccine we do have. We have no way of knowing if that vaccine will be effective at all against an H2H strain.
I haven't been able to forget a scene in the great Andrey Rublyov, in which the ascetic icon-painter is stumbling through the woods and comes upon a heretical group of nature-lovers, out for a swim.

Ever since then, I have wondered about the ideological source of our happy wander-esque outings in nature.

If water sports become a bad idea, the birds might help us figure it out, philosophically and physically (addressed more directly here in this Touchstone discussion and comments).
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