by Bill Sardi by Bill Sardi
Strange events surround the monitoring of influenza viruses throughout the world. The public keeps hearing of an impending flu pandemic that could sweep the world and kill millions. Most on the minds of infectious disease experts is the dreaded H5 N1 strain of influenza virus which was involved in the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak that killed millions worldwide. Will H5 N1 reappear? Infectious disease experts say it is only a matter of time before H5N1 encircles the globe with potentially lethal ferocity.
Potentially deadly influenza viruses exist harmlessly in birds. But, occasionally, these viruses jump from birds to pigs. In 1918 it is believed a variety of swine flu jumped from pigs to humans. There, it mutated into an entirely new strain that humans had little immunity towards.
At this moment in time H5N1 appears to be confined to birds in Asia, but a few cases of H5N1 have jumped from animals to humans , resulting in the death of less than 100 people. So far, human transmission doesn’t appear to be strong. Will the H5N1/2005 version fizzle out as did the SARS virus that only killed 812 people worldwide?
Maybe H5N1 is for real this time. The fact that an entire family of five was infected with H5N1 in Vietnam, as reported in late March, 2005, is cause for concern. Is the H5N1 flu virus naturally mutating into a more virulent and transmissible strain? Or is someone helping the process along?
Who put the mutated human flu virus in a pig in South Korea?
Nature Magazine, in its February 24 issue, reported that Henry Niman, a biologist with Recombinomics, last November was examining flu virus gene sequences that were placed in GenBank, a public database in New Mexico run by the World Health Organization. Niman found a strain of human flu virus that was created in 1940 in a London lab by scientists who were experimenting with the virus that had caused the flu pandemic of 1918. The problem is that this mutated human flu virus was placed in GenBank by researchers at Chungnam National University Daejon, South Korea. It had been obtained from a pig! This flu gene sequence doesn’t exist in nature. It had to be artificially implanted into pigs.
The World Health Organization has characterized the flu gene sequences as a laboratory error, but the Korean scientist who posted them insists they are real. The genetic sequence of the virus, called WSN/33, "poses a grave danger to human health," says Henry Niman in Science Magazine. [Science, March 4, 2005, Volume 307, p. 1392] You’ve now got the two most prestigious scientific journals commenting on this intrigue. As Martin Enserink of Science Magazine asked: "Is this evidence of an embarrassing and mistaken release from a laboratory, or a u2018smoking gun’ from a secret biowarfare experiment?" Five months after the gene sequences for the WSN/33 virus was posted on the GenBank database, its existence, reported in many pigs on many farms in Korea, goes unexplained.
A laboratory mistake, or bioterrorism?
If it is an inadvertent release from a laboratory, why isn’t there swift action by the World Health Organization to stop its spread? To add to the intrigue, North Korea reports on March 27, 2005 that it has experienced its first outbreak of the deadly bird flu virus. [BBC News March 27, 2005] Are South Korean labs attempting to sabotage the North Korean food supply?
Henry Niman says there is nothing remotely similar to the WSN/33 flu virus that has circulated in recent decades and "most of the global population would have little or no immunity to the virus." Laurie Garrett, author of The Coming Plague and Betrayal of Trust, who resigned from her post as a newspaper reporter to report directly on bioterrorism and impending flu pandemics to the Council on Foreign Relations, quotes an Internet journal as saying "these sequences could represent a military experiment that resulted in an unplanned release. Moreover, at this point, bioterrorism cannot be ruled out." [Laurie Garrett, Feb. 23, 2005, Council Foreign Relations]
Why the propaganda?
But is bioterrorism being used as a scapegoat for the release of the mutated human flu virus into a pig in South Korea? At the very same time these events are unfolding, the news media is releasing reports that "the threat of a biological terrorist strike by al Qaeda is very real." [Source: Interpol, reported by CNN.com Feb. 24, 2005] Why the propaganda that suggests al Qaeda could spread killer viruses? Killer viruses would sweep the globe and kill off those with the weakest immunity and poorest nutrition. The Arab world would likely suffer more deaths than developed nations from such a flu outbreak.
The news media continue to quote misleadingly high mortality rates from the bird flu, but the reported cases are in undeveloped countries where human immunity is low. The SARS virus was barely noted as a public health problem in the US where, due to better nutrition and public hygiene, immunity is relatively high.
Julie Gerberding, Centers for Disease Control chief, says her agency is getting ready for a possible pandemic next year. [Associated Press, Feb. 22, 2005] Great Britain is laying plans to shut down schools and offices if the bird flu arrives and has ordered millions of antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu (a drug developed by Gilead Sciences, formerly headed by Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense). [The Observer, March 27, 2005] The British are also increasing emergency mortuary space for dead bodies. [The Independent, March 27, 2005] President Bush has issued a directive that would allow authorities to detain or isolate international airline passengers suspected of having avian flu. [Reuters April 1, 2005]
The CDC has launched a human trial for an H5N1 vaccine, but a report in New Scientist says these trials are likely to be a waste of money. The pandemic is anticipated to begin before stocks of H5N1 vaccine could be sufficiently boosted. [New Scientist March 23, 2005]
Will the vaccine work? The National Institutes of Health recently published a report showing efforts over three decades to inoculate US citizens against the flu have not saved lives. [Associated Press, Feb. 14, 2005; Archives Internal Medicine 165: 265, 2005] How would a new flu vaccine be expected to work any better? The new H5N1 vaccine is being tested in adults age 18 to 64 years of age, who are not high-risk populations. The elderly and the very young are most at risk for viral infection.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America is calling for antiviral drugs for at least 50 percent of the population. [Science Daily April 1, 2005] But Tamiflu, a widely promoted antiviral drug, is only marginally helpful in reducing the spread of a flu virus. [Prescrire International 12: 85—88, 2003] Amantadine (Symmetrel), another drug that may be stockpiled in anticipation of a flu epidemic, produces so many side effects it cannot be safely given to public safety officers, the military or medical personnel. Amantadine also induces a change in the flu virus so that it becomes resistant to the drug.
What about boosting immunity?
Should a pandemic ensue, or even the false threat of a pandemic, martial law could be declared and forced vaccination or quarantine be ordered. Even if vaccines or medicines are in stock, it is unlikely that they could be administered in a timely manner for so many millions of people. Public health authorities are over-reliant upon vaccines and drugs, while shunning nutrients that would elevate natural immunity.
A new scientific discovery could prevent or reduce mortality from the flu. Nutritional status not only affects a person’s response to a virus, but also the genetic makeup of the viral genome. [Trends Microbiology 12: 417—23, 2004] Mice that are deficient in the trace mineral selenium are more susceptible to infection by viruses, including the influenza virus. Viruses mutate in selenium-deficient animals and become virulent. Selenium prevents the mutations that increase tissue damage during infection. [J American College Nutrition 20: 384—88S, 2001; FASEB Journal 15: 1846-48, 2001; Journal Nutrition 133: 1463—67S, 2003]