Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ha Ha...

Funny cartoon... if you share my (sick...?) sense of humour.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Map

I visit Recombinomics.com nearly every day. I've linked to the dynamic map from Recombinomics before. Here it is again.

H5N1 Wild Bird Flu Map

I don't think I've blogged on it, but I know I've talked about it. What is starting to really concern me is when H5N1 spreads through the middle east into Africa.

There are a lot of African states that do not have the resources or controls to stop an outbreak of H5N1. This increases the likelihood of human exposure. This increases the likelihood of the virus shifting / mutating to allow efficient human-to-human transmission. We can't control the spread of a flu in 1st world states, what do you think will happen in some 3rd world countries?

Or... if you want the real nightmare scenario... Two of the scariest diseases known to man are alive and well in (mainly central) Africa - Ebola and Marburg. Imagine the nightmare that would happen if H5N1 combined with one of those...

Exporting Bird Flu

Did you know that Canada is currently an exporter of bird flu?

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Australia bans imports of Canadian birds; pigeons said to have flu antibodies

Australian authorities said Friday they are banning import of birds from Canada after three pigeons tested positive for bird flu antibodies.

The birds were in a consignment of 102 pigeons that arrived in Australia on Sept. 3. They tested positive while being held in quarantine in the southern city Melbourne, Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

He said the birds were not carrying bird flu, only the antibodies, indicating they had at some time been exposed.

"That could at some stage have developed into something else in the future," he said.
He did not say which strain of bird flu antibodies they were carrying but noted they were found with the antibodies, despite being certified disease-free by Canadian authorities.


None of the imported birds was allowed out of quarantine and the three found with bird flu antibodies were destroyed.

"Thankfully, Australia's quarantine system worked as it's meant to, that we didn't take the certification on face value even though it is coming from an advanced country," McGauran said.

"Australia will be imposing an immediate ban in the importation of birds from Canada until there is further and better reasons given for the errors made by the Canadian quarantine authorities," he added.
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Okay... they weren't actually carrying the bird flu, but the fact that they were carrying the anit-bodies should cause concern. This means that they were exposed to bird flu somehow.

Does this mean that H5N1 is already in Canada?

Perhaps it's 'dormant' right now - - if that's possible - - but somewhere in the country.

Striking a little closer to home now...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Spread of avian flu baffles scientists

How's that for a headline you don't want to read? It's from today's Globe.

In a nut-shell, scientists are baffled by how avian flu is spreading. They are watching H5N1 pass between species of migratory birds. But they don't appear to know which birds to be watching.

Here's how the article ends...

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So they are now considering the likelihood that some other wild bird they haven't identified is carrying the virus from place to place. The wild bird die-offs, they think, occur when the carrier birds come in contact with other wild birds that are susceptible to the virus.

“One thing we know about highly pathogenic viruses” — this H5N1 is a high path virus — “is they're not highly pathogenic to all species,” says Dr. David Halvorson, a veterinarian who specializes in avian health at the University of Minnesota.

“So . . . the birds that are dying may not be responsible for transmitting it from one place to another. They might be victims of some other cousin bird that's transmitting it that's less affected by it.”

And it may not be just one species of carrier birds.

“It could be several different bird species that can be infected and possibly fly far distances and shed virus and transmit the virus,” says Dr. David Swayne, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory in Athens, Ga.

“It's just a matter that no one has found that species yet. The only thing they've found has been the dead birds when an outbreak has been found in wild birds.”

Complicating the matter is the fact that even among birds that carry these viruses, only a portion of a species will be infected at any one time. A negative test wouldn't rule out the species, only that individual bird at that specific time.

Dr. Swayne suggests if the culprit or culprits are discovered, it could be a chance finding.

“It may be kind of difficult,” he admits.

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Add to this that the news wires are starting to talk about 2600 dead birds in China and that a possible familial cluster of H5N1 has been discovered in Thiland...

Numerous interesting (and scary) developments in the progress of H5N1.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Now the EU

I'm away on business right now, so entries will probably be more sporadic than usual this week.

But here's something worth adding to the H5N1 picture... it's now in the EU.

Greece becomes first EU country to confirm bird flu

Friday, October 14, 2005

H5N1 resistant to Tamiflu

This is a bit of a mixed news story.

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Scientists say they have found Tamiflu-resistant strain of bird

Researchers have identified a mutated form of H5N1 bird flu that is resistant to Tamiflu, the drug being stockpiled around the world to counter a feared influenza pandemic, a study released says.

