30 April 2009

UPDATES: Warning of the Flu Outbreak May Have Come Last Year

UPDATE: Bioresearch Online is reporting that warning of the Replikins, Ltd. (a biotech/biopharm. company) provided a warning of the flu outbreak (correctly identifying index location and likely strain) a year ago, using genomics technology which tracks changes in the viral mutation and replication rate. From the report:
Replikins, Ltd. published a FluForecast® warning in April 7th, 2008, a year before the recent Mexico and California H1N1 cases. The company was able to state the likelihood of H1N1 outbreaks based on its patented Replikin Count™ genomics technology, which examines specific regions in virus genes which have been linked with past epidemics. The April 2008 announcement, attached below as published on the Web, stated that in H1N1 the company had then detected the highest concentrations of these specific regions ever seen, except for those from the 1918 pandemic which killed millions of people. Today, the company is actively pursuing licensing partnerships to apply its groundbreaking technology not only to early warning systems, but also to the development of synthetic vaccines to prevent or slow future epidemics. A synthetic H1N1 Replikins Vaccine is available for testing, and related products are described below and on the company's website.
The link to the original report is here. The original report makes clear that viral counts were rapidly rising at that time:
Replikins Ltd. has found that the Replikin Count(TM) of the H1N1 strain of influenza virus has recently increased to 7.6 (plus/minus 1.4), its highest level since the 1918 H1N1 pandemic (p value less than 0.001). A rising Replikin Count of a particular influenza strain, indicating rapid replication of the virus, is an early warning which has been followed consistently by an outbreak of the specific strain.
Organizations typically fight the last battle much more effectively than they predict those in the future. In this case, the WHO and CDC may have relied too heavily on traditional clinical reporting and identification, rather than newer reporting technology. If the Replikins report proves to be fully accurate, the major health monitoring organizations will need to change their monitoring standards.

Here it is - the all things swine flu links page.

Yesterday afternoon, the World Health Organization raised the pandemic flu alert to Phase 5, implying that a global pandemic is imminent. If a pandemic is declared, it would be right in line with the 19th-century's 40 year cycling for influenza pandemics (the last one was in 1968, and was also caused by a swine flu that made the jump to humans). Helpful links to follow the latest include the National Swine Flu Situation Page, the government's Pandemic Flu site (both of these have maps linked to confirmed cases only), the WHOs information page on flu, and the CDC's site. Interestingly, the CDC also has May listed as Asthma Awareness month - one hopes that people don't start confusing asthma attacks with flu victims.

On a somewhat lighter note, the PigFluMap, isn't the world's most accurate, but it's a lot more interesting to see the varied reporting numbers (suspected, possibles, etc.). A word of warning - it has a really annoying ad that pops up everytime you refresh the map, but it does seem to pull in every suspect case out there, along with state, regional, and country stats.

CNN had a fascinating story yesterday of a WWI soldier (the grandfather of one of their producers) who survived the 1918 'Spanish' flu pandemic twice while serving. It provides a fascinating historical look at a world at war during a pandemic that may have killed as many as 50 million globally. Numbers of deaths during pandemics have gone down significantly since that period, largely due to better treatment, public education, and response systems.

Of course, there are plenty of conspiracy theories and outright mythology circulating. On the left - it's all a big scheme to put money in the pocket of 'big pharma,' thus capitalizing on the misery of the oppressed. On the right, it's a crisis too good to waste - more big government coming your way!

Meanwhile, I'm headed for San Antonio (yes, near Mexico with one school already closed and confirmed cases in the city), but don't anticipate anything more exciting than a good conference.

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