Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu : Good News, Bad News from WHO, About Influenza 2009 H1N1

"Confirmed swine flu cases leap"
CNN (April 30, 2009)

"Confirmed cases of swine flu worldwide increased to 257 on Thursday, up significantly from the previous day's total of 147, the World Health Organization reported.

"In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it has confirmed 109 cases of swine flu, or 2009 H1N1, in 11 states, an increase of 18 from its previous total.

"The death toll climbed again Thursday, with Mexican officials announcing that the number of confirmed deaths from the virus in that country had increased to 12. There has been one death in the United States.

"More than 150 deaths in Mexico are suspected to have been caused by swine flu and are being investigated, officials there said. ..."

Mexico: Catching up on Backlog of Test Samples

What seems to be happening in Mexico is not so much new cases, as laboratories working through a backlog of samples.

"... The latest tally was announced one day after WHO raised the pandemic threat level to 5 on a six-step scale. WHO did not change the threat level Thursday.

Good News: No Reason to Move Toward Phase 6

" 'There is nothing epidemiologically that points to us today that we should be moving toward Phase 6,' [assistant director-general of WHO, Dr. Keiji] Fukuda said.

" 'It really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic," said Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO's director-general. 'We do not have all the answers right now, but we will get them.'..."

Influenza 2009 H1N1: Good News, Bad News

Today's situation is a little like the old good news/bad news jokes. The bad news is pretty obvious: a new, potentially lethal, disease is loose and has already spread around the world. There is no vaccine for it - partly because it's a new mix of avian, human, and swine influenza.

More Good News: Relatively Few Deaths From Swine Flu / Influenza H1N1

The good news is that there have been remarkably few (my opinion) deaths from influenza 2009 H1N1. Over 250 confirmed cases, and probably upwards of 100 deaths is not at all good: but it's still a very small percentage of the population.

And, now that the disease is identified, there's a very good chance that it will be contained before many more people are killed.

Bad News: Governments Acting Badly

On the other hand, some governments have already demonstrated a remarkable lack of good judgment. Egypt, with no cases of swine flu reported in the country, started slaughtering pigs. Which led to Egyptian pig farmers rioting. (CBS News) Ecuador, Cuba and Argentina have banned travel to or from Mexico (CNN), and France wants all Europeans to shun Mexico: never mind what WHO says (CBS News).

Swine Flu Vaccine: The Horror! The Horror! - Rehashing 1976

CBS News made quite a point of how awful it was that swine flu vaccine was used in 1976. And, according to CBS News: "The vaccination program turned out to be a deadly mistake." About 1 out of every 80,0001 people who got the vaccine developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). That's a serious neuromuscular disorder. That's about 6 times the number of people who would get GBS anyway.

CBS goes on to say that the vaccination program was useless because: "No swine flu epidemic ever erupted. The outbreak was limited to Fort Dix, and about 500 Americans likely died as a result of the vaccine...."

500 people died. That's bad. On the other hand, if the Ford administration had followed CBS-like wisdom and not vaccinated Americans, we might have had 40,000,000 dead people to deal with - like the 'Spanish influenza' of 1918. We'll never know, of course, whether or not the vaccination stopped a replay of 1918.

That's one of the great things about Monday-morning quarterbacking. The game's over, and the M-m quarterback is free to speculate on what would have happened if he had been in charge.

Times Change, People Don't

We've already seen dead pigs in Egypt, the start of a boycott of Mexico, and a rehashing of an incident from the Ford administration.

My guess is that more silliness will be displayed before this is over.

List of posts relating to Swine flu 2009; and list of background resources:

Clear Language, Insincerity, and a Thought for the Day

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink."
George Orwell, The Quotations Page

'Nuff said.

Related post:

Disposing of the American Flag: There's a Right Way to Do it

"Proper U.S. Flag Retirement"
IYAAYAS Moderator's Blog (April 28, 2009)

"Being a Cub Scout Leader, we take pride when we teach about respecting our United States flag.

"I have been a Cub Scout leader for many years. I'm able to bring in a little military experience when I teach about our flags history. Our children should learn that our flag is worth defending and deserves dignity when her service is complete.

"Below is a 'typical' flag retirement ceremony.

"When the United States flag (Old Glory) becomes worn, torn, faded or badly soiled, it is time to replace it with a new flag, and the old flag should be "retired" with all the dignity and respect befitting our nation's flag...."

What follows is a description of a ceremony which shows respect for America's flag, and teaches something about this country in the process. That includes assigning a meaning to each stripe - and more.

I definitely do not recommend this post to anyone who doesn't like America, Americans, or anyone who likes to be considered 'sophisticated' in America's more elite circles.

Let's face it: a disdain for America and an attitude of moral equivalence has been an intellectual fashion in America for a few decades, now. I don't mind being counter-cultural, myself: the value of deciding for oneself whether or not to accept the dominant culture's standards is something I learned back in the sixties. And, as I've explained before: the Lemming is "apathetic:" I don't care about the right things, in the right way.

For people who don't become distressed when faced with showing respect for a nation's flag, I think this will be an interesting post.

Acknowledgment - I found this post in a (very short) BlogCatalog discussion thread: Related Posts: Background and more information:

Early Humans: Climbing/Walking Tradeoff Pushed Back

"Early Humans Were Poor Climbers"
LiveScience (April 13, 2009)

"Our ancient human ancestors traded in the ability to climb trees for the power to walk on two legs, but it is unclear when this happened in evolutionary time.

"A new study could help pin down the timing of this exchange, revealing that human ancestors as far back as 4 million years ago didn't have quite the climbing skills of modern chimpanzees, so climbing was phasing out by this time.

"The evidence: Early humans lacked the ankle structure that assists chimps in climbing, according to anthropologist Jeremy DeSilva of Worcester State College in Massachusetts. ..."

It's not that the early humans couldn't climb: but it looks like they were better at walking upright than the were at climbing.

One piece of evidence is the arrangement of their feet. Walking on two legs - bipedalism - takes a lot of energy for lifting the foot and ankle. That puts a premium on making those parts as light as possible. There's an arrangement of bones that would make our feet better for climbing trees - but it'd be an add-on to what we have. Which would mean more weight.

Our feet are pretty good for walking - but not so much for climbing. And, it looks like the tradeoff between good climbing and good bipedal walking started three or 4 million years back.

The article gives a brief overview of the benefits and risks of walking around the savanna without being good at climbing, and includes something I haven't run into before:

"...Other research suggests that early humans at this time had limb proportions similar to other mammal species that are particularly aggressive. Perhaps early humans used aggression to discourage predators from targeting them...."

I wish they'd given some hint of what the limb proportions were - but it does make sense. I'd think it would be easier to prey on a creature that tries to run away, rather than one that's crazy enough to attack back.

Swine Flu / 2009 H1N1 flu, Politics, and Common Sense: Why Closing the Border Doesn't Make Sense

I'm not all that interested in politics, beyond what's required of a conscientious American citizen: so I don't know whether the politicos who have been trying to close the U.S. - Mexican border are of the 'keep them furriners out' variety, or are taking another tack.

It doesn't matter in a way: with swine flu approaching pandemic status, some of America's leaders want to close the border. It feels right: but doesn't make all that much sense.

