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Sunday, May 28, 2006

One Man's View on Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)

As our population density increases, thus living and working in closer proximity to one another, the threat of pandemic diseases is an earnest consequence which should not be trivialized. Nature abhors a void or imbalance, and will exploit any weakness in a given ecosystem in order to restore and maintain that balance which, incidentally, tends to prefer diversity over monoculture.

Tomes of information are available concerning biology's ongoing attempts at restoring its own ideals of a natural order. But the population in general depends on experts to present a concise, summarized truth. But as with most grey issues, the intellectuals cannot reach a consensus - which results in a wait, watch and see attitude. Distilling available information into a comprehensible thirty second sound-byte of fact is impossible. That we are in the unique position of never having been witness to an unfolding natural biological threat, with modern technology at our disposal to study the mechanisms involved, leaves informed speculation as the only answer presently available. When we absolutely know for sure, it could well prove too late to resolve the issue in the best interests of mankind.

Similarly, time and time again, man has attempted to introduce foreign species to control other foreign species, which were introduced to control yet another foreign species, whether released by accident or intention - ad nauseum. Our track record of predicting the interactions between newly introduced organisms into a given ecosystem is exceedingly poor.

Casting all religious convictions aside, the earth and the life upon it has developed in the manner that it has due to many centuries (and I'm being accommodating here) of interaction. It is the way that it is because that is its natural state - the equilibrium that it prefers. If you choose to believe that the hand of God designed the earth and all things upon it, then so be it. But with these factors in mind, what is it that makes man so arrogant as to believe that our flagrant disruption of the natural order is going to be looked upon favorably by either evolution or an omnipotent designer?

We continue to pillage huge swaths of land for cities which are devoid of natural diversity. We pump millions of gallons of water from the local lakes and rivers, only to return large portions of said water laden with chemicals, hormones and pharmaceuticals. And while these amounts may seem trace, the effects on man, fish, and wildlife - both cumulative and instantaneous - are not fully understood at this time. We are tampering with the very lifeblood of our planet - and it will eventually fight back. For wherever one species becomes oppressively dominant, nature provides relief in the form of competition.

Within this scenario, consider the case of Avian Influenza.
This is a table depicting documented cases:

Country

2003

2004

2005

2006

Total

C

D

C

D

C

D

C

D

Cases

Deaths

Azerbaijan0000008585
Cambodia0000442266
China0000851071812
Djibouti0000001010
Egypt000000146146
Indonesia0000171125224233
Iraq0000002222
Thailand00171252002214
Turkey000000124124
Viet Nam3329206119009342
Total33463295417448218124

The numbers would imply that AI poses little threat to man - in fact, driving to the corner store is more dangerous at this point in time. However, this infection almost always results in the death of half its victims within seven days, and has been shown to spread in clusters of activity worldwide. All confirmed cases in each cluster can be directly linked to close and prolonged exposure to a sick patient during a phase of severe illness. The warning signs of viral adaptation are discernible. This particular virus seems to prefer the deep tissues of human lungs, rather than the sinuses, which makes transmission more difficult. Although human-to-human transmission is the most likely conduit in these cases, all mechanisms for spreading the virus are being considered at this time.

Considering that both migrating and static birds populations are common carriers of this and many other influenza viruses, and that their carcasses and dropping are a primary influence in the spread of infection, this is seemingly a problem which could evade control very quickly. Although wild birds seem to have developed a resistance to the disease and typically function as carriers only, domestic birds such as chickens have not - meaning that due to the high-density methods used by Agri-Corporations, entire poultry industries could be wiped out almost overnight.

And should this or any other virus adapt, as they are want to do, the consequences will be dire indeed. No human will have immunity should an H5N1-like pandemic virus emerge. We have placed ourselves into artificial monocultures that are ripe for the development and spread of human specific strains of bacteria and viruses which will always attempt to restore the balance of nature. While man remains as remarkably pretentious as ever, we exist merely as callow, meddling children in the workshop of life.

For More Information: World Health Organization

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