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A New Plague

The fact that Laci Peterson is getting more coverage than SARS is just wrong. China admits that the epidemic is now loose in the countryside, and 10 out of 31 Chinese provinces have reported cases. That's is a huge disaster about to happen, with potential deaths going from ~200 now to easily hundreds of thousands in a couple months.

What do we know? SARS is caused by a common cold virus that causes atypical pneumonia, meaning enough fluid appears in the lungs to drown the infected person unless they are intubated and/or put on breathing apparatus. Because it is viral, antibiotics don't work. Because it is respiratory, it spreads quickly.

What does this mean in China's rural provinces? A disease that is fatal in more than 1 in 25 and that is spread roughly as easily as a cold. AIDS took 20 years to infect 40 million people because of the mode of transmission and the delay in the onset of disease. Unless things change for the better soon, SARS could reach 40 million cases (and perhaps 1 or 2 million dead) by this time next year. As usual, poor nations will bear the brunt of it, but the victims in Hong Kong prove it can be lethal even in places with advanced medical care.

Am I the only one who finds this completely terrifying? And that the Peterson murder is just completely trivial by comparison?

Comments

( 6 sutras — Your wisdom )
gojutremere
Apr. 21st, 2003 05:15 pm (UTC)
No I agree that it is pretty scary. And yeah murder is pretty triaval by comparisson.
mckitterick
Apr. 22nd, 2003 04:31 pm (UTC)
yup, scary
Reminds me of another preview we saw at "Bulletproof Monk," the newest in the last-man-alive genre. When you put it that way (40 million cases by the end of the year), it seems a bit, well, HORRIFYING. 1 in 25 die. Spreads by air/touch/looking at you funny.

Mommy.

If that many Chinese get it this year, you KNOW millions will be getting it in our country, because lots of Chinese folk live here. I had one student from China who went to the health center because he was afraid he had it after visiting family; turned out to be a normal cold, but it COULD have been the new plague.

Not only does it make murder look puny (who is Peterson, by the way?), it makes the Iraq thing look puny.

Chris
the_monkey_king
Apr. 24th, 2003 10:57 pm (UTC)
Re: some hope:
The good news: it's not as infectious as the flu.
The bad news: the mortality rate is double that of the flu (5 to 6% for SARS, 3% for flu). In other words, it will kill more people than the flu if we don't learn more about the modes of transmission.
The disease is likely to be endemic in Asia. Whether it expands beyond Toronto in North America is anyone's guess, but the numbers so far could be just like AIDS in the early years: the start of a much bigger problem.
(Anonymous)
May. 3rd, 2003 10:38 pm (UTC)
Raving Paranoid Conspiracy Theorist Here...
You wanna know what's scarier? The idea that this is a low-grade bioweapon. People deny the possibility, but think about it. If you want to take out China, you don't hit them with something that's going to be horrifically lethal, as that would spread to the First World (i.e., the U.S.A.) all too quickly. But you hit them with something that will take out a couple of million people, and tie down tens if not hundreds of millions of others... the result? You depress their economy, which was just starting to get nicely warmed up and, if you are lucky, cause enough unrest in certain areas that the government has trouble keeping control, which keeps them out of your hair while you grab bits and pieces of the Middle and Far East in order to secure your growing empire.

And if it does break in the U.S.A.? No big deal, as the First World has the technology and medical ability to deal with it far better than China does. Besides, what's a few thousand schmucks that couldn't afford proper medical care, anyway? After all, it will be the working poor and the African Americans that bear the brunt of the epidemic when (not if) it strikes here, and since they all vote Democrat anyway, who cares?

Win/Win for the U.S. of A. Or rather, the current Regime that rules it, which is just stupid and evil enough to do something like this...
(Anonymous)
May. 4th, 2003 10:00 pm (UTC)
Preventing Epidemics
A "BIRDBRAIN" ORIGIN THEORY
One of my virology professors said that one reason why China seems to be the hotbed of influenza (flu) and cold virus infections is the proximity humans live with fowl. The virus jumps from the avians to humans easier when kept in close quarters. Using Occam's razor, the origin of SARS was probably from this pool and jumped to humans. No need for conspiracy theories here.

EPIDEMIOLOGY HOPE
As with any creature, mutations occur, and some of these will be more virulent. Initially, the most susceptible people die, leaving those with increased immunity. Also, in cases where the virus causes death (which also leaves the pathogen dead), the virus can mutate to less virulent forms that sicken but don't kill. Syphilis is a prime example. When it initially hit Europe, presumably from the Americas, it caused many deaths. Over the next century it mutated into a less lethal form that we know today. Hopefully AIDS, SARS, and other illnesses will follow this same path.

BEST MEDICINE
The best way to stop epidemics is prevent them worldwide. Smallpox is a prime example. Last known case: Somalia, 1977. Unfortunately, 2 known reservoirs of the virus were kept, one by the USSR, and one by the US. I'm sure you can guess the reason why.

3 NEEDED POLICY CHANGES
1. Prevention using a good health care system. Covering the 1 out of 4 Americans who do not have health coverage. Unfortunately, with state budget crunches, no hope from the federal govt, and a contracting economy the number of uninsured grows rather than lessens. Changing this will starts with kicking Bush out of the White House and keeping state govt money flowing to health care instead of other areas in their tight budgets.

2. Forcing HMOs/insurers to do more preventative care than they are doing. Treatment once people get an virus is difficult. Inteferons looked initially promising, but have not lived up to the hope. Antibiotics only work on bacteria, though their efficacy becomes more limited in part because more and more animals are given antibiotics in their feed.

3. Going worldwide with our medical and educational assistance. This is the most important step of all, and one least likely to be taken by the U.S.

People, especially the right (wrong!) wing, still don't get that it can be in our overall best interest to spend our money on other people whether in prventing disease or improving economies. Our nation is one of the most miserly nations when it comes to foreign aid as a % of our budget. Most of that goes for allies to buy weapons and food from us. Example: Saddam Hussein for many years got this assistance even after he gassed the Kurds. And guess Bush's latest budget request for rebuilding Afghanistan. No, go lower. $0. Congress added a few million, but you can see how far that goes just by looking at the budget of a major city like Seattle. Contrast this with Israel, which got $11 billion, our largest foreign aid package this year. Israel is certainly a first world country and relative to our newly liberated country like Afganistan, doesn't need this money. Most of which will be poured into ..... military and food. [Sidenote: We are the largest purveyor of weapons in the world by far.]

Repeatedly, studies have shown the best way to improve the health of a nation both physically and economically is to educate women and provide them with good health care emphasizing reproductive choices. Unfortunately, the right-wing control of women's health care means less money is available than ever. The Republican party has taken this as one of their planks in their platform...the latest bill on AIDS relief emphasizes abstinence.

Also, worldwide health efforts seldom look at diseases that seem to be isolated in the third world like worms. AIDS was overlooked in Africa for decades because people were dying of so many other things that their was no way to look for a new disease agent. Some private organizations like The Bill Gates Foundation have stepped into the breach. But even this will only go so far.

S. Baur B.S. Biology U of IL
( 6 sutras — Your wisdom )

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