"Mexico Shuts Government; Pandemic Imminent"
FOX News (April 30, 2009)

"Mexico's president told citizens on Wednesday to stay home for a five-day partial shutdown of the economy, after the World Health Organization raised its alert level and said a swine flu pandemic was imminent...."

"...'There is no safer place than your own home to avoid being infected with the flu virus,' [Mexican President] Calderon said.

Mexico is taking the drastic step after another 17 deaths were potentially linked to swine flu, bringing the total to as many as 176....

Mexico's government is now taking very serious steps to contain the disease in Mexico. I've read that some people there think there should have been something else done sooner - but that's par for the course in crisis situations. I think it's reasonable to point out that something's being done now.

Meanwhile, closing the border now won't stop the spread of swine flu / influenza A (H1N1). It's spread to America and other Pacific Rim counties, the Middle East: Israel, specifically, and probably beyond.

Closing the Border is Pointless

That's not the 'all hope is lost' statement it may seem. I think there's a very good chance that there won't be as many deaths in this year's influenza A (H1N1) situation as in previous pandemics. We've learned a lot.
Remembering the Black Death
I think that Western cultures learned something from the Black Death: Contagious disease can be a serious problem. This is just speculation, but I think it's possible that the plague that killed about a third of Europe, back in the 14th century, made it easier for European cultures, and those derived from Europe, to recognize rapidly-spreading diseases as serious threats. And, created an enhanced willingness to deal with disease.

I'm not ignoring effects that the plague had on other cultures. I simply don't know enough about cultures in the east end of Eurasia, to have an opinion about how the plague affected them.
Closing the Border: Feels So Good, Doesn't Make Sense
The CDC now is advising no non-essential travel to Mexico (CDC, via CNN, more at "Travel Health Warning / Travel Warning: Swine Influenza and Severe Cases of Respiratory Illness in Mexico — Avoid Nonessential Travel to Mexico" (CDC (April 30, 2009) ) - but I think that's a matter of protecting individuals. Influenza 2009 N1H1 is a horse that's definitely out of the barn - closing the door is pointless.

"At a prime-time news conference, Obama said health officials weren't recommending closing the border with Mexico.

" That, he said, 'would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out, because we already have cases here in the United States.'

"In an interview with Dr. Manny Alvarez on Wednesday, managing editor of health at, Dr. Dalilah Restrpo, an infectious disease specialist at St. Luke's-Roosevelt in New York City drove home the same point.

" 'It's always an tempting strategy to close the door, back off and not let anybody else in, but it doesn't work,' she told Alvarez.

" 'It doesn't work because this type of disease is something where the period of infectiousness is behind you,' she continued. 'By the time the symptoms arrive — it's already too late. At this point, closing the border would make no sense. There are cases all over the world and the virus is already here.'..." (FOX News)

The bottom line seems to be that influenza 2009 H1N1 has spread around the globe, so closing the Mexican-American border would be pointless as far as containing the disease is concerned. On the other hand, it's not exactly smart to travel into an infected area, unless you've got a really good reason. After that, I'd think one would want to think long and hard about going back home - taking the risk of bringing the disease with you.

List of posts relating to Swine flu 2009; and list of background resources:

Swine Flu / H1N1 Novel Confirmed in Minnesota - Spiffy

"Cold Spring Virus Confirmed as H1N1 Flu"
FOX 9 (April 30, 2009)

"COLD SPRING, Minn. - Lab tests by the CDC have confirmed the illness of a Cold Spring, Minn. was caused by the H1N1 novel influenza virus.

"Preliminary tests by the Minnesota Department of Health revealed a “probable” H1N1 virus infection , but additional testing was needed at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The infected person has ties to Rocori Middle School in Cold Spring. The middle school and St. Boniface Elementary have been closed since the probable infection was reported by the health department Tuesday night...."

"...Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Sanne Magnan said Wednesday the state wants to get away from the term "swine flu," saying MDH will refer to the virus as H1N1 influenza...."

That last is, I think, part of a Minnesota government tradition of being protective (over-protective, I think - but that's off-topic). Pork production is a significant part of Minnesota's economy: and sooner or later the idea's going to catch on that pork is dangerous. As far as I've read, it's still about as dangerous to handle as any other raw meat: and cooked, it's fine. But, people who are scared will feel and do odd things.
Updated/Corrected (April 30, 2009)

"WHO changes swine flu name to 'influenza A (H1N1)' " (April 30, 2009)

"GENEVA - The World Health Organization will begin referring to the swine flu virus as "influenza A (H1N1)," the United Nations health agency said on its website Thursday.

"From today, WHO will refer to the new influenza virus as influenza A (H1N1)," said the health agency.

"The WHO earlier Thursday told AFP that it was re-examining the name of the swine flu virus after complaints that the name was causing an unjustified clampdown on pork trade.

On Wednesday, officials in the United States decided to call the new A/H1N1 flu virus that emerged in Mexico '2009 H1N1 flu.'

"Pig farmers in the United States, Mexico and Canada are reeling from bans on their exports of live swine and pork meat imposed by several nations including Russia and China...."

I've written about assumptions being chancy things: and got caught making an assumption, myself. Live and (I hope) learn.

Back to the swine flu/h1n1 novel virus: The Minnesota Department of Health has a decent page about the swine flu (h1n1 novel, here in Minnesota): "H1N1 Novel Influenza." And, their home page has a toll-free hotline number (8 a.m.-8 p.m.).

I'll give them credit: they're doing a pretty good job of making information available.

The Fox 9 article said that the person in Cold Spring had ties to one of the schools that are closed - but didn't have contact with the school while he or she was most infectious.

An interesting point: the person with swine flu / h1n1 novel in Cold Spring hadn't been to Mexico, but had contact with someone who did. Which brings up a significant point: H1n1 novel is being spread from person to person. Pigs aren't involved anymore.

Which brings up something for another post.

A pretty good starting point for getting information is a CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) page that's updated daily: "Swine Influenza (Flu)." Good news: it's authoritative information, without fluff. Bad news: Although it's updated, it's generally several hours out of date. Today's, date stamp April 30, 2009, 10:30 AM ET, doesn't list the confirmed case in Minnesota. Still, it's a pretty good resource.

List of posts relating to Swine flu 2009; and list of background resources:

Manhattan Apartment is Decades-Old Children's Puzzle

"Surreal Estate: Turning a Manhattan Apartment Into a Puzzle Palace"
Wired (April 20, 2009)

"The first hint that something was up came in a letter stamped "Lost Post." It was addressed to the family of six who had recently moved into the sprawling Fifth Avenue apartment—and was apparently written by a former occupant who had died decades earlier. Inside the envelope was a poem full of riddles, the solutions to which were all around them: The home was filled with puzzles that had been covertly installed during an extensive renovation...."

"...The elaborate project started with a casual aside. 'Can we do something for the kids?' Clough asked his client, the CEO of a private equity firm, when he began work on the $1 million-plus job. Nothing complicated at first, just a few hidden lines of verse. But soon the carpenters were carving ciphers into radiator covers and adding secret compartments to the credenza...."

