What, you ask, will be the next victim of the dreaded A/H1N1 swine flu? Why it’s the nascent US economic recovery, of course, which will have it’s young life snuffed out as the highly contagious pox applies it’s sturdy, pestilent boot to the throat of the holiday tourism and travel industries.

The theory goes that should people get infected, or just get nervous enough about getting infected, with A/H1N1 flu, that rather than fly out to Aunt Dottie’s for a plague wracked Christmas with the family, people will stay comfortably in their homes, whacked to the gills on nog and Robitussin, giggling softly at the yule log burning away on the television set.

This is a bad thing for the economy, because these legions of happy, healthy, mildly fucked up people will not be buying plane tickets or shopping at Pottery Barn or facing wracking intestinal spasms after a family meal at Old Country Buffet. And that’s BAD FOR AMERICA! It could soften GDP numbers for the all important Fourth Quarter by as much as 1%, which means that next year, instead of Christmas, we will all simply gather around trash can fires and reminisce about the times before the total collapse of the world economic system, and instead of presents, we will just ask Santa to keep us safe from the roving gangs of bikers as who stride the barren wastelands of America like horrific pagan gods.

Is that what you want, you cowardly bunch of drug addicts?

On top of tourism worries, there are concerns that productivity will suffer as employers, many of whom are already working with skeleton crews, will not be able to keep up with increased holiday demand should employees begin calling out sick, crippling American business with their shiftlessness and cough syrup induced hallucinatory shenanigans.

Which is an utterly reasonable concern, considering that I have every intention of calling in flu ridden and spending the birthday of our lord and savior zonked out of my gourd on Nyquil at a matinee of Sherlock Holmes.

Attention, anyone was wondering how the final battle between humans and zombies will end up! Canada has done the math for you!

And I’m afraid the news is bad: We do not fare well.

According to Dr. Robert Smith? (no, that’s not a typo – he spells his name with an interrogative, in order to avoid being confused with the lead singer of The Cure, who is, as we all know, also concerned with mathematics and zombies) of the University of Ottawa have created a statistical model of what a zombie plague would look like, positing that after an outbreak has begun, infection will progress through the population at a fantastic rate. Teeming hordes of undead could overwhelm a major metropolitan area in just a matter of days.

Smith and his colleagues used the classic Romeran “shuffling zombie” as the example for their case study, which paints a bleak picture of human survival. They do,however, make the point that the best chance we would have for survival against a plague of zombies is to “hit them hard and hit them often.” In other words, the zombie apocalypse is not a time to try and cure beloved relatives of their unseemly condition or acquire a specimen for scientific study. As any right thinking person with a zombie contingency plan knows, the best thing you can do for a zombie is to release them from their hideous unlife by crushing their skull like an overripe melon. With the publication of this report, we have all officially been warned. Memo to people who live without a heavy, blunt instrument at hand – you are on your goddamn own.

Kudos to Dr. Smith? and his colleagues for their important research into this oft-ignored field, and kudos as well to the BBC for the single greatest news quote of 2009 so far:

“According to the researchers, the key difference between the zombies and the spread of real infections is that “zombies can come back to life.”

Which is, of course, a pretty big difference.

Who is America’s front line defense against the swine flu pandemic?

Legions of underpaid, overworked school nurses who are often responsible for overseeing the health of hundreds or thousands of children on their own.

I don’t know about you, but the knowledge that the most serious potential health crisis in recent history will be managed on the ground by a group of people who, in my experience, find it vexing to administer care for injuries related to falling off the monkey bars makes me feel safer already.

Today’s good news from the world of pathology – no one has to be worried about swine flu anymore!

The bad news? It’s because drug resistant TB is going to kill us all before we even have the chance to develop a case of pig induced sniffles.

Though rates of tuberculosis are falling across the world (that’s good!), longer lasting, more persistent strains of the disease are continuing to crop up at an alarming rate due to inconsistent or incorrect antibiotic treatments (that’s bad!). Though transmission rates in these drug resistant strains remain low for now (that’s good!), it would only take one  nasty, drug resistant strain like the ones currently common in Cuba and Estonia becoming widespread to cause serious loss of life around the world.

That’s bad.

Hey, St. Louis! Chill the fuck out!

Look, I’m glad that Democrats are starting to show up at these town halls and show Republican nut job protesters that they don’t have a patent on being loud and disruptive. It’s nice to see some backbone out of the lefty base, after all. But seriously, shit’s about to get really real in St. Louis, with anti-health care reform protesters encouraging one another to bring firearms to townhall meetings and hurt their pro-reform adversaries “badly.” By the way, Twitter asshole Scott Oskay – carrying a gun, even with a permit, to a meeting of a government body is a crime under Missouri law. Thanks for inciting!

And if that’s still too classy or subtle, give a listen to this number in which a woman from Oregon threatens the SEIU.

