Sunday, April 26, 2009

Swine flu: Not sure what to make of this yet

Swine flu has taken hold in Mexico, killing upwards of 70 people (and many more if you believe on-the-scene comments on BBC) and spreading to a variety of other spots around the globe. The Mexicans are in a tizzy, the CDC is on alert, but I'm not sure if the bang matches the hype.

I certainly don't mean to trivialize the deaths of 70 or more people. However, I suspect snake bites take out more than 70 people per day on this lovely little planet of ours, and I don't see hordes of slithery little bastards on the front page of MSNBC.

I am intrigued by the flu story. A few things that pique my interest:

1. The rapidity of the spread, both in the population of Mexico City and the amount of geography covered by more recent cases.

2. The reported genetic structure of the virus, which seems to combine DNA from pig flu, bird flu, and people flu. Viruses are constantly mutating, and this may be all in a day's work for a virulent gene, but it sure strikes me as odd.

3. The out-of-nowhere-ness of the whole thing. Maybe this sort of thing happens, on a smaller scale, in the world of infectious diseases, and we just never hear about it. Whatever the case, I have never heard of anything like this, or presented in this matter, before.

I certainly don't want to be alarmist, or sound paranoid, or make more of this than it is. However, my little Tom Clancy-inspired brain can't help but ping on the thought that there's maybe more to this than we know.

Just suppose the Iranians, or the NKs, or someone else who has a ton of resources and a healthy dislike for the West in general and the good ol' USandA in particular (there's a lengthy list, yeah?) wanted to f**k with us in a big way? That part is not too far-fetched, right? There's no shortage of groups who would like nothing better than to go tinkle in our breakfast cereal.

Here's where I fear I am veering off into black helicopter-dom:

How hard is it to splice together your own virus? Obviously you're not doing it with a couple of test tubes and an Easy-Bake oven - it would clearly take the resources of a nation-state or the equivalent, and it's not the sort of thing you do in a cave in South Waziristan. But it can probably be done.

Next, if you were going to try to clandestinely bio-bomb the US, wouldn't Mexico be a great place to start? Especially if you had something really virulent and really easy to spread amongst humans? I mean, it's not like the security services in Mexico are in the MI-6 league, right? And its not like the US really has a grip on the border, right?

So, a couple of things are really wrong with my little hypothesis. One - Mexico City, which seems to be the epicenter of this thing right now, isn't right on the border. Tijuana, Juarez, or Matamoros seem like better places to start. Next, this virus, at least right now, doesn't seem to spread all that effectively - the cases which have popped up in the US and Canada (and elsewhere) seem to be less serious than those down south.

I'm sure there are about 20,000 other things wrong with my thought. I'm no scientist. I'm just a guy who reads too much, has a healthy dose of historical Jewish paranoia, and some well-earned 21st century skepticism.

I'm reasonably sure I am barking at shadows here. But I have to admit it popped into my little melon right away...

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