Eight photos come with the story. One caption reads, "A cherry tree mural in the kids' bedroom doubles as a map of Central Park."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

WHO Raised Swine Flu / H1N1 Alert Level to 5

Given what's been happening, I'm not surprised. WHO, the World Health Organization, raised its alert level for 'swine flu' from 4 to 5 today. That's how it's usually put in the news. WHO calls them "alert phases."

We were at 4, "Evidence of increased human-to-human transmission" - and now it's 5,
"Evidence of significant human-to-human transmission". (More about this in the Lemming's "Swine Flu 2009.)

Spiffy. I'm rather glad I don't have any plans for a world cruise just now.

The WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, had some common-sense advice: " 'Influenza pandemics must be taken seriously precisely because of their capacity to spread rapidly to every country in the world,'.... 'New diseases by definition are poorly understood and influenza viruses are notorious for their rapid mutation and unpredictable behavior.'

" 'The good news is that we are better prepared for an influenza pandemic than anytime in our history,' she said, adding, 'it really is all of humanity that is under threat in a pandemic.' "

We are better prepared than we were: each flu pandemic since the big one in 1918 encouraged people to develop new procedures and technologies for slowing down the spread of the disease, and treating people who got it.

That picture is the display from a thermal scanner, showing heat signatures of passengers arriving an Incheon airport, near Seol, South Korea. I think it's a great way to quickly tell who's running a fever - and probably shouldn't be allowed to enter the country. I'm pretty sure that it's someone's notion of an invasion of privacy: but that's a different topic.

In the news: List of posts relating to Swine flu 2009; and list of background resources:

Wacky Warning Labels: Off-Road Commode Wins This Year

" Wacky Warning Label Contest Winner Named"
Wacky Warning Labels, Foundation for Fair Civil Justice (April 29, 2009)

"2009 Winners of the Wacky Warning Label Contest were recently announced. Now in its 12th year, the internationally known contest is sponsored by the Foundation for Fair Civil Justice. Millions of people around the world will read stories or watch television news reports about the contest and laugh at how silly the warning labels are...."

This year's #1 wacky warning label: "...a portable toilet seat for outdoorsmen called 'The Off-Road Commode' because it is designed to attach to a vehicle’s trailer hitch.

"The warning label reads 'Not for use on moving vehicles'."

The page links to a two-minute video.

There's a serious side to this lunacy. As the Foundation for Fair Civil Justice points out, upwards of $500,000,000,000 gets sucked out of the American economy each year, paying lawyers working for business to explain to judges why insane complaints from people who did something brain-dead stupid aren't the company's fault. Good for the lawyers, not so good for everyone else.

I think that's a serious problem, but I think that FCJ is on the right track, using humor to make their point. Which reminds me: London Tipton, in "Suite Life of Zach and Cody," is an apparently air-headed heiress. In one episode, she was given an electronic device, and told that it was a chip. She tried to eat it. Well, chocolate chips are good to eat, aren't they?

Other winners include:
  • "A label on the underside of a cereal bowl warns, 'Always use this product with adult supervision.'
  • "A small, 1" x 4" LCD panel warns, 'Do not eat the LCD panel.'
  • "A bag of livestock castration rings warns, 'For animal use only.'
Of the winners listed, I think my favorite is "Do not eat the LCD panel." Looks like manufacturers have to design packaging with London Tipton in mind.

Which brings up an interesting point: Are people who eat LCD panels likely to read warning labels?

I think there's a case for requiring all companies to provide each sale of every product with a one-year (make that five-year) personal consultant whose sole function it is to make sure the purchaser doesn't do something really stupid with the product.

I shouldn't joke: American jurisprudence being what it is, it just might happen.

Related posts:

It Seems it Took More Than an Asteroid Hit to Finish the Dinosaurs

"Some Dinosaurs Survived the Asteroid Impact"
LiveScience (April 28, 2009)

"The great splat of an asteroid that might have wiped out the dinosaurs apparently didn't get all of them. New fossil evidence suggests some dinosaurs survived for up to half a million years after the impact in remote parts of New Mexico and Colorado.

"The whole idea that a space rock destroyed the dinosaurs has become controversial in recent years. Many scientists now suspect other factors were involved, from increased volcanic activity to a changing climate. Either way, some 70 percent of life on Earth perished, and an asteroid impact almost surely played a role.

"Scientists recently analyzed dinosaur bones found in the Ojo Alamo Sandstone in the San Juan Basin. Based on detailed chemical investigations of the bones, and evidence for the age of the rocks in which they are found, the researchers think some dinosaurs outlived the crash that occurred 65 million years ago and stuck around for a while.

" 'This is a controversial conclusion, and many paleontologists will remain skeptical,' said David Polly, one of the editors of the journal Palaeontologia Electronica, in which the research was published today...."

I'm pretty sure we haven't heard the last word on what happened around 65 million years ago.

The scientists who found these oddly young bones checked out the possibility that the bones were old, had been exposed by erosion, and re-deposited in newer rocks.

That apparently didn't happen: The bones match the rocks they were found in - and a 'some assembly required' hadrosaur skeleton was found. 34 bones of it, anyway - and that many bones of an individual being found together would be unlikely if they were debris washed downstream by a river long ago.

This is a pretty good overview of another bit of evidence - one which suggests that the extinction event that finished the dinosaurs is more complex than we thought.

The Dinos are Coming! The Dinos are Coming!

"Walking With Dinosaurs LIVE! 2009"
The Creature Production Company

"After 65 million years they're back!

"After years of planning, the award-winning BBC TV series, Walking with Dinosaurs comes to life in a stunning theatrical event.

"Internationally renowned designers have worked with scientists to create 15 life-size dinosaurs, including the terror of the ancient terrain, Tyrannosaurus-rex! Be amazed and thrilled as the greatest creatures ever to walk the earth return before your eyes...."

The promotional website has an FAQ page, fact sheet page, a bit of how the show got started, how to buy tickets, and more of the usual: including a "Meet the Dinos page that isn't exactly usual.

You may have fun looking over the website: it's pretty good 'multi-media' stuff.

Swine Flu Death in Texas, First in America; H1N1 Case in Minnesota Being Tested

It's official: someone in the United States died of swine flu: a 23-month-old in Texas. The child had been brought from Mexico to Houston, Texas, for treatment.

My prayers are with the family who lost their child, and all families who have lost people to this disease.

"...'Given what we've seen in Mexico, we have expected that we would see more severe infections and would see deaths,' [acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Richard] Besser said.

"However, he stressed that people should maintain their perspective on the swine flu outbreak.

" 'Seasonal flu each year causes tens of thousands of deaths in this country -- on average, about 36,000 deaths,' Besser said. 'And so this flu virus in the United States, as we're looking at it, is not acting very differently from what we saw during the flu season.'..."

Minnesota Probably Has Its First Swine Flu / H1N1 Novel Case

It's likely that the first case of swine flu in Minnesota is in a town about 40 miles down the road.

Cold Spring schools closed Rocori Middle School and St. Boniface School. The school closings were voluntary.

They're being careful, which I think is smart, instead of waiting until the CDC tests come back.

"...The Minnesota Department of Health characterized the case as 'probable.'