Extra points for ending a phone call threatening to cap motherfuckers with the phrase “stop the violence” aside,  lets’ just hope someone is keeping an eye on these whackadoos who, make no mistake, are threatening to come to public meetings to shoot people. There’s a lot of fringe right whackos out there right now who seem to feel that the best thing they can do for their country is shoot up an abortion clinic or a museum – hold a good thought that we don’t have to add townhall meeting to that sad list.

I know we’re all wondering about what the Next Big Space Thing is going to be, especially since everybody seems to have spontaneously realized that in the forty years since we landed on the moon, the only space missions that haven’t been kind of boring have been the ones that were tragic.

The trendy answer seems to be “We’re going to Mars!” This despite the fact that NASA is about to retire the space shuttle fleet and the closest that we’ve gotten to training people for the mission is isolating a bunch of dudes in a box for a fraction of the time it would take to complete a trip to the planet, and this without the common courtesy to invite Pauly Shore and Steven Baldwin.

Don’t get me wrong – landing on the red planet is a nice idea. It’s noble and ambitious and would be super awesome to see. But seriously, no one gets to even bring up a manned mission to Mars until we can keep the shitter on the International Space Station working for more than a year at a stretch. End of story.

Virologists at the University of Wisconsin – Madison have completed a detailed study of the H1N1 swine flu virus, and the news is…well, it’s less than good.

The virus, which has demonstrated a filament shape unusual in flu viruses, has the potential to be much more severe than most researchers have thought so far. That’s because, in addition to being more apt to reproduce itself within lung tissue, the H1N1 virus has demonstrated an ability to infect cells deep within lung tissue far beyond that of a standard seasonal flu virus.

This capacity for infiltrating further into the lungs distinguishes the H1N1 virus, according to researchers, including study leader Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka, who stated that “There is clear evidence the virus is different than seasonal influenza.” Where most flu viruses only affect the upper respiratory system, the H1N1 bug can go much deeper, bringing about pneumonia, bronchitis and possibly death.

The truly unnerving thing to note about this study, published this month in the journal Nature, is that the ability to penetrate deep into the lungs is something we’ve seen before. The trait was also expressed in the 1918 flu pandemic that killed tens of millions worldwide. The fact that people born before 1918 seem to have antibodies against the H1N1 swine flu further suggests that we’re looking at a flu virus whose closest corollary wiped out significant swaths of humanity almost a century ago, when passing flu from one community to another was significantly more difficult.

In other words – this could be a bad one. And while most people seem to have stopped worrying about it, I’m staying at a Level Orange Alert (at least while we still have one) on the matter of a swine flu pandemic. Not every disease du’ jour is going to be the next big thing in global health crises (see also, SARS, bird flu, West Nile virus) but eventually, something is going to break big, and the current H1N1 strain is a pretty likely candidate for doing some real damage. Add to that the fact that a serious outbreak (deaths, high fear of contagion, etc.) during  flu season in the US this year would deliver a hammer blow to a global economy still struggling to get it’s feet, and set back progress on that front at a time we can ill afford it?

Sound like a worst case scenario? It is. But it’s not at all one that’s outside the realm of possibility right now. And I know I may sound unreasonably doom and gloom, but hey, a paranoid is just someone who has all the facts, right? I’m not saying the sky is falling, but the common consensus seems to be that this thing is no cause for concern, an I just don’t buy that line.

The study does have a silver lining, in that anti-viral drugs seemed to be an effective first line of defense against the virus. But with a working vaccine probably unavailable until the end of the year, they’re also the only line of defense at this point.

The United Kingdom saw it’s fifteenth death related to the H1N1 swine flu yesterday, which should be an event of dubious notoriety. Quite frankly, the way this thing is spreading, seeing more deaths from it (especially in the coming flu season) is something it might behoove us all to prepare for.

What makes this passing notable, though, is the fact that it is the first death since the virus was confirmed in the United Kingdom in March that seems to be attributable solely to the flu virus. To date, patients in the UK with swine flu have died of complications from other underlying health issues. The patient who died yesterday, whose name is being withheld at the request of relatives, appeared to die of swine flu and nothing but swine flu.

But we’re not the only ones who will have to deal with this disease, which has recently proven that it can go home again. The H1N1 flu strain that is spreading among human populations right now can also be passed from humans to pigs, according to a recent study published in The Journal of General Virology.

The bad news is that this news provides a whole new factor in the spread of the current flu pandemic. The good news, though, is two fold – first, it seems that pigs remain unable to transmit the virus to humans. And second, chickens also involved in the study failed to fall ill from the virus, suggesting that pig or human to bird transmission is not possible. Yet.