The strain was found in a case in Vietnam involving a 14-year-old girl who may have caught the flu from her brother rather than directly from infected birds, it said.

Sequencing of the virus showed that it had a mutation that made it resistant to oseltamivir, the lab name for Tamiflu.

However, tests on lab animals showed that the resistant virus is sensitive to another drug called zanamivir, commercialised as Relenza, the research said.

The study was due to be published next Thursday in Nature, the British science weekly, but the journal decided to bring forward its release because of its importance.


The findings "raise the possibility that it might be useful to stockpile zanamivir as well as oseltamivir in the event of an H5N1 influenza pandemic," said the authors, led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Tokyo and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
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So... at least one strain of H5N1 is now resistant to Tamiflu. Bad news as Tamiflu seems to be the drug du jour for a lot of contries hoping to stockpile for the pending pandemic.

The good news is that the Tamiflu resistant strain is still susceptible to Relenza.

However, this does pose a financial and logistical barrier for countries, organizations, and individuals. Now, instead of having to stockpile one drug, they have to stockpile two. My prediction is that it's only a matter of time before researchers discover a different strain that's resistant to Relenza... or both drugs.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Q & A on Avian Flu

An interesting Q&A from Fox news.

Bird Flu FAQs: Ten Questions, Ten Answers

Spreading further

Here are the latest entries at Recombinomics.

Just by reading the entry titles, you can see geographic and numerical increases.

H5N1 Wild Bird Flu Confirmed in Turkey

16th H5N1 Fatality Transferred 20 Minutes Before Death

Over 3600 Dead Wild Ducks In West Azerbajan Iran

17th H5N1 Fatality Dies 4.5 Hours After Re-Admission

H5 in Domestic Poultry Confirmed in Romania

Bird Flu Symptoms in Sulianti Suraso Health Care Worker

These are all bad, but it's this last one that worries me the most.

Health care workers getting sick... They aren't getting sick by coming in contact with birds; they are getting sick by coming in contact with people that are sick.

From my point of view, the single factor keeping the looming pandemic from hitting is the lack of human-to-human transmission. If we start getting indicators of more health care workers getting sick - and it's confirmed as H5N1 - then I would suggest we've crossed the final threshold.

6 months ago, who would have pegged Jakarta as the H5N1 hotspot? Just goes to show that you never know...

Monday, October 10, 2005

Good luck with that

Not going to quote the whole story, just wish US Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt 'good luck'...

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U.S. health secretary warns of a future bird flu pandemic

Leading a multinational team of medical experts to mobilize Southeast Asian countries against bird flu, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said Monday the likelihood of a flu pandemic in the future is "very high."

Leavitt said his delegation reviewed Thailand's plan of action against bird flu and that a draft of a comprehensive U.S. plan would be released in a few days.

He described "containment" as the first line of defence against bird flu, and encouraged strengthening public health systems to find out as early as possible of any cases of human-to-human transmission.

Another strategy was the production and use of antiviral drugs and vaccines. Leavitt said that scientists have developed a vaccine based on bird flu samples from Vietnam, but the effective dosages are six to 12 times that used for combating the so-called seasonal influenza that has become common around the world.
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So... Mr. Leavitt suggests 'containing' something that is being spread by migratory birds capable of flying 100 miles a day. With what?

Then he's going to use antiviral drugs and vaccines. Interesting. A lot of reports indicate that the US only has enough vaccine for 2-3% of it's population. If you need 6 to 12 times the normal dose...

Doesn't appear to me that he's got a rock solid strategy building here, does it?

Another familial H5N1 cluster

H5N1 Confirmed Familial Cluster in Lampung Indonesia

And now Hungary... ?

Suspect H5N1 Bird Flu Case in Hungary?

Progress and decline

How can a country make this much progress and this much decline at the same time?

From Social Studies in today's Globe...

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Where the boys are

Visitors to U.S. college campuses can't help but ask: Where are the boys? reports USA Today. Currently, 135 women receive bachelor's degrees for every 100 men and that imbalance will widen in coming years, according to a report by the federal Department of Education. Nearly as many American men are behind bars or on probation and parole (five million) as are in college (7.3 million).
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Saturday, October 08, 2005

H5N1 in Turkey and Romania

From Reuters...

