Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Millennial Horrors: Flu Research Moratorium in Effect

Image Source: WHO via Charcoal Handwriting.

I had already seen reports on this floating around in academic discussions, but recent news on controversial research on the deadly Bird Influenza H5N1 has become mainstream.  Slate notes that scientists have tweaked the virus so that it can jump between mammals. This was done to understand the virus better and prepare a vaccine, but it's not like nature and Bioterrorists needed help with the human contagion aspect of the disease. Ian Lipkin, Director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University, stated that, “publishing this information would give people a roadmap to creating Frankenstein viruses.”

Epidemiologists were worried enough by this research that the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity successfully demanded that all research in this direction stop publication for two months so that the scientific community can discuss its hazards. H1N1 broke out into a global pandemic in 2009 that was contained through mass vaccinations, although 14,286 people died. It was the second H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic in history (the virus actually combined several strains, including a Bird and two Swine Flu strains); it was not as lethal as its predecessor: the first H1N1 global pandemic was the 1918 Flu pandemic, which killed between 50 and 100 million people, or 3 to 6 per cent of the world population at the time. The 1918 pandemic killed 25 million people in its first 25 weeks. This type of Flu tends to affect healthy, younger adults most severely.

Image Source: Charcoal Handwriting.

Here is the statement from the researchers (the linked document provides their names and affiliations), dated 20 January 2012:
The continuous threat of an influenza pandemic represents one of the biggest challenges in public health. Influenza pandemics are known to be caused by viruses that evolve from animal reservoirs, such as in birds and pigs, and can acquire genetic changes that increase their ability to transmit in humans. Pandemic preparedness plans have been implemented worldwide to mitigate the impact of influenza pandemics. A major obstacle in preventing influenza pandemics is that little is known regarding what makes an influenza virus transmissible in humans. As a consequence, the potential pandemic risk associated with the many different influenza viruses of animals cannot be assessed with any certainty.

Recent research breakthroughs identified specific determinants of transmission of H5N1 influenza viruses in ferrets. Responsible research on influenza virus transmission using different animal models is conducted by multiple laboratories in the world using the highest international standards of biosafety and biosecurity practices that effectively prevent the release of transmissible viruses from the laboratory. These standards are regulated and monitored closely by the relevant authorities. This statement is being made by the principal investigators of these laboratories.

In two independent studies conducted in two leading influenza laboratories at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, investigators have proved that viruses possessing a haemagglutinin (HA) protein from highly pathogenic avian H5N1 influenza viruses can become transmissible in ferrets. This is critical information that advances our understanding of influenza transmission. However, more research is needed to determine how influenza viruses in nature become human pandemic threats, so that they can be contained before they acquire the ability to transmit from human to human, or so that appropriate countermeasures can be deployed if adaptation to humans occurs.

Despite the positive public health benefits these studies sought to provide, a perceived fear that the ferrettransmissible H5 HA viruses may escape from the laboratories has generated intense public debate in the media on the benefits and potential harm of this type of research. We would like to assure the public that these experiments have been conducted with appropriate regulatory oversight in secure containment facilities by highly trained and responsible personnel to minimize any risk of accidental release. Whether the ferret-adapted influenza viruses have the ability to transmit from human to human cannot be tested. We recognize that we and the rest of the scientific community need to clearly explain the benefits of this important research and the measures taken to minimize its possible risks. We propose to do so in an international forum in which the scientific community comes together to discuss and debate these issues. We realize that organizations and governments around the world need time to find the best solutions for opportunities and challenges that stem from the work. To provide time for these discussions, we have agreed on a voluntary pause of 60 days on any research involving highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses leading to the generation of viruses that are more transmissible in mammals. In addition, no experiments with live H5N1 or H5 HA reassortant viruses already shown to be transmissible in ferrets will be conducted during this time. We will continue to assess the transmissibility of H5N1 influenza viruses that emerge in nature and pose a continuing threat to human health.

