Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Swine Flu / Influenza A(H1N1) Might, Maybe, be a Lab Mistake

First, Adrian Gibbs isn't a crackpot. He's one of the scientists whose research led to development of Roche Holding AG's Tamiflu drug.

Second, he's not 'sounding the alarm,' like the Wise Old Scientist in some fifties flick.

What's happened is that Gibbs has studied the DNA of this year's influenza A(H1N1) virus, and thinks he's may know where it came from, in general terms.

As he put it, talking about influenza A(H1N1), " 'One of the simplest explanations is that it's a laboratory escape,' Gibbs said in an interview with Bloomberg Television today. But there are lots of others.' "

Let's Say Influenza A(H1N1) is Artificial - So What?

Aside from spawning a mess of conspiracy theories, lawyers are going to have a field day if this year's swine flu was a laboratory mistake.

In more practical terms, finding out more about influenza A(H1N1) should help researchers come up with a workable vaccine. And, if it did happen as a result of a lab mistake, there's a chance that either more effective techniques will be developed - or researchers will learn that following protocol really does matter.

Adrian Gibbs again:

"...'The sooner we get to grips with where it's come from, the safer things might become,' Gibbs said by phone from Canberra yesterday. 'It could be a mistake' that occurred at a vaccine production facility or the virus could have jumped from a pig to another mammal or a bird before reaching humans, he said...."

WHO Has Gibb's Research Paper, So Does the CDC

People with the World Health Organization are studying Gibb's paper. They got a pre-publication copy. That agency seems to be staying carefully non-committal: " 'You really want a very sober assessment' of the science behind the claim, [WHO assistant director-general of health security and environment Keiji] Fukuda said May 11 at the WHO's Geneva headquarters...."

The CDC got a copy, and has an opinion, too. " 'We are interested in the origins of this new influenza virus,' [director of the CDC's influenza division Nancy] Cox said. 'But contrary to what the author has found, when we do the comparisons that are most relevant, there is no evidence that this virus was derived by passage in eggs.' " Note: She didn't say that they'd found the virus hadn't come from a strain passing through eggs - but that there wasn't evidence for that conclusion.

Swine Flu, Lizard People, and the Frustration of Sticking to Facts

This is one of those times when I'd like to be able to take off the brakes, and let my imagination run wild. What's in the news today has the makings of a really exciting story:
  • Senior scientist reveals that he thinks swine flu came from a laboratory experiment gone wrong (sounds dramatic, doesn't it?)
  • CDC, WHO make carefully-worded statements
  • All while a nascent pandemic looms
This has the makings of something along the lines of "The Andromeda Strain" or "The Satan Bug."

And, if I added some dark conspiracy where 'They' were the CIA, the United Nations, Big Tobacco, or shape-shifting space alien lizard people, I'd have a potential best-seller, a cult following, or both.

I may not have what it takes to put together a Michael Crichton-style epic. And, I wouldn't want to stretch facts to fit a conspiracy theory. Michael Crichton, by the way, writes a remarkably good sort of near-future speculative fiction: not cult fodder.

Oh, Maybe Just This Once

Last year I 'proved' that Elvis was a space alien whose tragic death prompted an attempt to implicate a USDA research facility. ("Montauk Monster: Publicity Stunt by Space Aliens, Implicating USDA's Plum Island?" (July 30, 2008)) I don't believe it, but it made a good story.

So, here goes:

Big Tobacco, which is really run by space aliens who control the CIA and the United Nations, and shot down Buddy Holly's airplane, is behind this year's swine flu.

Their nefarious scheme was to infect all humanity with a virus that would make us crave tobacco from birth, and vote against regulations involving tobacco products.

They might have succeeded, if not for the heroic sacrifice of Mexican slave laborers, who broke the space alien's eggs and destroyed the secret underground laboratory. They were the first victims of swine flu, but died knowing that they had thwarted the shape-shifting lizard-people's plans.

In case I haven't made this clear: Those last three paragraphs are fiction. Totally bogus. Not true. 100% grade-A #1 hooey.

Made a pretty good story, though.

Seriously? Influenza A(H1N1) May or May Not be a Big Problem

But, people who run outfits like CDC and WHO don't seem willing to 'think positive,' and assume that this year's avian / human / swine flu has done its worst. I'm not at all upset that they're keeping an eye on the bug.

And, I hope that the 'there's no evidence' remark from the CDC is literally accurate: and made in an effort to avoid the appearance of fearmongering. I don't envy people who are in that sort of position.

(All quotes are from Bloomberg)

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

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