Thursday, January 22, 2009

Shovels in the Ground, Digging Graves

Can Obama start to fix all the problems? Maybe all but one. Unemployment, loss of consumer confidence, foreclosure-induced homelessness, lousy healthcare, lousy public education, rising sea levels, polar ice melting, CO2 pollution, anti-terrorist foreign wars— maybe #44 can make some headway with all of these troubles. Maybe not. But God help him, and God help all of us if H5N1continues its present course of genetic drift.

Since mid January, reports out of China have told of a new case of human H5N1 (bird flu) infection every few days. The Chinese official death count is still less than ten. That’s the “official” report. But then, this week, at a virology conference in Germany, Japanese virologist, Masato Tashiro, revealed to an astonished audience that Chinese colleagues had passed along information about the true magnitude of the H5N1 problem in China. The real death count is over 300, with an additional 3000 Chinese citizens quarantined with suspected infection. But here’s the worst part, the anonymous Chinese whistle blowers have confirmed seven cases of human to human transmission.

Over the past few years, there have been infrequent and sporadic reports of humans contracting bird flu from infected chickens, but until now there had not been a verified case of human to human transmission. This ghastly new development signals that the H5N1 virus has successfully accomplished the genetic drift that would allow it to become the worldwide pandemic we have been taught to fear, and while the virus was mutating to a new lethal variant, we human beings shrank the world by enabling an easy intra-national exchange of citizenry in the interest of promoting globalization. What we now have is the equivalent of the “hot zone” scenario where a killer virus escapes from the biological research laboratory in Fort Dietrich, Maryland.

If, as informed scientists are predicting, H5N1 becomes pandemic, then all of our other problems will diminish to insignificance. Those shovels in the ground that the government keeps promising will become a widespread reality, digging graves.

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