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Monday, March 06, 2006

Bird Flu - The Rodents

I was the last person left standing - my entire office was laid low by the flu today. Paradoxically I had a lot of time to think. I was answering the phones and not working very much on projects. It was kind of restful, in a hectic type of way.

Anyway, I parsed and diced the H5N1 numbers one more time, took another good hard look at Indonesia, at central Asia and read back through the Chinese test results on H5N1 and here's my conclusion: The virus is spreading through mice and rats in Indonesia and in what used to be the old Soviet Union. In most places it is coming in on the wing of wild birds, but then the infection spreads to the rodent population. That chain of infection is slower, but it is inexorable.

This means that poultry houses in the US are going to be infected. I spoke to several people who know about the US poultry business, and asked them if they'd ever seen a mouse-proof facility. They said no. Don't believe what the experts say. Most poultry operations in the US may be indoors, but they are not biosecured against rodents. There may be some, but they will be few.

I'm serious when I tell you not to handle raw fowl (chicken, duck, turkey) with bare hands and to hard boil any eggs you eat. You should boil eggs until they are noticeably shrunken inside the shell. No way is this virus not going to be present in US poultry quite soon. It's also known to spread to swine, so take the same precautions when handling pork. Cats and dogs can get it. Probably horses can too.

Other than that, drink a lot of water, get plenty of sleep, leave your shoes at the door, wash your door knobs, kitchen and bathroom fixtures down with bleach daily and eat your vegetables. Get used to washing your hands before you touch your face. This probably won't go H2H until 2007, not that we will have much time to prepare when it does. I figure three to four weeks warning at most.

Avoid natural bodies of freshwater. Snorting H5N1-infected water up your nose or getting it in your eyes is an extremely effective way to get a bad case of this bug. Some strains have been reported to be neurotropic. Getting a big dose of it in the eyes or the nose is way, way too close to the brain.

You want to buy a pair of swim goggles for tasks such as washing the car. Avoid get splashed in the eyes with water not coming out of your showerhead, and don't let a dog or cat lick your face. Don't sleep with them either.
According to the Chinese, one strain of H5N1 was also infecting fish. They noted that the bones of the infected fish appeared to soften. So that means that you might want to think about using the same precautions in preparing and eating fish. No one knows whether you might contract it that way. Do you want to conduct the experiment on yourself?

From here on in it is a crapshoot. We cannot expect to get any good information out of Africa or India, so there will be no real warning. And there will be multiple waves of mutation, recombination and human infections. I bet at least a quarter of the rural human population in the areas where this virus has been present for a while have some H5 immunity. Africans, Europeans, some central Asian populations and the New Worlders won't; nor will the native wildlife populations. So it may well hit harder in those areas.

Don't believe anything the experts say; they know nothing about agriculture. They have been terribly wrong; the average farmer could have done better if given the information. Book knowledge is of no use here.

PS: Regarding the dog and cat issue: The three cats found positive in Austria for H5N1 were in an animal shelter in which birds died from H5N1. They must somehow have contracted it there. The testing was done a purely precautionary measure after birds in the shelter tested positive.

Now animal shelters don't toss birds and cats into the same areas, so it seems most likely that the human workers there contaminated the cats. Both cats and birds have been observed "circling" before testing positive.

Try as I might, I STILL cannot convince my fiancee that this is anything more than shallow scare tactics. She brings up the hantavirus outbreak in the Four Corners region as an example - people thought we had a real life THE STAND on our hands, and nothing happens.

"Indonesia is a Thrid World Country." So is the rest of Asia and Africa.

"Why is everyone freaking out but me? I have better things to be afraid of."
"Why are we focusing more on some viral outbreak that hasn't reached America yet, than on the war in Iraq?"
"I would rather just live my life as a normal human being than spend every day paralyzed by fear."
I'm certainly not paralyzed by fear. In this situation, paralysis from complacency is more to be feared. The reason why we ought to look at such things is in order to gain control over natural ocurrences, which is pretty much what distinguishes humans from other animals.

Birds fly. Humans plan. Both are important survival characteristics.

Zoonotically-based epidemics have been a consistent feature of human history. In multiple places and in multiple times, they have killed off as much as 1/3 of the human population.

Modern sanitation and germ theory (bleach, soap and water, baby!) have done more to stop such epidemics than anything else. As I wrote before, viral loading is the crucial factor. Sooner or later, most people will be exposed to H5. Those who get a massive dose will probably succumb to it. The rest of us may never even know when we became infected and partially immune.

The majority of the people dying from this virus are quite young. Until this goes fully human-to-human, a few precautions will prevent these deaths.

Europe is not third-world. The virus is causing problems for farms in France and Germany already. It's ridiculous to think that we are not going to experience the same. It's even more ridiculous not to take some basic precautions that will sharply reduce our particular risks.
Good post! Thank you. Glad to hear I'm not the only one being aware and careful.
I was forwarded to your blog by my wife. This blog, and a previous one on avian flu, were very interesting. However, I have to verify what I'm reading; after all, not *everything* on the internet is true. Thus, let me ask:

> You mention spreading by rodentia in southern Asia -- did you read this somewhere? Do you know of any references?

> What is your background that you know so much about this? Your profile indicates that your "profession" is as a programmer in the banking industry. Yet, you seems to have quite a bit of knowledge regarding the biology of this thing, and even another website dedicated to this.

I'm not trying to be confrontational, just curious. I am concerned about avian flu simply because of its rapid spread around the planet. Mutation is inevitable, and every new host provides another chance at winning the "lottery".
Peter - try going to FluClinic. There are links there to many of the papers and a great deal of information in general.

