Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bioterror is not the biggest threat from bird flu

22 February 2012

WHY DO we study flu? So we can protect ourselves from it. We've long since learned that H5N1 bird flu poses real reasons for concern; more recently, that it really does have the potential to become a nightmarish airborne plague. How should we react?

Not by delaying the publication of the research, for fear that it will aid supposed bioterrorists (see "Publish lethal flu virus work, says WHO"). There is surprisingly little evidence that such a threat exists. But there has long been a great deal of evidence that the threat of pandemic flu exists.

It is high time we ended it. We know existing flu vaccines, which date back to the 1950s, won't do the job. A vaccine that works against all types of flu - pandemic and seasonal - could. And promisingly, we have made some progress in this direction.

Yet with no commercial route to market, and regulators unable to agree on testing protocols, investment in universal flu vaccine is waning. If half the energy that went into seeing bioterrorists behind every Petri dish was expended on overcoming these obstacles, the squabble over publishing H5N1 research would become what it should be: purely academic.

1 comment:

Duff Smith said...

If bioterror is the biggest threat from bird flu, it has already been the biggest threat for over a decade. If any terrorist during that time fancied an uncontrollable and indiscriminate globally catastrophic virus, then weaponized influenza would have been the first choice because of its ability to shed virus before symtom onset. They would neither require Fouchier's study to give them the initial idea, nor would they need the specific recipe to achieve success. In other words, if terrorists were that stupid we would surely already know. That is not to discount the possibility that with the rate of advances in biotechnology and its availability, that someone somewhere will not pull a Bruce Ivins. However, rather than follow the Hollywood principle that heroic agents of centralized government will swoop in and save the day every time, I think it is time to address the inherent underlying vulnerabilities of society to this form of threat. 7 billion of us breathing in one another's faces and traveling everywhere by jets... it is a biological internet, and like the electronic internet it needs firewalls. The most efficient protection in this kind of system is mostly at the lowest levels of organization -- personal hygiene, family preparedness, local government planning, and local utilities to have plans to continue operating. Families can maintain vegetable gardens and extra storable food and water to reduce the sheer desperation in the event that trade and travel will be interrupted by lethal contagion. In the US Great Depression of the 1930's and in WWII, "victory gardens" were advocated by federal government. Today, such a leftist attitude has taken over everyone's thinking that all preparedness is thought of as a function of the federal government. This thinking is epitomized in the movie "Deep Impact," in which the federal government literally tells the entire world that they will choose who is to survive, and everyone else will have to lay down and die without trying to prepare in any way.

If the role of central government is to be this parental influence over the populace, whose role is to steer public attitude and influence culture, then they should be raising the alarm bell that practical preparedness measures are logical and prudent at this time, and I do not see that being done.

One thing is for sure, the actions or inactions of government and media will be well remembered after a bird flu pandemic for the rest of all time, especially in light of the known scientific facts at this time.