The heartening news for the day is this: even in the midst of a worldwide crisis in which amphibian species are being lost at a staggering rate, researchers across the world are discovering new species of frogs all over the world. Following the discovery of nine new frogs and a previously unknown salamander in Colombia in February of this year, this summer has been lousy with croaking, chirping, hopping amphibians never before described by science.

May saw Conservation International document three new species of frogs in Papua New Guinea, as well as a few dozen new species of jumping spiders. Sadly, that frog news was overshadowed by the nearly 200 new species of frogs discovered in Madagascar last month, a number which doubles the number of known amphibian species inhabiting the island.

After a spate of finds like that, you’d think that would be it in new frog news for a while, right? I mean, 203 new species – that’s a lot, right? We can take a break from the new frogs, right?

Well, no, not if  the Zoological Survey of India has anything to say about it. The survey released data earlier this week showing that 2008 found more than a dozen new frogs were discovered in the country, as well as 14 new insect species. You can check out great pictures of some of the new species on Cryptomundo here. Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Ecuador is getting in on the act.  News broke just a couple days ago of 12 new species discovered along the country’s mountainous border with Peru, including – you guessed it – 4 new species of frogs. All of which are larger than the Noble’s Pygmy Frog, which was discovered in the Peruvian Andes in March and is, for reference, about this big:

And the less heartening news for the day? Well, as I mentioned earlier, it remains a bad time to be an amphibian pretty much anywhere on the planet, newly discovered or not.

A few days ago, I was discussing the tasering of a Texas grandmother with a few of my friends when somehow, the idea of police having to shout “Taser! Taser!” while disabling a suspect with the device was floated. It seemed like an entertaining notion, but the sort of thing that’s not exactly regulation.

Prove me wrong, police force of Nottingham, England. Prove me wrong.

Now, we don’t know the whole story here, and there’s every chance this guy may have needed to be disabled. For all we know, he may have been stealing from the rich to give to the poor, and you know how that pisses off law enforcement in Nottingham. And while there is a chance the suspect was concealing a long bow on his person, by the time this video starts, he’s obviously in no shape to use it.

But I would like to thank the officers featured here – especially the star of the show, who gets his partners to stop beating the suspect for a moment, only to taser him again, shouting “Taser! Taser! Taser!” –  for proving that the United States doesn’t have a monopoly on unnecessary, testosterone induced acts of violence by police officers. The UK can stand tall on that front – at least until someone repeatedly tasers them.

Let the panic begin!

Emergency talks at the United Nations today are expected to result in the announcement the latest H1N1 swine flu virus has officially reached pandemic levels. For anyone who has been playing along at home, this comes as a foregone conclusion – the disease has probably been at a technically pandemic stage for a while, despite the World Health Organizations best efforts at better health through happy thinking.

That said, the last few weeks have seen sharp rises in cases of the H1N1 swine flu across the world. From the frozen north, where the province of Nunavut has seen serious outbreaks among a small and scattered population to the land down under, which has watched it’s number of cases triple in just the last week, no place seems safe from outbreaks of the next big thing in highly contagious illness.

The formal announcement, likely to be made today, is sure to send some folks of a more worried demeanor running for the canned food aisle. But really, it’s just a sign that worldwide organizations are taking the possibility of a serious, wide scale outbreak of the disease seriously, and there’s not a thing wrong with that.

It would appear that reports of the demise of the swine flu have been rather greatly exaggerated.

On the heels of the new H1N1 strain being confirmed in mainland China last week, more than 2,000 schools throughout Japan have closed their doors in hopes of stemming the spread of the virus. The worse news is that unlike previous cases found in Japan, this outbreak of flu has no clear connection to international travel, suggesting that the virus has already become self sustaining in the densely populated nation.

So what’s to be worried about? Probably nothing for the moment, as the A/H1N1 virus seems to be remaining highly contagious, but infrequently lethal. But it’s arrival in Asia carries with it the potential of what can only be described as a nightmare scenario.

The continuing spread of A/H1N1 throughout the world, even after the end of the traditional flu season, means that there may simply be very little we can do to prevent the continuing spread of this highly contagious strain, especially when a fresh flu season begins in earnest later this year.

Which isn’t the bad news.

The bad news is that the presence of the virus in Asia, especially in self perpetuation, means that an eventual meeting of the minds between swine flu and avian flu that remains endemic in parts of Asia is more or less a foregone conclusion. When that happens, there’s a chance for the two strains to hybridize, resulting in a new flu that combines the high human to human transmissibility of the swine flu and the staggering (60% +) human fatality rates of avian flu. Just how great that chance is is anyone’s guess. But World Health Organization Director – General Margaret Chan had this to say on the current flu situation, which she described as “the calm before the storm.”

“For the first time in humanity, we are seeing, or we may be seeing, pandemic influenza evolving in front of our eyes.”

 Now whether we can do anything effectively to prevent it is another matter.

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