Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Of ferrets and flu

kw: medicine, influenza, articles

In the May 2012 issue of Discover, a short article by Wendy Orent asks, "Can stuffing germs up ferrets unleash a human pandemic?" It briefly reports two sets of experiments that produced a virus derived from the avian pandemic virus, which became transmissible among ferrets. One of the experiments involved mixing the avian virus with a human virus and squirting it into a ferret's nose. Then taking snot from the ferret a few days later and squirting it in another ferret's nose. This was done ten times. At that point a sneezing ferret could infect other ferrets.

The conclusion: The procedure resembles a procedure used to produce vaccines, and is more likely to produce a flu vaccine than an infective influenza virus. Then the statement was made, "To make a deadly human flu, you would need to passage the strain among humans, not ferrets—a difficult and ethically impossible experiment."

Ethically impossible? For who?? As ethically impossible as piloting an aircraft into the WTC? or as puffing nerve gas into a Japanese subway air system? I suspect a clutch of fanatics would gladly "catch the flu" from a chicken, then from each other, in an effort to produce a deadly germ.

Of course, the perennial trouble with germ warfare, or germ terrorism, is that the "agent" will have a tendency to wander off-target, and infect people well beyond the bounds of the original infection. That is how pandemics are. It is also quite possible that a few folks in the targeted area, figuring out what is happening, would hop aboard the next airplane to the probable source country, in an act of reverse terrorism: "If I gotta die of this flu, I'll do it in , and take a few of them down with me!"

So, you terrorists out there, don't think you are the only fanatics on the planet…

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