Swine Flu Sanity

Don't we just eat up hysteria? I'll bet Google is just raking in the hits, worldwide, as people watch in near real time as the swine flu virus spreads its lethal tentacles across the entire globe.

Or not.

This sort of hysteria is fueled by one simple thing, and it's something we deal with here all the time: mass ignorance of evolutionary biology and its logic. Human evolution is pretty slow (though getting faster), but bacteria and viruses evolve rapidly. Why? Simple: generational length and population size. The larger the population equals higher chances for "favorable" mutations (mutations that help survival and/or reproduction) and the shorter the generation equals more rapid dissemination of the modified genes throughout the population.

Well, kinda, in this case. Our reason for concern, of course, is infection in humans and the ill effects, to include possible death. So, applying the logic above, we need a large population of infectious people in close proximity, and we need just exactly the right generational length.

We have neither, in this case.

The critical aspect is generational length. The only deaths have been in Mexico near the epicenter of the outbreak. The virus that killed those people is different from the one now spreading around the globe. In the case of the former, its generational length was too short, i.e., it incapacitated and killed too rapidly to get a foothold and spread. This is why one of the most lethal viruses know, Ebola, has always been confined to the jungles of Africa. It's literally too lethal to spread very far.

So, what is spreading, then? Well, go back to the logic of evolution. What's spreading has of necessity to be mild enough to allow its victims to walk around infected. Sure, you'll have some deaths, but not many, and those deaths will most likely be confined to people with other severe problems.

Relax.

Here's a couple of articles that should ease your mind. The first is a Critical Alert from Dr. Mercola. Dr. Mercola authored NYT bestselling The Great Bird Flu Hoax, where we learned that more people died from the vaccine than from infection of the virus itself. And the last swine flu scare, in 1976? 25 people died from the vaccine, and there was $1.3 billion in claims filed from victims of paralysis, including healthy 20-somethings ending up paraplegics. Now, you'll have to go read the actual article to find out what actually killed most of the 50-100 million people worldwide in 1918 (hint: it wasn't influenza).

And here's some sanity from the LA Times. (via @DianaHsieh)

As with any new outbreak, unraveling all of this flu's mysteries will take time. But, using the lens of Darwinian evolution, certain aspects are starting to come into focus. For one thing, it's clear that the virus, which originated in Mexico, is most virulent in that country. The 1,000 or so reported Mexican cases have been either fatal or severe enough to require hospitalization. But because of natural selection, the strains spreading across the world are milder.

According to evolutionary biologist Paul W. Ewald of the University of Louisville, human influenza is usually a mild to moderate disease because it depends on host mobility to spread. The U.S., Canadian and New Zealand teenagers on their spring breaks did not sit in hospitals with the very sick and dying; they mingled with people who were sneezing and coughing but walking around, riding subways, perhaps going to the beach or dancing in nightclubs. People don't start being really infectious until they show symptoms, and whatever symptoms those people had must have been mild enough to remain out in public. The strains sent out around the world were, by definition and necessity, milder than the most lethal strains.

And finally, reader, commenter, and friend Monica -- with a PhD in biology -- tells you how this sort of thing gets going in the first place, closing in full circle on a more paleo-styled life, where our livestock for food ought to be pastured and free roaming, simulating their natural life, just as we attempt to do. Moreover, according to Monica, it can be done.

Comments

  1. Stuart Buck says:

    And to keep things in perspective, check out this CNN headline: "Regular Flu Has Killed Thousands Since January." http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/04/28/regular.flu/index.html

  2. That clearly demonstrate how susceptible people are to mass hysteria.

    Malaria kills 3,000 people per day, has been for a long time, and will continue to do so.

  3. Xtremum says:

    Richard,

    Sorry to post off topic, but I was trying to repond to the HED post and it keeps freezing up my browser.

    I'm assuming it is a problem on your end becuase I can get into the rest of your posts fine.

  4. Sorry about that. I've received soradic reports about that happening intermittently.

    If you have it composed, email it to me (rnikoley –youknowthecharacter — gmail dot com). You might also try closing and restarting your browser, and do a force reload. So far, everyone who has reported it uses IE. I always recommend switching to Firefox.

  5. jbrjaw1 says:

    The virus in the United States is influenza A N1H1 mixed with swine influenza viruses. The virus contains genetic pieces from four different flu viruses — North American swine influenza, North American avian influenza, human influenza viruses and swine influenza viruses found in Asia and Europe, she said.

    “That particular genetic combination of swine influenza viruses has not been recognized before in the U.S. or elsewhere,” Schuchat said.

    I'm not a doctor, but I know how to copy and paste by golly…

  6. I agree. We should also take into account the different healthcare systems in the affected countries and the speed with which the patients were diagnosed and treated. From what I've seen on the news (in Spain) patients in Mexico have had to wait long periods of time before they were seen by doctors, which I assume would have some effect on the outcome of the individual cases.

  7. John Campbell says:

    CNN and the main stream media require a constant stream of crisis – this is just one more. Science and rational thought is tossed out – fear and dread replace them.

    Is 2009 just a tad different from 1918? I think so – one devastating pandemic in the last century following a war unlike any other, with inhuman living conditions that are hopefully never seen again.

    Another thing that bugs me about the MSM. Dr. Gupta et al prattle on about the importance of hand washing and avoiding contact with others – lots of dramatic pictures of people wearing surgical masks. The importance of the host response or general health is never mentioned. The best defense against any infection is good general health. I don't expect Dr. Gupta et al to recommend a paleo lifestyle in this millenium but a brief mention of the importance of good general health including proper sleep and a reasonable diet would remind people that health is an active pursuit to engage with life including various bugs new and old.

    As your blog reminds us – we are animals and perfectly capable of dealing with the challenges of life when we listen to and follow our biology. Wearing masks and shunning human contact is not the first line of defense. Sheesh – I can hardly wait until I get your t-shirt. What a bunch of wussies the so-called elite want us to become.

  8. Heh. I think that modern practical politics and their MSM bedfellows operate on a principle far different from our paleo/animal principle:

    "Never let a good crisis go to waste."

    Richard Nikoley