Published online 20 January 2012;
Include this information when citing this paper.
Several Swine Flu variant (H3N2) or Swine Flu (H1N1) cases were confirmed in the United States in late 2011 and early 2012 (see here, here and here). There have been new unsettling January 2012 articles circulating on Swine Flu deaths in Mexico and in the Timashevsky District of Krasnodar Territory of Russia (January 8). Also in January, 2012 there were Bird Flu (H5N1) cases in: Cambodia, Vietnam and Egypt.   A young man died in Jakarta, Indonesia, from H5N1 early in January. WHO reports that a girl from Jakarta Province, Indonesia, died on January 16; she died in the hospital within 9 days of showing symptoms.  A woman died on January 24 in East Java, Indonesia, after presenting Flu-like symptoms. WHO comments: "Of the 184 cases confirmed to date in Indonesia, 152 have been fatal." Indonesia is now on an H5N1 alert.

There have recently been a lot of questions about whether the wonder drug, Tamiflu, which people bought frantically online in 2009, is fully effective, as here. The continually updated Swine Flu news centre, is here. News on H5N1 is here. The World Health Organization Disease Outbreak News updates are here. The Global Outbreaks map is here.

There are a lot of conspiracy theories floating around online with regard to these outbreaks.  But fears of vaccines are not helpful when they are the means for controlling a pandemic. Conspiracy theories encourage people to question authorities in relation to almost every source of Millennial fear or anxiety: 9/11, pandemics, war, terrorism, the recession, plagues and so on.

With regard to this suspicion of vaccines, University of Michigan has conducted an anticipatory study of how Generation X - the generation along with Generations Y and Z, most likely to be fatally infected in a future H1N1 pandemic - responded to the 2009 H1N1 case.  The researchers seemed particularly concerned with where Gen Xers got their information on the pandemic, and presumably gauged Xers' conspiracy theory pandemic index. The study concluded that Gen Xers, in particular, would have to mount the effort to contain a future Flu pandemic: "In the decades ahead, the young adults in Generation X will encounter numerous other crises—some biomedical, some environmental, and others yet to be imagined. ... They will have to acquire, organize and make sense of emerging scientific and technical information, and the experience of coping with the swine flu epidemic suggests how they will meet that challenge."

Video Source: University of Michigan via Youtube.


  1. This stuff scares the absolute ka-rap out of me. I remember reading about Miller's study when it came out. Did you see the article that appeared maybe a week or two ago that only one in five Gen Xers were getting the flu shot? Now, I'm wondering if Boomers who are currently in charge at public health departments across the nation are allocating adequate resources to public information campaigns. Only one in five? That doesn't seem, as Miller illustrates, a statistic reflective of Generation X. I also wonder how much of these public information campagins (my industry, PR, by the way) utilize social networking and social media to distribute messages. Boomer bosses are still monitoring employees' Internet usage like it wasn't an asset or something. Very interesting post. Your research and diligence amaze me. So, what would you make of that one in five stat? This was in a report on Science Daily and was also from a U of M study.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Jen! I'm not sure what to think about the 1 in 5 stat. I don't know whether I would chalk it up to lack of information. Maybe we are swamped with so much information that it is hard to know what to believe - or even for the info to reach us through the information cloud.

    I watch American and British news as well as scanning the internet, and the fact that swine flu is spreading in Asia, Mexico and Russia now is not being widely reported. There is also a case now in Alabama, USA, but I haven't seen it discussed by MSM American media. Is that because public health departments, as you suggest, are not adequately reporting this?

    In that sense, Miller is right to try to find out where Gen X gets its info about this issue. I wonder what proportion of Xers actually have health insurance in the USA. In Canada, where I live, perhaps the stats on flu shots might be different, since we have automatic mass anti-flu innoculations that go to workplaces and communities and are fully funded. Similarly, generational flu shot stats might be different elsewhere according to the local health systems. That's before we get to Internet-driven conspiracy theories about vaccines, and which sections of the population are most likely to believe them and which sections aren't: http://bit.ly/xZIS81

    For those interested in this, here are some relevant links:







  3. Here is one final link, the local report on H1N1 appearing in Alabama: