When Pigs Fly – The Real Threat From Influenza

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Doctors, scientists, and civil servants take a lot of heat when they keep warning about threats which never materialize.

They keep warning about dangers which never happen and sometimes miss ones which do happen (Katrina – we weren’t really prepared to save 100,000 people who decided to live below water level.)

After all, no meteor has destroyed civilization, Bird Flu (H5N1) hasn’t killed 100 million people this century, and Los Angeles isn’t uninhabitable because a gigantic city was allowed to grow in what is actually a desert so dry that the first Spanish settlement died out and on top of a major earthquake fault.

But the operative word left silent in all of these and other dire warnings we hear from people complaining about the unrealized disasters scientists keep warning about and civil servants keep planning for is, NOT YET!

In some instances they are a victim of their own accurate predictions – because they warned us and we prepared – sure, Y2K was nothing, but was it nothing because it was all a fake threat? Or, did it not ruin life as we know it because people worked very hard for several years to prepare?

The fact that Bird Flu hasn’t killed millions YET doesn’t mean it isn’t still out there posing a massive threat.

If you want to know what is really keeping emergency management experts and researchers awake nights, just consider these facts:

H5N1 has a very high mortality rate (upwards of 60% of those who catch it die.) Fortunately is difficult to catch.

H1N1 (the current pandemic strain of swine flu) spread from animals to people and now from people to people very easily.

Now consider what would happen if just one person caught both Bird Flu and H1N1. It is possible that either in birds, humans, or pigs, the two flu strains could find themselves fighting it out in cells and sharing genetic material.

What could easily happen next is that we could have a new mutated flu strain which spreads rapidly and easily between people AND has a high mortality rate.

That is another reason governments are working to keep the H1N1 infection rate down, to reduce the chance that the two influenza strains could combine and literally kill millions of people the same way the 1918 pandemic did.

The good news is that recent research seems to indicate that the current strain of H5N1 Bird Flu doesn’t merge other genetic material into its own makeup – AGAIN, YET! Influenza viruses mutate quickly – that’s why we have different vaccinations every year for the seasonal flu.

John McCormick is a reporter, /science/medical columnist and finance and social commentator, with 17,000+ bylined stories. He is a 38-year member of the National Press Club, retired emergency management coordinator, physicist, and member of the AAAS. He is a senior NewsBlaze writer who writes incisive, investigative stories.