"The MDH lab has confirmed the virus as type A H1N1 influenza. But it says the strain can't be identified using lab tests available to the department...." (FOX 9)

I heard on the radio just now (9:08 a.m.) that a sample from the Cold Spring case is being flown to CDC labs. And, that the superintendents of each

Swine Flu: It's H1N1 Novel Now

Also on the radio news: The name of this swine flu is H1N1 Novel now - which makes sense, since it's a combination of avian, human, and swine flu - and is being spread from person to person.

The Minnesota Department of Health hasn't updated its page on swine flu today, but I expect they will soon.

Avian Flu "A Fantastic Dry Run"

When people started getting bird flu (remember news of avian flu in 1997 and 1999?), vaccination research started getting more attention. I remember those 'good old days,' when we were hearing self-congratulatory remarks about how Modern Medicine had Stamped Out Disease. I wish it could be done without the suffering we experience - but we do seem to need the occasional reminder that we're not omnipotent.

Talking about the spread of avian flu: "...'It was a fantastic dry run,' says Professor John Oxford of Barts and the London School of Medicine.

" 'If this had happened six years ago we would really be in a fix - we are in a better position than we have ever been in the history of this planet to combat this.'..."

The big problem with H1N1 Novel is that it's "novel" - new. People who had closely-related sorts of flu may have limited immunity, but nobody's immune to H1N1 Novel, and there's no vaccine for it. Yet.

As officials keep saying, this isn't a situation for panic. Come to think of it, is there ever a situation that gets better when people panic?

Flu happens, people die. There are common-sense things to reduce the risk: washing hands, particularly before preparing food or eating; staying home if you're sick (and employers making it safe for employees to not infect the entire staff); even, as Indiana officials recommend, not shaking hands.

In the news: List of posts relating to Swine flu 2009; and list of background resources:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Design Museum, London: The Website

Design Museum London

"The Design Museum is one of the world’s leading museums devoted to contemporary design in every form from furniture to graphics, and architecture to industrial design. It is working to place design at the centre of contemporary culture. It demonstrates both the richness of the creativity to be found in all forms of design, and its importance. Design is a hugely fertile field of inventive new work, as well as a key component underpinning the modern economy. It provides a means for understanding the contemporary world, and, potentially, for making it a better place. The Design Museum’s mission is to celebrate, entertain, and inform...."

The best way to see it would be to, well, see it: in London, England.

The website is a fairly good resource for photos and ideas - if you keep following links.

Swine Flu 2009: First Time WHO Raised Disease Alert Level; and a News Video

The 2009 swine flu outbreak in spreading from human to human: which prompted public health people in Indiana to recommend no shaking hands in the state.

A video from WISH TV had quite a bit of evidence of common sense in the state: including a plea to employers to be smart, and make it possible for employees to stay home, instead of coming to work and infecting the entire staff.

"One confirmed case of swine flu in Ind."

wish, YouTube (April 28, 2009)
video 5:14

And two men, age 33 and 45, died in the Los Angeles area. It's possible that swine flu was involved, but the tests for that particular virus aren't back yet.

[UPDATE April 28, 2009: "...Los Angeles County public health officer Dr. Jonathan Fielding said Tuesday during a news briefing that news reports of two possible deaths there were initially 'misreported.'

"The Los Angeles County coroner's office ruled out swine flu as the cause of one those deaths. Coroner's Assistant Chief Ed Winter said Tuesday that swine flu was not found in a La Mirada man. Winter says lab testing is pending in the case of a 33-year-old Long Beach man but swine flu is now not suspected...." (FOX News)

What's odd about this disease is that it seems to hit people with healthy immune systems particularly hard.

I still think there's a chance this can be stopped before it turns into a pandemic.
  • "In US, there's anxiety over swine flu but no panic"
    Reuters (April 28, 2009)
    • "ATLANTA, April 28 (Reuters) - Americans are expressing anxiety about swine flu but there are few signs of panic, although sales of flu medication and items like protective face masks are up in some places where cases have been confirmed...."
  • "Two L.A. County deaths possibly related to swine flu, coroner says [Updated]"
    Los Angeles Times (April 28, 2009)
    • "The Los Angeles County coroner's office is investigating two recent deaths that officials say could be related to the recent global swine flu outbreak. However, no tests have come back positive for the swine flu, and medical examiners have not officially determined what caused the deaths.
    • "[Updated at 9:30 a.m.: Coroner's spokesman Craig Harvey said his office would collect specimens from the deceased and send them to the county public health department, which would determine whether either person died from the swine flu. If so, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be notified, Harvey said.]..."
  • "World keeps wary eye on swine flu"
    Los Angeles Times (April 28, 2009)
    • "As more details emerged Monday on the origins of the swine flu outbreak, the World Health Organization raised its infectious disease alert level for the first time ever, and U.S. authorities warned against unnecessary travel to Mexico.
    • "In that country, authorities ordered all schools closed nationwide, and officials disclosed that the outbreak began much earlier than thought, near a pig farm in the Veracruz municipality of Perote.
    • "And, it was revealed, the first confirmed fatality worked as a door-to-door census-taker in one of Mexico's poorest states...."
  • " 'Hundreds' in NYC sick at school hit by swine flu"
    The Associated Press
    • "NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City official says "many hundreds" of students are sick at school hit by a swine flu outbreak.
    • "Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said Tuesday that the cases are not confirmed as swine flu. But the students have the same symptoms as the confirmed cases...."
  • "World battles swine flu as death toll rises"
    CNN (April 28, 2009)
    • "Governments and health officials around the world continued to take steps Tuesday against the outbreak of swine flu that has killed scores of people in Mexico and spread to the U.S., Europe and possibly Asia.
    • "By early Tuesday, the swine flu outbreak in Mexico was suspected in 152 deaths and more than 1,600 illnesses, its health minister told reporters...."
    • "...The symptoms are similar to common flu. They include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea...."
    • "...'When you think about the flu, the seasonal flu, the flu that we're accustomed to, it typically tends to have the worse ramifications in people that don't have developed immune systems -- the elderly and the very young. They can't fight it off,' said Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent.
    • " 'What's counterintuitive with this particular virus, it's in the people who have robust immune systems. As their body starts to respond, to try and fight off that virus, they produce tons of inflammatory cells. Those inflammatory cells can sort of flood the lungs....' "
List of posts relating to Swine flu 2009; and list of background resources:

Asteroid Threat: Good News, We Have the Technology; Bad News -

"Asteroid Threat? Call the Space Lawyers" (April 28, 2009)

"Asteroids that might threaten Earth could pose a challenge beyond the obvious, if nations can't get their act together and figure out a unified plan of action.

"There are currently no known space rocks on a collision course with Earth, but with ample evidence for past impacts, researchers say it's only a matter of time before one is found to be heading our way.

"A swarm of political and legal issues bedevil any national or international response, whether it's responsibility for collateral damage from deflected asteroids or the possible outcry if one country decides to unilaterally nuke the space threat.

" 'The word "unorganized" is spot on here,' said Frans von der Dunk...."

