Mike the Mad Biologist

Imagine If…

From the archives, here’s another post about influenza.

…you knew that starting in late September or early October there would be a series of bioterrorist attacks, and that these attacks would kill anywhere from 30,000 – 50,000 U.S. citizens. Now imagine that you could produce a vaccine that would be, at worst partially effective, and at best, completely effective, particularly if enough of the U.S. population were vaccinated. Imagine that, with enough vaccination, thousands of lives could be saved. A competent government, one that could do a heckuva job, would do something, wouldn’t it? (Hell, we’ll even let you waterboard some people just for kicks.)

This is what is happening right now. By April, we’ll have roughly 36,000 U.S. residents dead from ‘ordinary’ influenza. If this were spaced out over a year, that would the equivalent of a Sept. 11th massacre every month. At a recent conference I attended, there were many talks that demonstrated how vaccinating children greatly reduced the incidence of disease in high risk groups such as the elderly (~40%). What’s all the more amazing is the large reduction in light of two things:

1) These diseases didn’t kill very many people to begin with.
2) The vaccines were only given to very small children (less than 36 months). Vaccinating older children would further lower mortality (at least, that’s what the experts claim).

At the same conference, the head of the WHO avian influenza response stated that the most important preparation for a pandemic would be to increase regular influenza vaccine production because the same infrastructure can be repurposed* to produce avian influenza vaccines. If we were to vaccinate more people, the number of deaths from influenza would most likely decrease. And increasing our production capacity has the added benefit of increasing the needed surge capacity if a pandemic arises.

I bring up influenza once again for several reasons. First, I’m going to keep beating this until someone pays attention. Second, influenza kills about twice as many people in the U.S. as AIDS, and roughly the same number as breast cancer. If we had a relatively straightforward way of decreasing AIDS and breast cancer deaths, we would do it. But no one seems to care about influenza. Third, there was some grade A dumbassery over the the Huffington Post. We’re supposed to be the reality-based ones….

Here’s a dirty lil’ secret about the Mad Biologist: I don’t worry too much about avian influenza. Either it will evolve or it won’t. But it is certain that 30,000 – 50,000 will die from ordinary influenza. It is within our power to save many or most of these victims. When will we do something about it?

*I’m using “repurposed” because it sounds more manly.


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    February 25, 2008

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