Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Evolution in Action

While America settles down for another nice long argument about whether evolution should be taught in schools, the continuing evolution of the H5N1 avian flu virus brings the world ever closer to an unprecedented public-health disaster in which millions of people could die:

H5N1 has been evolving much more rapidly than H3N2. This is due in part to the extreme genetic instability of H5N1 in Asia. H5N1 evolves via recombination, and each year new sequences fly into the region via migrating birds.
In Viet Nam, the situation is getting very bad indeed. As Effect Measure notes,
The Viet Namese report that after its initial appearance in early December, the spread began to accelerate in the first nine days of January. We are thus entering the exponential growth phase of the epidemic curve.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, a disease resembling meningococcemia, but with a fatality rate much more comparable to that of avian flu, is claiming victims through human-to-human transmission.

Both stories are virtually absent from the U.S. media; the situation in the Philippines, in particular, has been completely ignored.


oldwhitelady said...

Can't have bad news floating around through our media. Gotta keep the folks insulated.

Revere said...

I think the Philippines "meningococcemia" story is indeed worth keeping an eye on. This was brought to my attention by Henry Niman over at recombinomics which you link to. If this turns out to be avian influenza we could be in very big trouble. WHO has dispatched a team there (still under the assumption this is meningitis of some kind), so we should hear something fairly soon. Niman points out that an additional feature of the 1918 virus was that it was neurotropic.