Assuming that an asteroid headed for Earth was spotted, we've got the technology to deal with the problem. The problem is:
  • Telling people that an asteroid was going to hit Earth would upset some people
    • And they would sue
  • Not telling people that an asteroid was going to hit Earth would upset other people
    • And they would sue
  • Reducing an asteroid to the sort of rubble Earth's atmosphere handles every hour is possible
    • But not every national leader would be happy about that
    • World reactions to China's way of dealing with one of its aging weather satellites in 2007, and America's similar action in 2008 give a clue
  • Of course, if all world leaders and the United Nations Security council agreed - - -
    • Does anyone really think that would happen?
  • Somewhere on Earth, after someone had the unmitigated gall to save Earth, a rock would fall out of the sky
    • Then there would be lawsuits to collect whatever the market would bear in damages
I'm not hopeless about the situation: but this article does look at some of the legal and systemic issues that face us, when astronomers do notice a big rock headed our way.

Swine Flu 2009 on World Tour

"Swine flu's ground zero? Residents say nearby farm"
The Associated Press (April 28, 2009)

"LA GLORIA, Mexico (AP) — Residents in this community of 3,000 believe their town is ground zero for the swine flu epidemic, even if health officials aren't saying so.

"More than 450 residents say they're suffering from respiratory problems from contamination spread by pig waste at nearby breeding farms co-owned by a U.S. company. Officials with the company say they've found no sign of swine flu on its farms, and Mexican authorities haven't determined the outbreak's origin...."

The Associated Press says the farms are owned by Granjas Carroll de Mexico, 50 percent owned by Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, Inc. - which says that it "...found no clinical signs or symptoms of the presence of swine influenza in its swine herd or its employees working at its joint ventures anywhere in Mexico...." (AP) Which may be true.

Meanwhile, people are starting to say that swine flu is the fault of [something they don't like]: The objection to factory farms seems to be that they raise more pigs than farms did back in the good old days. True enough. There are also more people around now than back when kerosene lamps were cutting edge technology.

I'll admit to a bias: I live in an area where quite a few of us raise pigs and cattle. And, we live in the 21st century: so yes, we've got [gasp of horror] "factory farms." They smell about as bad as the old-fashioned ones.

A more realistic approach than complaining about pork production keeping up with population might be to discuss the need for better quality control. But that's another topic.

WHO Raises Alert Level to Phase 4

The World Health Organization raised the alert level to 4: "Evidence of increased human-to-human transmission." (WHO alert levels, with links, at "Swine Flu 2009) There are cases in Spain (one), Israel (two) and Scotland (two). On the other hand, the number of new cases in Mexico is dropping. (Deadly Swine Flu Spreads to Mideast, AsiaFOX News) People in New Zealand and South Korea have swine flu, too. (LAT)

There's a chance, I think, that this swine flu outbreak will be stopped before too many more people die. We've been through this sort of thing before.

"...Governments in Asia — with memories of previous flu outbreaks — were especially cautious. Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines dusted off thermal scanners used in the 2003 SARS crisis and were checking for signs of fever among passengers from North America. South Korea, India and Indonesia also announced screening...." (FOX News)

Meanwhile, I've read that there's a newly-diagnosed case in Indiana. As I wrote before, I think it's just a matter of time before there are swine flu cases in my area, central Minnesota.

News and views: List of posts relating to Swine flu 2009; and list of background resources:

Monday, April 27, 2009

Four and a Half Hours Offline: Minnesota Fiber Optic Cable Cut

From about 2:15 to 6:45 this afternoon and evening, this household had no phone, television, or - more importantly - internet connection. Two calls to our service provider revealed that a fiber-optic cable had been accidentally cut, taking several cities in Minnesota offline.

Things are working now, but that was quite an interesting interval. I got tasks done - but not what I'd planned on.

I'd like to include a link to some news item about the situation: but haven't found one.

Small Living Rooms: Rethinking Furniture Needs

"Finding Flexible Living Room Furniture"
Roguestatus (September 3, 2008)

"Looking for new living room furniture can seem a bit overwhelming. There are so many things to think about. There are couches, end tables, chairs, TV stands, book cases and more. It’s enough to make anyone fear living room furniture shopping!

"What happens if you not only need new living room furniture, but also have a very small living space, though? You might be worried about how to fit everything you want. How should you begin to look for flexible living room furniture, then? Here are some tips on finding flexible living room furniture that will not only look good, but help you save space...."

This looks like a pretty good starting place for someone thinking about how to do a living room makeover.

I was impressed that the post includes several photos showing how living rooms can be set up - and they don't all look alike, or use the same style. Also, the author doesn't assume that you've got a 5,000 square foot living room to play with.

I also appreciated the sort of thinking encouraged: "...Every living room needs a couch, right? Not necessarily! ... Another living room furniture type to consider is a table. ... In this case, I'm talking about storage, of course! Make sure your tables have drawers...."

The only downside of this post, for me, is that it apparently assumes a budget that's several rungs of the ladder above where my household is. But, that's about par for the course - and a little out-of-the-box thinking on a reader's part could apply the principles discussed to distinctly un-posh budgets.

Space-Based In-Flight Internet

"In-Flight Internet From Space Takes Off" (April 27, 2009)

"PARIS - Panasonic Avionics Corp. is continuing with its ambitious program to install satellite broadband links into long-haul commercial jets and is specifically continuing a large contract with EMS Technologies of the United States and Canada, and Starling Advanced Communications of Israel, to supply the Ku-band hardware, according to the three companies.

"The effort, which seeks to apply lessons learned from Boeing Co.'s abandoned Connexion program, is moving more slowly than expected because of the downturn in commercial air travel and slowdown in orders for new aircraft, according to David Bruner, vice president of global communication services at Panasonic...."

This is a pretty good look at another step toward a world where people can be connected to others, wherever they are.

For me, this is exciting stuff.

I was born during the Truman administration, when telephones weren't as common in America as internet connections are now. I remember what an incredible engineering a transcontinental cable was: and the first communications satellite.

When I was growing up, "the future" involved huge computers with fewer functions than the one that's on my desk, space ships that needed human crews, and robots that were a great deal less reliable than the one that's exploring Mars today. The Internet was dimly flickering at the edge of some stories: and pessimistically imagined in E. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" (1909).

Now, I'm living in "the future." The flying cars are still in R & D, and we've got urban sprawl instead of supercities (aside from places like Manhattan and Hong Kong). But, we've got a global communications network that lets me visit (virtually) places I'd never be able to reach physically: and do research faster and about as effectively as I could in an ink-on-paper library.

It's an exciting world.

Samuel F. B. Morse: Inventor of the Lightning Wire

"Samuel F. B. Morse"
National Inventors Hall of Fame™

"...Improvement in the Mode of Communicating Information by Signals by the Application of Electro-Magnetism
"Patent Number(s) 1,647

"Morse developed 'lightning wires' and 'Morse code,' an electronic alphabet that could carry messages. The patent was applied for in 1840. A line was constructed between Baltimore and Washington and the first message, sent on May 24,1844, was 'What hath God wrought!'..."

By 1861, cities on the east and west coasts were connected by telegraph.

And, "....In 1858 several European countries combined to pay a gratuity of 400,000 francs as compensation for their use of his system...."

Samuel F. B. Morse started out as a portrait painter, but turned to inventing. The three patents for pumps he took out with his brother are largely forgotten - but the telegraph and the code he developed for transmitting information put his name on the map.

And, arguably, launched the Information Age.

