So I'm not freaking out like everyone did with Swine Flu, SARS, and Ebola. As a dual Ph.D. (science and criminal justice) I've taken more microbiology and organic chemistry than should be allowed by law.
I remember a few years ago when H1N1 popped up, here and in Mexico, there was much talk of conspiracies and Doomsday theories to keep peoples eyes away from the economy ("It's Captain Trips!! Start walking across Kansas for the great showdown in Las Vegas. Beware a man whose boots make sparks"). Even the poor pigs got bad press over this, with the virus originally being called the “swine flu” because laboratory testing showed that many of the genes in this new virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs in North America. But in actuality, studies were born out that that virus was very different from what normally circulates in North American pigs. It was actually a quadruple reassortant virus, with two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia and avian genes and human genes.
Another thing that came up in the conversations was people referencing the WHO "level 5" warning.in the Spring of what I believe was 2009. Remember, if that sort of warning pops up again - this warning level is primarily a means to qualify and communicate 1) that this outbreak has crossed regional borders and 2) it has the capability to be spread between human(s). It is not a reasonable scale for giving an accurate indication of how serious or life-threatening the illness may be.
Unfortunately, the media takes that and runs with it even if the paucity of the facts doesn't add up to the level of threat they are going to make it out to be. Now, THIS is why we should keep medical and scientific discussions in Latin and Greek. Attach a catchy name like swine flu or China flu to illnesses and even
Yes, the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic killed 10's of millions, with the cytokine storm effect resulting in the deaths of primarily the young and the healthy, as was the case in many SARS deaths, wherein, the immune systems of the young and healthy counteracted so vigorously it killed them. Yes, the 1918 flu was caused by an H1N1 strain. But the H1N1 subtype is now very common, causing many of the seasonal flu outbreaks over the past 90 years. The current vaccine even includes a strain of H1N1, first identified in Brisbane in 2007. Anyone remember the "Swine Flu Outbreak of 1976"? That was a rehash of the 1918 strain and it killed about 90 people, tragic yes, but not the 18 million of the original episode. I was a school kid, but I remember, especially the scary public service announcements, the ominous echo of kettle drums, bad acting, dismissive attitudes resulting in feverish visits to the hospital and the obligatory "old person death". Fear-mongering at its finest.
But if the new flu contains H1N1 and H1N1 subtypes have been around for years that have mutated, I still remember the Lysol cans from 20 years ago that said: "kills the coronavirus" (different strain than the China one). Should you ignore them? NO. It's simple. The arrangement of genetic components of the new flu has never been seen before—whether in pigs, animals, or people. That, in and of itself, concerned a lot of folks. Also, by being different from recent strains, the body's immune system may not be able to mount an effective response. Nor is there adequate data yet to see if this strain will target typical "flu death" groups, the very young and elderly, or go another course, even if that course results in few deaths. People will die from this current coronavirus strain, just like any flu strain. Any flu can kill you, not just one with a unique name.
Scientists are constantly studying new and old strains and the flu vaccine each year gets tweaked using such studies. The sequencing and resurrection of the influenza strain responsible for the 1918 pandemic have helped researchers to interpret the sequences of contemporary flu strains. We continually learn from the past, If you look at sources other than the network news, there is accurate information out there (on medicine AND politics) There are many people, like myself, who have an identification with Orson Scott Card's concept of the Speaker for the Dead - someone whose job it is to make each death more than a statistic.
I have spent some time in a biohazard suit, and have some education in contagions. On my computer desk, there are a few plushie microbe toys from ThinkGeek. Yersinia pestis. My favorite - the microbe some folks think was responsible for the black death. They've done some interesting historical forensic DNA work on the issue to prove otherwise, as not all scientists believe black death was bubonic plague in its pure form.
Certainly, there was the speed with which it killed, death often occurred within three days of the first symptoms appearing. Anthrax or a hemorrhagic-fever-causing virus similar to Ebola would be more likely than a plague to cause such a rapid demise, say some. But, in my personal opinion, black death was not at least primarily Y. pestis even as it does cause every symptom associated with the historical black death. The symptoms, the high mortality rate, the speed at which the disease spread, and the way the disease spread -- none of it jibes with typical bubonic plague
It's a puzzle, one that may give clues to other plagues that could pop up in our own backyards. Although pestis had evolved to be less fatal to its human hosts over time, it's really changed very little, the genome of the Black Death strain different from the modern & pestis "reference" strain by only about 100 nucleotides. But each of those genetic differences can be found in at least one of the modern strains. Something made the Black Death "special", but we're not sure why, rearrangements to the genome, are damn hard to determine from short fragments of DNA. One could try and resurrect the Black Death pathogen by modifying the genomes of the contemporary strains (oh, come on, it'll buff out!) in a controlled lab, where even an accidental infection could be handled with antibiotics. Perhaps they have.
It makes me really, really glad there are experts that continue to study this because the current China Coranovirus panic notwithstanding, there are pandemic threats that exist, and bioterror is not just a source idea for a "thriller" (and having found out by 2 days in Cardiac Critical care ICU that I'm one of those folks that can't take Cipro for a mild UTI or anthrax exposure, I am even happier.)
Yes, I'm a geek. A geek with a little blue-eyed, plushy microbe named "Nessie" (though I do not yet have virus DNA sequences on my iPod).
So I wanted to say this, only as a Ph.D. in science and a Mom. Get a flu shot because "regular" flu is more likely to kill you than China's coronavirus. If you see symptoms stay home, do NOT go to work and spread it.
Use the same precautions you would use in any flu season- staying home if you are sick, washing your hands with soap and HOT water. (How long to wash? Sing the Happy Birthday song while scrubbing, that's the right length of time, but avoid doing that out loud or often or people will call for professional help). Avoid those openly sick, or if family, use normal precautions in their care. Seek medical help immediately with a sustained high temperature and difficulty in breathing (the China coronavirus attaches to your lung tissue to replicate in a manner much more aggressive than regular flu). If you've flown or traveled to a country where the virus is widespread call the hospital before you arrive so they can be set up for necessary precautions as you are tested. As for those face masks (normally made in China), they will NOT help you outside of keeping you from touching your mouth or nose) as they aren't sealed and the virus has easy access to your mouth and skin. Don't panic, take normal precautions, and wash your hands a lot. You have better odds of winning the lottery than dying from the China coronavirus.
Barkley and my first virus "plushie"