disaster


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.

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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.

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