The url to that site is:

As for your other questions, biology has always been a hobby of mine and I have studied it a lot. The observations about mice and farms stem from my farming background. Both cat-to-cat transmission and infection in mice has been reported from scientific studies, yes. There was what seemed to be airborne transmission between tigers which was subsequently confirmed in a lab study done on domestic cats.

For more specifically about the mouse issue, see this FluClinic thread. A kestrel has been found positive near Berlin. The odd pattern of outbreaks in Dagestan and Salny (the first detection of infection is small and easily contained; subsequent outbreaks are massive BUT localized) is what makes me so sure that rodents are involved as well. We are talking mouse range.

Uh - I don't want to toot my own horn, but if you search my archives for bird flu you will see that I have been consistently correct in my forecasts. That is really because I have done a tremendous amount of research, plus I am a country woman who has always lived in farmland. Also, I am utterly uninterested in naming the epidemic - I just want to survive it.

The reason I originally started to research this was that our farm has become a wild bird reserve of sorts. I live in very close proximity to the species of birds who are turning up infected with this. Literally, I can step out of my house into flocks of wild geese and ducks. Twenty feet from my back door is a pond. On any given day, a minimum four or five species of water birds will spend some time there.

The birds at my place have been dying of some unknown disease for about 8 months now. The hawks and eagles and buzzards seem to have been decimated.

I don't think we have Qinghai H5N1 in NA yet. I do believe we have a milder form.

By the way, Peter. Take a look at these CDC flu graphs and this one.
Thanks for your reply. I read some of your links. Interesting to get different impressions from around the world.

Hard to know exactly what's true, what's panic, what's fabrication by authorities, etc. As with all news, you just have to find the common patterns -- therein lies the truth.

The occurrence in Tbilisi is a little concerning -- we'll see how that turns out. And an excellent point from a "currevents" post about getting good information from Muslim countries -- autopsies are not very welcome there.

I'm also looking for more info on some strange disease outbreak elsewhere in the Caucasus, I believe -- lots of children affected, from two different areas, suffering from convulsions. I'm not sure what the symptoms of avian flu are -- I've even seen postings regarding symptoms of hemoragic fever -- who knows.

As far as the graphs you linked, can't say I understand exactly what they indicate. My bio-statistics really sucks. :)

Sorry to here about the birds at your farm. Really sorry, actually, because I live in GA as well.

In any case, my conclusion about the "rodents" issue is this: while I see no "physical" proof, at this point, there is much circumstantial evidence, especially with regard to the continuing discoveries of the disease in other rodent species.

Plus, reading through your writings, it seems you are mildly intelligent ;), and, thus, I'm willing to at least give you some benefit of the doubt on your sources.

I'll keep watching and reading. Regards.
Peter - the double hump on the current year's graph looks odd. There is considerable discussion on Flu Clinic as to what it might mean. Perhaps it's an artifact of diversion of testing resources? I don't know.

Dr. Chen did lab tests on mice and confirmed that they were susceptible to some strains of H5N1. One study on mice noted that the neurological form appeared to be much more likely when the mice were infected by contaminated water in the nose.

Also previously observed were infections of civet cats. The dogs in Turkey were reported dying. Mustelids (skunks, martens etc) seem to be getting it.

The Chinese did thorough research and some of it was leaked. As of last summer, they had counted 10 strains and noted the various effects, including which were being passed from humans to domestic fowl. Anything that infects this wide a range of mammals is a severe threat.

In the next two months we will get more data from Europe as they try to cope. Azerbaijan is looking very unfortunate, but it appears that they have a system of canals that might be spreading it. The association with contaminated water is very strong.

I read about the kids (mostly girls) with convulsions in Chechnya. So far the doctors are writing it off as mass hysteria as a result of war stress.

The Qinghai strain of H5N1 does have a gene mutation associated with virulence and neurotropism in humans. See www.recombinomics.com. Absolutely any severe flu can cause hemorraghic symptoms. The western infections have been associated with bleeding from the nose and mouth.
I don't think we have Qinghai H5N1 in NA yet. I do believe we have a milder form.

Which might offer some hope:

1) A "dry run" coping with a less-lethal form before the real Captain Trips H5N1 hits.

2) The 1918 Spanish Flu virus (also a bird flu) mutated into a less-lethal form as it spread from East to West across the US. The longer it mutates, there's also a chance it'll mutate away from Captain Trips.

3) Best-case: This milder H5N1 hits first, doesn't kill too many, but provides immunity to the later, stronger H5N1.

(But just in case, I'm figuring out a route from here to Boulder, CO that doesn't lead past Las Vegas, NV.)
Anon - that exactly describes my reasoning for staying where I am and doing what I am doing. I want a moderate exposure before this goes H2H.

3 confirmed human deaths in Azerbaijan today. I believe this takes the countries confirmed for Qinghai H5N1 since January to 26 or 27. Cameroon was confirmed.

In the space of less than three months, most of Europe, a big chunk of Africa and a big chunk of Asia has identified H5N1 outbreaks for the first time. This is Qinghai making its ugly presence felt. The Germans concede that it reached Europe in the fall.

We don't have long. 24% of AI+ birds in Canadian testing last year in (I think) one area of BC had H5. I think there is a good chance that large swathes of NA have been exposed to less lethal forms of H5N1, and that some residual immunity could be developing.

But the bird vaccination programs in India and in China, plus the very frightening Indonesian pattern means that H2H is near and that the same forces of natural selection which produced Qinghai "superflu" are working against us to force additional selection for the same virulent characteristics.
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