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Romania reports new bird flu cases in Danube delta

Romania reported new cases of avian flu in the Danube delta on the Black Sea on Saturday and began culling hundreds of birds to prevent the disease from spreading, authorities said.
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Bird flu case discovered in Turkey

Bird flu has been discovered in Turkey for the first time since the recent outbreak of the disease in Asia, Turkish Farm Minister Mehdi Eker was quoted as saying on Saturday.
CNN Turk television said that 2,000 turkeys had died of the disease on a farm in Balikesir province near the Aegean Sea in western Turkey. All animals on the farm had been slaughtered to prevent the disease spreading, it added.

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Finding H5N1 in Turkey and Romania at this time is consistent with the geographic spread of H5N1 via migratory birds.

Jakarta remains the global hotspot right now, with 89+ confirmed H5N1 cases in humans.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Another Pet Theory of Mine

I have another pet theory that has to do with the rising price of oil causing a recession.

From my April 15th post... [noting like quoting yourself as a source, huh?]

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Perhaps I should discuss my theories regarding the pending collapse of North America's economies. You know... sky rocketing oil prices driving the cost of transportation so high that our national infrastructure grinds to a screeching halt; the eventual rise in interest rates that will result in foreclosures and bankruptcies everywhere (thanks to the big banks love affair with allowing families to leverage themselves to the last dime); all wrapped up in a blanket of super-debt that our neighbours to the south seem to think is somehow propping up the rest of the world.
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A little melodramatic... but I'm sure you get the point.

Here are some selected para's from an article in today's Globe:

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Energy prices bear down on retailers

Although North American retailers have managed to dodge the full wrath of soaring energy prices so far, there are mounting signs that the game is nearly up.

The latest batch of economic reports suggest that the seemingly endless rise in crude, gas and heating oil prices is finally having an impact on how much consumers are willing to spend. With consumer spending waning during the most important shopping season of the year, most equity strategists agree that investors should steer clear of retail stocks.

"Consumer spending held up early this year despite the rise in gas prices, but there has to be a breaking point," said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics. "I think we are finally approaching that point."

The price of oil surged to a record high $70.85 (U.S.) a barrel in August as hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf Coast. Crude has risen 35 per cent in the past year. Gasoline and heating oil futures are more than 50 per cent higher year over year while natural gas prices have spiked to records of more than $14 per million British thermal units, more than double from a year ago.

Desjardins Securities analyst Keith Howlett estimates that at current prices, the combined pain of higher gasoline prices, home heating costs and electricity charges will take an additional $6-billion (Canadian) out of consumers' pockets. That is "significant" when one considers that Canadians spend about $240-billion at retail outlets

"If we eliminate that factor, people are going to look at their net worth and discover that energy prices matter. And then you will get a change in strategy in terms of how a consumer will spend, and allocate their dollars."
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It's been a while since I've had to walk anyone through a meaningful economic analysis, so I'm not going to try. But how's this for a simple logic chain...

- Oil and gas prices rise.
- Consumers have less money to spend on retail purchases, so they purchase less.
- When retail sales fall, jobs are lost.
- When jobs are lost,there's less money to spend on retail purchases.
- And so on, and so on, and so on.

An over-simplification to say the least, but the logic works. But let's get a little funky and add in the role of central banks and interest rates.

Interest rates remain at an all time low. But all the signs are in place for central banks to start raising rates slowly over time. We're an overly-leveraged economy. What happens when interest rates creep up? When the prime rate goes up, so do mortgage rates. Folks on fixed rates are protected in the short-term, but not forever. Folks on variable rates are impacted, but they don't actually 'feel' the impact until it's time to renegotiate their mortgage - that's crunch time. Ultimately, higher mortgage rates means less ability to afford homes. Couple that with job losses from retail environments and I think you have a formula for increased bankruptcy and foreclosure rates.

Consider also the folks who are so leveraged that they live paycheque to paycheque. It's more than theoretically possible that a marginal increase in oil and gas prices will put them beyond their ability to service their personal debt loads. When this happens... bankruptcies and foreclosures.

Let's add in one more layer to the mix - investors. Investors put their money in places that make them money. If retail sales are falling, retailers are (presumably) making less profit. That means less incentive for investors to keep their money in retail-related investments. Pulling out investments may (under the right circumstances) have a multiplier effect on the difficulties already being faced by the retailers due to decreased sales.

As consumers, we end up spending more $$ on less goods. Average standard of living decreases... etc., etc.

I started talking about this with friends and colleagues about 18 months ago. It was my hypothesis at the time that we would enter a major, global recession within 5 years. The catalyst would be rising oil and gas prices. 3.5 years to go in my prediction... oil and gas prices are significantly increased over where they were... the warning signs are starting to build.

Anyone want to guess the outcome?