If you don’t recognize the title, I implore you to tread carefully if you choose to continue reading this entry. I am not going to make any effort to restrain myself in objection to all the misinformation embroiling the latest version of the influenza virus.
Here, you have a structural space-filling depiction of the H1N1-A variant of the influenza virus. This is the strain that has recently begun spreading from Mexico, through the US, and is now showing signs of life elsewhere on the planet as well. Unless you have been living under a cable-deficient, radio-deprived, 3G-devoid, Wifi-challenged rock for the last month, you’ve probably heard the words and phrases “pandemic”, “epidemic”, and “global pandemic” (guh!) thrown around like excretement in a monkey cage.
Let me be absolutely clear here. There is nothing – absolutely NOTHING – about this virus that should logically or scientifically be causing such a veritable circus in the media. To say nothing of the alarming spike in deductive diarrhea from folks spreading fear, doom, and most disgustingly, misinformation.
What people are saying
Some of the more innocuous stories are what you’ll see on your average news station or newspaper. Obama is making a statement, schools are shutting down, people are walking around with masks, hand sanitizers are flying off the shelves, and the number of confirmed cases grows daily and in more countries. Granted, this sight can be alarming even for the most seasoned veterans. Human instinct, after all, involves a certain degree of collective cohesion. Hence the classic line from Men in Black:
“The person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.”
From here, it just goes downhill. XKCD recently posted a webcomic about the outbreak. I’ll post it here for ease of viewing.
The mass panic and utter disregard for any sort of data confirmation is astounding. Yes, these were actual tweets from real people put into the comic.
It’s not H1N1 that’s scary; it’s the homo sapien response to it. But wait, I’m not done: it gets even worse, if you can believe that.
I took a jaunt on Facebook, and simply typed “swine flu” into the search box. I was greeted with several pages worth of hits, mostly groups dedicated to the “sharing of information and event updates” regarding the spread of the H1N1 influenza virus. It seemed rational enough, until I saw the very first thread entitled “could this be a bio weapon?”
“not to sound alarmist . but i ve been watching the news and as i gather it this is a mixture of 4 different strains of flu virus and its something thats never been seen before . essentially you build up an immunity to such things over the years but because no one has ever had anything like this before this does nt exsist . could the complexity of this virus point to it being a biological weapon of some sort ?”
“It was obviously created by human, but WHO? that’s the question. It contains strains from aviar flu, human flu, european swine flu, and asiatic swine flu. Under natural circunstances these strains wouldnt mix since they are from completely different enviroments and parts of the world. After all human fabricated AIDS, a virus that used to have as main target black population, poor people, and gay people… a fast way to wipe out with the lower scale population of the planet.”
“Whether this was created by a company, a country, a selective group of people with a lot power, etc… it’s obviously this is produced by human. I guess we’ll have to wait and see…You are absolutely right. This IS a bio weapon. It will be used on the MASS PUBLIC. Refer to the Georgia Guidestones and the line about managing humanity under 500 million. Now think about how quickly the public has unanimously decided that this is a man-made virus. Connect it with the mass graves being dug by FEMA and the vaccination for such a complex virus just happens to be prepared within a day or two of the outbreak. This vaccine is also a vaccine in which many top govrnment officials have stake of the profits in. Including Donald Rumsfeld. Soon we will see the emerging New World Order and signs of economic collapse. Prepare yourselves for the fulfillment of the Bible. Buy a gun, pray alot, and be prepared to accept Jesus as your lord and savior if you havent already.”
What is actually the case
I’m honestly not entirely sure where to even begin.
I’m reminded of when I was a wide-eyed, newly-minted high-school-graduate freshman at Georgia Tech attending one of my first college courses in the fall of 2003: English II. My professor was outlining the technicalities of the course, and she reached the usual bit regarding grades and assignment penalties and general rules of discussion. All of these were generally vanilla, until she said:
“Also, no shaving during class, please.”
The shocked silence was deafening. She continued by pointing out that just about every rule which was in place existed because it had been broken in the past. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
This circus of misinformation is similar in that I never would have expected to have to refute something as asinine and vapid as the claims above. The fact that such beliefs not only exist but are held by thousands – if not millions – of people is truly paradigm-shattering.
I spoke with my dad tonight, a professor and department head at the University of Georgia. He’s a former 15-year CDC employee and expert in all things microbiotic, in particular infectious diseases. After a lengthy catching-up conversation involving discussions surrounding tuberculosis spoligotype analysis, machine learning principles, and bioimage decomposition (yes, we talk about these things in casual conversation…), I asked him his opinion on the swine flu. His response went something like this:
*snort* “What a circus.”
Here are the facts, ladies and gentlemen. Pay close attention.
The H1N1-A flu variant is indeed a somewhat perplexing combination of genotypes from other known strains of flu – one from a human variant, one from the avian flu, and two distinct versions of swine flu. The genetic makeup bears similarities to the 1918 “Spanish Flu” that did indeed cause a serious epidemic. Because of its relative chemical simplicity, the influenza virus (and every other virus on the planet) is capable of sudden and marked mutation.
Behind the theory of evolution is the following lemma: all forms of life are very easy to endanger, but damn near impossible to wipe out entirely. Viruses are no exception; neither are bacteria, or plants, or animals, or humans. Even in the short time since antibacterial and antiviral medications have been invented, dozens – if not hundreds – of strains have developed immunities through genetic mutation and evolutionary adaptation. Viruses in particular are tricky buggers, because they are so chemically simplistic – it’s very easy to induce genetic changes to confer antiviral resistence.
However, the upshot is this: if the H1N1-A influenza virus had showed up in January instead of May, it would not have created the epidemic of media hemorrhage that it has.
Thus far, it has behaved no differently from any other annual emergence of new flu strains. “Flu season” is typically in the winter, and vaccines are created each year to counteract the new variant. Every decade or so, the virus undergoes major mutation and its virulence temporarily jumps until a proper proportion of the population is inoculated.
And the cycle repeats.
That’s all there is to it, folks. This current variant is extremely common occurrence; asserting such a fusion of different strains to be impossible reeks of ignorance and myopia. Quite the contrary, it is the influenza virus and nature at large doing what they do best – surviving.
So don’t you dare link me to a Rush Limbaugh hellfire-and-brimstone speech as proof that this virus is a conspiracy of the liberal anarchists. 😛