Morse "...realized that pulses of electrical current could convey information over wires...." And, what set him apart, worked out the technology to send information over wires and a code for encoding the information.

The telegraph system is no computer: but I think the wide-spread use of this information transmitting technology marks the beginning of the age we live in. Today, transcontinental videoconferencing is possible, computers are commonplace in many countries, and telephone networks are even more common. I think that Samuel F. B. Morse's lightning wires and code, making high-speed transmission of information possible, was the first step into this era.

More at:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lemming Tracks: Why the Fuss About Swine Flu?

I've been posting quite a bit about swine flu, these last couple of days.

Not to worry: The Lemming's not going to start writing an 'all flu, all the time' blog.

Part of the reason that I've done so many s.f. posts is that this situation is just starting, and I thought there was reason to get background links set up, and get in my two cents' worth about the opening days of what may be a pandemic.

I take this seriously, because I've experienced a few of the 20th century's pandemics - and I think they are significant, even if they didn't kill anyone I know.

So, although I may do a post about this mutant bug tomorrow, I expect that the Lemming will be back to a more routine set of relatively lightweight posts.

I'm updating a list of swine flu-related posts at:

Public Health Emergency: I Think the CDC is Serious About Swine Flu

So far, the CDC has identified 20 cases of swine flu in America.

State # of laboratory
confirmed cases
California 7
Kansas 2
New York City 8
Ohio 1
(CDC April 26, 2009)

"Public Health Emergency" - What's That Mean?

The phrase "public health emergency" has shown up in quite a few news items, but I hadn't seen it defined. So, I did a little checking around, starting with the CDC website. The official definition is a mouthful: I can see why news editors decided not to try explaining it. You can skip over the next couple paragraphs, but I think it's nice to know what these terms mean.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) defines a public health emergency this way:

"Public health emergency: An occurrence or condition within a Party's ["Party" defined as "A governmental entity or agency that has adopted and executed the Agreement."] jurisdiction which results in a situation of such magnitude or consequence that it cannot be adequately handled by the Party such that the Party determines the necessity and advisability of requesting mutual aid, including but not limited to, bioterrorism or terrorism events, outbreaks or release of dangerously contagious or infectious disease, infectious agents, chemical agents, or toxins, natural disasters, technological hazards, man-made disasters, civil emergencies, community disorders, insurgency, enemy attack, or other public health emergencies that possess the high probability of death, long-term disability, or substantial future harm in the affected population."

Which is about the same way that WHO (World Health Organization) defines it.

Public Health Emergency Declared: Swine Flu Spreading - But Don't Panic

Seriously. Don't panic.

On the other hand, I think it's a good idea to keep up with what this disease is doing.

" U.S. declares public health emergency as swine flu spreads"
CNN (April 26, 2009)

"The United States government declared a public health emergency Sunday as the number of identified cases of swine flu in the nation rose to 20.

"The declaration is part of a 'standard operating procedure' that will make available additional government resources to combat the virus, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at the White House...."

"...In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said eight students at St. Francis Prepatory School in Queens have tested positive for swine flu. More than 100 students at the school were absent with flu-like symptoms last week, he said...."

I think a key point in the article is in something a White House official said:

"...'I would tell people it's certainly not a time to panic,' [White House spokesman Robert] Gibbs told reporters. 'If you're sick, stay home, get treatment, go see a doctor.' But he added, 'The government is taking all the steps it needs to and must do to take the precautions to deal with whatever size and scope we may be facing.'..."

That's common sense - and I appreciate the tacit assumption that Americans are capable of dealing with personal health issues on their own. And, responsible enough to not spread a disease. (I'm focusing on America because I'm a Minnesotan, and an American - so I have to take what the American government rather personally.)

Swine Flu 2009: Another Day, Another Couple States

I'm watching the progress of this mutant swine flu. I'm not panicking: but I'm not stupid, either. So far, there seem to be two cases in Texas, and one in California. No great surprise there: both states share borders with Mexico. Kansas has two confirmed cases.

About a hundred students in New York City missed school with flu-like symptoms, eight have tested positive for swine flu. And today, Ohio public health officials said there's a case in their state.

I figure it's just a matter of time before there are confirmed cases here in Minnesota.

The good news is that nobody in America has died of this swine flu, so far.

Today North America, Tomorrow the World: Swine Flu Goes on Tour

Meanwhile, the CNN article says that possible swine flu cases have shown up in Canada and New Zealand. I'll be mildly surprised if this doesn't turn into a global pandemic. Quite a few people from all over the world pass through Mexico, and this disease seems to be rather effective at being transmitted.

Flu Pandemics: We've Been Through This Before

This year's swine flu is a case of 'been there, done that' for me. I remember the 1968: Hong Kong Flu pandemic. About 33,800 people died between September, 1968, and March, 1969, around the world. All in all, rather an anti-climax. It may have helped that the outbreak peaked at a time when many children were home from school, for holidays. Other possible reasons are the similarity of the Hong Kong flu of '68 to an Asian flu virus that made the rounds between 1957 and 1968: and medical technology that had improved since the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918.

The Spanish Influenza pandemic made an estimated 20 to 40 percent of humanity ill. Over 50,000,000 people died.

The 1976 Swine Flu Threat was what I'd call a near miss. I'd say it was a "false alarm:" except that people really did get sick in Fort Dix.

We've had other pandemics, in 1977 and 1997. And, I'm still here. So are most people who were around then. On the other hand, some people were killed by those diseases. (

Being Protected - and Maybe Overprotected

An interesting sidelight to the 20th century pandemics is the 'swine flu vaccine scare.' I remember that: the swine flu vaccine was associated with people getting Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). Sometimes GBS causes paralysis. Sometimes it doesn't. Either way, it's not something you'd want to have. So, because the "swine flu" virus used in the 1976 might have had something to do with all those people getting GBS (or might not - a link couldn't be established), "swine flu" virus hasn't been used since.

On the one hand, it's nice to know that the American medical/governmental system tries so hard to protect Americans from potentially harmful drugs. On the other hand, I have to wonder if America has become risk-averse.

List of posts relating to Swine flu 2009; and list of background resources:

Quarantine for Malware Carriers??

"Ex-Sen. Bill Bradley Sits on Board of Major Spamming Firm"
FOX News (April 24, 2009)

" Spammers come in all shapes and sizes. One in particular wears very large sneakers.

"Bill Bradley -- Basketball Hall-of-Famer, Rhodes scholar, former U.S. senator from New Jersey and onetime presidential candidate -- may very well be helping to clog up your inbox with unwanted mail.

"Bradley sits on the board of QuinStreet, which is identified as a major spamming firm by anti-spam organizations such as and

"Founded in 1999, the California-based QuinStreet lists over 200 employees and posted revenues of nearly $8 million last year. Its clients include ADT home security systems, DeVry University, dating Web sites, video-game publishers and credit-card companies...."

QuinStreet sounds like the list vendors I worked with when I was a list manager for a small publishing firm. Except they didn't spam people, and neither did I. Ethical considerations aside, it's stupid: people don't like spam, and there's always the possibility that they'll transfer their feelings about spam to the company they're getting spammed by.

What QuinStreet is doing, apparently, is pretty much legal.

I remembered QuinStreet while writing a post about swine flu.

