“I can’t think of anything bigger that’s happened in virology for many years.”
That’s the assessment of one expert in Gina Kolata’s New York Times front-pager on new research about the 1918 influenza virus: The 1918 influenza virus, the cause of one of history’s most deadly epidemics, has been reconstructed and found to be a bird flu that jumped directly to humans, two teams of federal and university ...
That's the assessment of one expert in Gina Kolata's New York Times front-pager on new research about the 1918 influenza virus:
That’s the assessment of one expert in Gina Kolata’s New York Times front-pager on new research about the 1918 influenza virus:
The 1918 influenza virus, the cause of one of history’s most deadly epidemics, has been reconstructed and found to be a bird flu that jumped directly to humans, two teams of federal and university scientists announced yesterday…. “This is huge, huge, huge,” said John Oxford, a professor of virology at St. Bartholomew’s and the Royal London Hospital who was not part of the research team. “It’s a huge breakthrough to be able to put a searchlight on a virus that killed 50 million people. I can’t think of anything bigger that’s happened in virology for many years.” The scientists painstakingly traced the genetic sequence, synthesized the virus using tools of molecular biology, and infected mice and human lung cells with it in a secure laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The research is being published in the journals Nature and Science. The findings, the scientists say, reveal a small number of genetic changes that may explain why this virus was so lethal. It is significantly different from flu viruses that caused the more recent pandemics of 1957 and 1968. Those viruses were not bird flu viruses but instead were human flu viruses that picked up a few genetic elements of bird flu. The research also confirms the legitimacy of worries about the bird flu viruses, called H5N1, that are emerging in Asia. Since 1997, bird flocks in 11 countries have been decimated by flu outbreaks. So far nearly all the people infected – more than 100, including more than 60 who died – contracted the sickness directly from birds. However, there has been little transmission between people.
A companion piece by Gardiner Harris suggests that Democrats have officially freaked out about the avian flu problem:
Health officials have warned for years that a virulent bird flu could kill millions of people, but few in Washington have seemed alarmed. After a closed-door briefing last week, however, fear of an outbreak swept official Washington, which was still reeling from the poor response to Hurricane Katrina. The day after the briefing, led by Michael O. Leavitt, the secretary of Health and Human Services, and other senior government health officials, the Senate squeezed $3.9 billion for flu preparations into a Pentagon appropriations bill. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats plan to introduce another bill calling for the creation of a flu pandemic coordinator within the White House and a federal buy-back program for unused flu vaccines, among other measures, according to a draft of the bill. Its authors include the Senate minority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada; Senator Barack Obama of Illinois; and Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Thirty-two Democratic senators sent a letter to President Bush on Tuesday expressing “grave concern that the nation is dangerously unprepared for the serious threat of avian influenza.”…. Mr. Leavitt warned in the briefing last week that an outbreak could cause 100,000 to 2 million deaths and as many as 10 million hospitalizations in the United States, one person who was present said. Those numbers have been presented publicly many times before. But hearing them in closed session gave them urgency, some who were at the meeting said. The briefing “scared the hell out of me,” Senator Reid said recently.
So the Times, it appears, passes the Hotline Blog’s test of media relevance (link via Glenn Reynolds). Even though I’ve been Bush-bashing as of late, it’s worth pointing out that Democrats are late to this party. Kolata says in her story that, “Bush administration officials have been talking about pandemic flu preparedness for years, and they say they will soon release a pandemic flu plan, in the works for more than a year.” Harris says that, “The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, said he had been delivering speeches about improving the nation’s preparedness for a flu pandemic since December.” Of course, let’s see how the plans pan out.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of The Ideas Industry. Twitter: @dandrezner
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