Hey, everybody, remember when any of us gave a shit about South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson after he yelled at the President? Well now he’s back yelling at the President again, only this times it’s not in the halls of Congress, but the far more appropriate venue of CNSNews, a mouthpiece for conservative ideologues that pretends to also be a news organization.

In an interview with CNSNews, Wilson blamed the Obama administration for a lack of access to the H1N1 flu vaccine, apparently conveniently forgetting that he, like most other Republicans, had voted against funding for the vaccine.

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The Evergreen State has H1N1 flu all over the damned place! Washington State University saw as many as 2,500 cases of…something. Something we’re not going to finish testing in every case.But for the sake of argument, let’s just call it swine flu.

And this weekend, the biggest gamer convention on the west coast turned into a plague house, with PAX attendees coming down with the flu just in time to get on a plane and spread it to a town near you.

For those of you who are playing the ‘Swine Flu Freakout Game’ at home, the time to panic is… now!

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.

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 bad news is that, stringent counter-measures and all, China saw it’s first reported case of domestic swine flu today. But even with the latest H1N1 strain making it’s first appearance in Venezuela, Paraguay and several other South American nations this week, there may be more cause for celebration than outright terror. The virus doesn’t seem to be sweeping the southern hemisphere, where flu season is in full swing, with beyond normal levels of contagion.

Meanwhile, research labs in the US and UK have both successfully produced “starting strains” of the young virus. These strains, which hybridize the new flu with extant viral strains, are the first steps toward a vaccine for the disease. The two existing strains are being shipped to labs throughout the world allowing researchers to start developing ways to fight the newest H1N1 virus. And with Australian researchers nearing completion on a third starting strain, the chances that we’ll have a functioning vaccine sometime in the near future are actually pretty good.

And while a vaccine is great news, quickly identifying viral outbreaks is about to get a lot easier, thanks to research firm Ostendum. The company has produced a prototype device that can detect the presence of a particular virus in just minutes. Seemingly straight out of James Bond movies, the gadget is light weight and portable, and can also be used to uncover specific bacteria or proteins with just a small sample of blood or saliva. If all goes well, the company plans to have every hypochondriac’s handheld best friend to market by late next year.