Scary shit is going to get a lot scarier...
So, what’s new about this? Nothing really except that it pales in comparison to a new scourge that is about to decimate the planet. Think about it. Despite the many years (over 20 now) that the world has been struggling with HIV and its devastating impact on certain regions of the world (south Africa in particular) there has never been a gathering of world leaders, NGOs, activists and country specific summits to address the spread of AIDS. But in the last three months just these types of meetings have occurred to address the Bird Flu crisis. There seems to be something disproportionately alarmist in this response given that there have been, to date, less than a hundred people in the entire world (as far as we’ve been informed) that have succumbed to the H5N1 variant of this virus.
What would cause the world’s leaders, their respective governments and, most importantly, the World Health Organization (WHO) to huddle together to prepare a response to a potential pandemic that so far has claimed fewer victims than die in a single day from gunshot wounds in any given city in the US? The answer, most probably, is that they know something that we don’t. The watchwords – “Don’t Panic” – have sealed each report presented to the world community and publicly released. But what hasn’t been revealed is that the most feared development in the propagation of bird flu has already occurred – the virus has mutated and can now be passed between mammalian species! This interesting spin – mammalian as opposed to human – is part of continuous effort to keep the global citizenry from panicking and perhaps that’s just as well?
In September, WHO presented a confidential report to members of the UN Security Council – not all members mind you, just the Group of 8 plus China. The report, with the somewhat innocuous title of “The Probable Impact of a Global Viral Pandemic”, firstly, corroborates that the H5N1 virus has spawned 2 variants both of which are communicable between humans as well as other mammals. Secondly, the report estimates the ‘casualty rate’ over the next few years or less (holy shit!) will be at least 5 to 10% of the world population – that’s on the order of 150 – 250 million people worldwide !!! And this estimate is “…highly conservative...” according to the WHO report. Despite the efforts to keep this information suppressed, recent reports coming out of Vietnam and Thailand, confirm the ‘mutation scenario’. Scarier still is that in the cases that this development has been publicly confirmed, the victims have been relatively young (20s) and, most alarmingly, quite healthy.
The WHO report outlines a number of response scenarios, most notably a massive effort to develop potent anti-viral drugs (more than one are needed as the bird flu virus is actually a ‘family’ of viruses with no fewer than 20+ variants) as quickly as is possible. The Swiss-Canadian pharmaceutical firm, Roche, has, purportedly, an anti-viral drug, Tammiflu, which it is currently being manufactured at a furious pace and which is being stockpiled (horded) in huge quantities by Western governments (sic). Interestingly, Tammiflu has been shown to be partially effective against only one variant – not H5N1 – of a virus similar to ‘bird flu’ and this in only 60% of the recipients given the medication. Note that Tammiflu has not been used against H5N1 or any of the other bird flu variants.
Another response scenario is the closing of borders, including the prohibition of all international travel, particularly air travel. Needless to say, the industrialized nations, with thousands of jobs and billions of dollars at stake have ruled out this scenario out of hand.In its ‘ casualty forecast’, WHO predicts that the most severely affected areas will be high density, urban centers. One of the examples noted is Mexico City, whose population borders on 30+ million people in an area of approx. 200 sq. km. and which WHO estimates would suffer a casualty rate of 6+million people. Equally vulnerable are most of the southeastern cities in China, pretty much most of Europe and the mid-central urban centers in India. As for North America, the north eastern and south western regions along with southern California will be hardest hit. The more northerly countries, Canada, Scandinavian, Russia and parts of northern China may experience a lesser impact due to the generally colder climatic conditions – although there is no evidence to suggest bird flu virus(s) is temperature sensitive.
What may yet complicate these unnerving scenarios further is that the bird flu virus(s) has been confirmed (publicly this past week) to be communicable between most mammals. Assuming this is true, we may also witness the decimation of most of our mammalian species over the next five years! This was not the case in the last great pandemic in the 1920s during which time an estimated 20+ million people died worldwide but, as far as we know, no kittens.
A billion years of evolution (as we understand it today) has illustrated one irrefutable fact – that Nature will always adjust itself to a state of equilibrium. In other words, no single species has been allowed to completely dominate Gaia and those that have come close, e.g., proto-reptiles over 200 million years ago and, true reptiles – dinosaurs, more recently, have become extinct. Population pressures coupled with stochastic climate changes, along with a host of other variables, create the ideal environment for the propagation of highly adaptive and virtually indestructible biological change agents most notably viruses. Some scientists argue that the primary catalyst for evolutionary change/mutations is, in fact, triggered by a near-spontaneous, invasive viral event(s) – but this a digression.
The inevitability of another viral pandemic has been promulgated for the last 50 years or so. And if this is Nature’s way of ridding itself of a cancerous species – humanity, then there’s not much we can do about it. All we can hope for is that whoever, whatever is left will have learned a lesson or two – but history has repeatedly shown that there’s very little chance of that.