Saturday, November 14, 2009

Alan Sipress: Playing chicken with a nightmare flu



# 4011


From the Washington Post today, an outlook & Opinion column by Alan Sipress, WaPo’s economics editor and the author of the book "The Fatal Strain: On the Trail of Avian Flu and the Coming Pandemic."


Sipress has spent years on the trail of avian flu, traveling across much of Asia as he filed reports.   He gives us some deep background into the concerns held by many scientists that the H5N1 avian flu virus could meet up with, and swap genetic material, with the pandemic H1N1 virus.


The result could be a new, highly virulent, and easily transmissible pandemic virus.


While we know such reassortments are possible, we don’t know how likely it is to happen with these two viruses.  The mere possibility, however, is enough to keep some scientists up at night.


While speculative, this WaPo feature is well worth reading in its entirety.  When you return, a referral to a review by Crof of Sipress’s book, which he calls `the best pandemic book yet’.


Playing chicken with a nightmare flu

By Alan Sipress

Sunday, November 15, 2009

When swine flu erupted this spring in the southwestern United States and Mexico, it had been 40 years since the last flu pandemic. The outbreak has dispelled any illusion that pandemic influenza belonged to a bygone era, like smallpox, polio or scarlet fever. But we haven't seen how bad things might yet get.


What's the worst-case scenario? It could be a continuing vaccine shortage. It might be a mutation in the swine flu virus that suddenly makes the strain resistant to Tamiflu, as some seasonal flu strains already are. Or it could be that hospital ICUs become so overwhelmed that people who could have been saved die.


These are all unnerving possibilities. Yet many flu specialists say their real nightmare is that swine flu could meet up and swap genetic material -- or reassort, as these scientists say -- with another, deadlier flu strain, breeding a new virus that is as contagious as H1N1 but far more savage.

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Crawford Kilian, when he isn’t writing Crofsblog is a frequent contributor to The Tyee, where earlier this week he published a review of Alan Sipress's book The Fatal Strain: On the Trail of Avian Flu and The Coming Pandemic.


A brief snippet and a link to follow to read it in its entirety.


What Bird Flu Can Teach Us about Swine Flu

Secrecy and cultural bias are enemies. Information insures more survivors.

By Crawford Kilian, 12 Nov 2009,

Fatal Strain book cover

  • The Fatal Strain: On the Trail of Avian Flu and The Coming Pandemic
  • Alan Sipress
  • Viking (2009)

This book looks like a victim of bad timing: Washington Post reporter Alan Sipress covered bird flu in the hot-zone countries, wrote this account, and got blindsided by swine flu's eruption last spring.


No matter. This is the essential prehistory of the present pandemic, and of the next one -- which could well be bird flu after all. It also raises issues about the interaction (or lack thereof) between new and old media.

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