There's a connection, I think. Back in the good old days of the 19th century, cholera was a real problem. To keep the number of dead bodies to a minimum, a hodgepodge of local quarantine rules was centralized and coordinated. Later, the Public Health Service Act of 1944 established that the federal government had quarantine authority. I've heard that the new rules didn't go over all that well in some quarters.

Today, we've got serious problems with malware. It's not the obvious killer that diseases like cholera and the Black Death were, but the hours spent de-worming computers and fixing problems caused by viruses, worms, and other malware is a drain on society.

There may be no legal way to stop companies like QuinStreet from producing spam. But, I wonder if something like quarantine would work. My guess is that, if there were 'spam quarantines,' the computers that would be disconnected from the internet would be the spam zombies that got infected by the spammers' malware.

It's a little hard to imagine a firm with a prestigious figure like Mr. Bradley at the helm being sanctioned.

On the other hand, in principle it should be possible to trace spam back to its source - the real source, not the people whose computers got infected - and have that source removed from the Internet.

Sounds neat, but I doubt I'll ever see something like that. For starters, the quarantine system would have to be global. And, there are some very thorny ethical and legal issues involved.

Still: it could work.

Related posts:

Mexico's Swine Flu Epidemic: They're Taking it Seriously

"Mexico’s Calderon Declares Emergency Amid Swine Flu Outbreak"
Bloomberg (April 25, 2009)

"Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared an emergency in his country’s swine flu outbreak, giving him powers to order quarantines and suspend public events.

"Authorities have canceled school at all levels in Mexico City and the state of Mexico until further notice, and the government has shut most public and government activities in the area. The emergency decree, published today in the state gazette, gives the president authority to take more action.

" 'The federal government under my charge will not hesitate a moment to take all, all the measures necessary to respond with efficiency and opportunity to this respiratory epidemic,' Calderon said today during a speech to inaugurate a hospital in the southern state of Oaxaca...."

I can see why Mexico's government is taking this seriously. They saw the first case April 13. Then, the day after America's President Obabma met archeologist Felipe Solis at a Mexico City museum, Solis dropped dead. Whatever killed him acted like swine flu, according to the Reforma news paper (Bloomberg)

Soccer Games in an Empty Stadium? That IS Serious!

Two professional soccer games scheduled for tomorrow will go on as planned - but there won't be any fans in the stadium. (Bloomberg, CNN) I've gotten the impression that Mexican soccer fans are enthusiastic about their games - so a government ban of live spectators is something I don't think would be done for trivial reasons.

List of posts relating to swine flu:
Update (April 29, 2009)

"Mexico City locks itself in amid swine flu fears"
The Associated Press (April 27, 2009)

"MEXICO CITY (AP) — The cardinal said Mass in a shuttered cathedral. Soccer teams played to empty stadiums. A televised variety show filled its seats with cardboard cutouts...."

"...Mexico City residents - chilangos, they're called - are accustomed to living in public view...."

"...But on Sunday even the enormous Zocalo plaza,...was all but empty. A handful of women wearing surgical masks knelt on the plaza's stones and prayed, their arms reaching upward in a lonely vigil.

"Soldiers in surgical masks shooed away the faithful at the cathedral, pointing to a board with pieces of paper.

" 'There are no baptisms,' one read.

" 'No confirmations,' read another.

" 'No Masses,' said a third.

" 'Inside, Cardinal Norberto Rivera delivered a sermon to nearly empty pews, his pleas for divine intervention relayed over television and radio.

" ' 'Grant us the prudence and serenity to act with responsibility and to avoid being infected or to infect others,' he appealed to the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint. 'Give help to health workers, keep vigil for the recovery of the sick and console those in mourning.'

" 'For the first time in 300 years, the cathedral also removed from storage an icon of the Lord of Health, which was placed on the principal altar by a procession of worshippers, Mexico's government news agency Notimex reported...."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Texan Family Quarantined: Son has Swine Flu

"Texas family quarantined after son contracts swine flu"
CNN (April 25, 2009)

"As Hayden Henshaw was being rushed to the doctor's office after becoming ill, his father heard that his son's classmates had been struck with the deadly swine flu virus like the one sweeping through Mexico.

" Patrick Henshaw called his wife immediately to have Hayden checked for it. Later, they received the bad news.

"Hayden had become the third confirmed case of swine flu at his Texas high school. It is a virus that has killed 68 people in Mexico and infected at least eight people in the United States.

"Health officials arrived at the Henshaws' house Friday and drew blood from the whole family, then told them to stay inside and away from the public, Henshaw told CNN.

"The whole family is quarantined indefinitely, according to CNN-affiliate KABB. Henshaw said his family was shocked when they got the news about their son...."

I wouldn't like to have my family quarantined, but I understand the reasons.

Cholera outbreaks in 19th century America encouraged coordination of local quarantine systems. Then, the Public Health Service Act of 1944 established the federal government's authority to quarantine. (CDC) My father told me about very emotional resistance to quarantine - 'a man's home is his castle' sort of stuff. He thought it made sense to keep people from spreading diseases, if they didn't have the sense to stop themselves. I'm inclined to agree with him.

It can't be easy, though, having to stay home and miss work. On the other hand, going to work, and maybe giving the boss a fatal disease doesn't sound like a good idea.

Me? I'm lucky. My work gets done in my home, and the only contact I have to have with the outside world is digital. The sort of viruses that travel over data channels affect computers, not humans - so a quarantine wouldn't have that much effect on me.

Quarantine: Not a New Idea

Quarantines go back at least to the 14th century, when Venice made possibly-infected ships sit at anchor for 40 days before landing. The CDC article on the history of quarantines doesn't say so, but my guess is that the 14th century anchorage thing was in response to the Black Death, that got Europe's attention starting in 1348. We apparently get the word "quarantine" form the Italian phrase, "quaranta giorni," "40 days." (More at "History of Quarantine (CDC), "The Black Death of 1348 to 1350" (

List of posts relating to swine flu:

Swine Flu 2009

Since it looks like the swine flu epidemic in Mexico is going to be around for a while - and since I think it's serious enough to follow as more information comes - I'm starting a sort of 'table of contents' for the anticipated posts, and the one I've already written.

Swine flu 2009 posts

Background and more information

WHO Alert Phases

News articles mentioned health alert levels, sometimes indicating that they had something to do with WHO (World Health Organization). I did a little digging, and found this:

WHO Alert Phases:
  1. Low risk of human cases
  2. Higher risk of human cases
  3. No or very limited human-to-human transmission
  4. Evidence of increased human-to-human transmission
  5. Evidence of significant human-to-human transmission
  6. Efficient and sustained human-to-human transmission
Right now, globally, were at "3." (

"Public Health Emergency" - What's That Mean?

The phrase "public health emergency" has shown up in quite a few news items, but I hadn't seen it defined. So, I did a little checking around, starting with the CDC website. The official definition is a mouthful: I can see why news editors decided not to try explaining it.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) defines a public health emergency this way:

"Public health emergency: An occurrence or condition within a Party's ["Party" defined as "A governmental entity or agency that has adopted and executed the Agreement."] jurisdiction which results in a situation of such magnitude or consequence that it cannot be adequately handled by the Party such that the Party determines the necessity and advisability of requesting mutual aid, including but not limited to, bioterrorism or terrorism events, outbreaks or release of dangerously contagious or infectious disease, infectious agents, chemical agents, or toxins, natural disasters, technological hazards, man-made disasters, civil emergencies, community disorders, insurgency, enemy attack, or other public health emergencies that possess the high probability of death, long-term disability, or substantial future harm in the affected population."

Which is about the same way that WHO (World Health Organization) defines it.

Cool Robots (One Robot, Many Waldos), a PC World List

"Coolest Robots of the Year"
PC World (April 25, 2009)

"From hard-working robots designed for and by the military to utilities that might find their way into our homes and some that are just plan fun, here are the coolest robots off this year's assembly line.

"RoboCourier from CSS Robotics

"CCS Robotics builds autonomous robot bases that can be adapted to a variety of uses. The company ships a variety of products including SpeciMinder, a robot that delivers specimens within a hospital so nurses don't have to. The RoboCourier is a 'healthcare transporter' designed to makes deliveries within a lab environment...."

There are quite a few other robots featured, too: each with a photo and descriptive text.

"Robot" in today's English seems to mean any device with remote control capability. That's okay - but my own notion of a "robot" is a device that is able to handle at least some of the decision-making on its own, like the recent Mars explorers.

The "robots" listed include some - like Quanser's Haptic Wand - that are 'waldos' - devices which move as the operator moves, and provide sensory feedback.

RoboCourier™, on the other hand, actually is a "robot" by my standards. "Using MobileRobots' technology, RoboCourier automatically adjusts to changing environments, without wires, lines, reflectors or other traditional guidance. It wends its way through hallway traffic finding alternate routes when blocked. It stops at the lab to collect patient samples. At the lab, staff unload samples, then press a button to send RoboCourier on its way...." (Robotics Trends)

Now that's a robot: give it an instruction, like 'carry this to room 107,' send it on it's way - and you can get other tasks done.

We're a very long way from R2D2 and C3PO, but we're getting there.

More about RoboCourier™ at "Mopec Delivers RoboCourier™ to Hospital Automation Market Teams w/ CCS Robotics and MobileRobotics" (Robotics Trends November 1,2007).

Mutant Swine Flu Pandemic Possible - But Don't Panic

"World Health Organization: Swine flu could spread globally"
CNN (April 25, 2009)

"The presence of swine flu in Mexico and the United States is "a serious situation" that could develop into a pandemic, the World Health Organization's director-general said Saturday.

" 'This is an animal strain of the H1N1 virus and it has pandemic potential because it is infecting people,' Dr. Margaret Chan said Saturday speaking to reporters by phone.

"In Mexico, 68 people have died from swine flu, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico...."

I get curious when a news article mentions half of an important set of data, but not the other half. That many people dying is serious: but we can't know how serious unless we know how many people got the bug in the first place. The total number of cases in Mexico seems to be "around 943 nationwide." (FOX News)

Now we have a little more data. The articles were published two days apart, using different sources, and this is a very rapidly developing situation: so I take the 68 deaths / 943 cases ratio as very approximate. Still, it looks like very roughly 1 in 14 people who got this version of swine flu - and were diagnosed - died.

That's bad.

Particularly since this type of swine flu can apparently be passed from person to person (WSJ blog). Swine flue normally infects people who are in contact with pigs. (Which makes this up close and personal for me: raising pigs is a major part of the local economy.)

There used to be "swine flu vaccines." Then, in 1976, roughly 1 out of every 80,000corrected people who got the vaccine develped Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). That's six times the usual rate. 1 Nobody could show that it was the swine flu virus in the vaccine that caused GBS, but we stopped using it anyway. And the association of GBS with flu vaccinations stopped.

I could write something about today's America being risk-averse, but I've done too many overly-long posts this week.

If You're Concerned: Wear a Face Mask in Crowds, Wash Your Hands, and Stay Away from Pigs

Seriously: That's pretty good advice, if you live in an urban area where the new swine flu is making the rounds.

In Mexico City, "Authorities advised capital residents not to go to work if they felt ill, and to wear surgical masks if they had to move through crowds. A wider shutdown - perhaps including shutting down government offices - was being considered." (FOXNews)

Staying away from pigs probably won't do much good with this new swine flu, though.

Attack of the Mutant Virus - No, Really

Pigs can catch avian, human, and swine influenza viruses. (Just like us.) When different types of flu virus infect a pig at the same time, they can swap genes. That's happened this time.

The new strain's DNA comes from North American swine influenza, avian influenza, human influenza and a sort of swine influenza that's usually found in Asia and Europe. And, just to make things more interesting, this viral champion of diversity seems to be resistant to antivirus drugs.2 (CDC, CNN)

Health Tip for the Day: Stay Inside and Watch Television or Surf the Web

I'm going out for a walk right after I finish this post and chat it up: but I'm slightly serious about that advice.

One reason that this mix of avian, swine, and human virus is such a problem is that people travel. A lot.

Information Technology is at a point now where quite a bit of business can be done over the Internet: everything from sending a proposal to videoconferencing. (If that sounds unlikely, consider this: my spellchecker accepted "videoconferencing" as a word. We're living in 'the future' now.)

I don't find it too hard to imagine a world where people live the old-fashioned way, never (physically) traveling more than a few miles from where they were born: but routinely communicating with people around the globe. I suppose there will be people who insist on seeing the Matterhorn and Singapore with their own eyes - but I'm getting off-topic.

WHO Alert Phases: Say What?

News articles mentioned health alert levels, sometimes indicating that they had something to do with WHO (World Health Organization). I did a little digging, and found this:

WHO Alert Phases:
  1. Low risk of human cases
  2. Higher risk of human cases
  3. No or very limited human-to-human transmission
  4. Evidence of increased human-to-human transmission
  5. Evidence of significant human-to-human transmission
  6. Efficient and sustained human-to-human transmission
Right now, globally, were at "3." (

Background and more information: List of posts relating to swine flu:
1No: That doesn't mean that vaccinations (swine flu or not) cause GBS.

"Six times the usual rate" refers to the fact that, if something else doesn't kill them first, a tiny fraction of people get GBS - vaccination or no vaccination.

2UPDATE (April 25, 2009)

Thanks to bnsullivan, for this post: This post seems to be well-researched and common-sense. Also has link to WHO report which clarifies the 'antiviral drug resistant' nature of the new swine flu.

Sample paragraph:

"...Here is another worrisome point: The World Health Organization (WHO), which also issued a brief report on human Swine Flu infections on its website today, notes, 'The Swine Influenza A/H1N1 viruses characterized in this outbreak have not been previously detected in pigs or humans.' In other words, these outbreaks appear to be caused by a novel pathogen...."

The quote is from "Influenza-like illness in the United States and Mexico" (WHO (April 24, 2009)). The WHO report paragraph is a sort of good news/bad news situation:

"...The Swine Influenza A/H1N1 viruses characterized in this outbreak have not been previously detected in pigs or humans. The viruses so far characterized have been sensitive to oseltamivir, but resistant to both amantadine and rimantadine...." (WHO)

So: This is a not-seen-before virus. It's resistant to two antiviral drugs. On the other hand, it isn't resistant to another.
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