Quarantine for Afghanistan’s Only Pig

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There are no cases of swine flu in Afghanistan, but there is one victim: the country’s only pig, whose lonely existence got somewhat lonelier this week, when he was taken from the small, muddy enclosure he previously shared with deer and goats at Kabul’s zoo and placed in quarantine.

As Reuters explains: “The pig is a curiosity in Muslim Afghanistan, where pork and pig products are illegal because they are considered irreligious, and has been in quarantine since Sunday after visitors expressed alarm it could spread the new flu strain.” (The Lede — New York Times)

Capitalism and the flu

“Mike Davis, whose 2006 book The Monster at Our Door warned of the threat of a global bird flu pandemic, explains how globalized agribusiness set the stage for a frightening outbreak of the swine flu in Mexico:

‘The Spring Break hordes returned from Cancún this year with an invisible but sinister souvenir.

The Mexican swine flu, a genetic chimera probably conceived in the fecal mire of an industrial pigsty, suddenly threatens to give the whole world a fever. Initial outbreaks across North America reveal an infection rate already traveling at higher velocity than the last official pandemic strain, the 1968 Hong Kong flu.’ ” (SocialistWorker.org).

Industrial livestock production and swine flu

Taken from EPA website (http://www.epa.gov/reg...

“…[I]ndustrial livestock production is a powerful driver of viral (and bacterial) evolution. […In an article published yesterday at Socialist Worker.org, Mike Davis] emphasizes that the transition “from old-fashioned pig pens to vast excremental hell, unprecedented in nature, containing tens, even hundreds of thousands of animals with weakened immune systems, suffocating in heat and manure, while exchanging pathogens at blinding velocity with their fellow inmates and pathetic progenies” creates a perfect storm for evolving pathogens likely to establish resistance to antivirals and antibiotics. This is not just the case in China (everyone’s favorite target for allocating bird flu blame) or Mexico (everyone’s new favorite target for allocating swine flu blame). To quote Davis, anyone “who has ever driven through Tar Heel, N.C. or Milford, Utah–where Smithfield Foods subsidiaries each annually produce more than 1 million pigs as well as hundreds of lagoons full of toxic shit–will intuitively understand how profoundly agribusiness has meddled with the laws of nature.” In short, in addition to animals raised for slaughter in cruel conditions, chemically enhanced and/or genetically altered meat products, environmental degradation, and unjust toxic factory work conditions, the global industrial food complex is producing some really scary microbes as well.” (Somatosphere).

Predicting Flu With the Aid of (George) Washington

The best way to track the spread of swine flu across the United States in the coming weeks may be to imagine it riding a dollar bill. The routes taken by millions of them are at the core of a computer model at Northwestern University that is predicting the epidemic’s future. Reassuringly, it foresees only about 2,000 cases by the end of this month, mostly in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Houston.” (New York Times )


In a Mexican Village With Swine Flu, Complaints About a Hog Farm Persist

“While public health officials are still trying to determine where the outbreak of the swine flu started, there has been a lot of speculation online this week about a possible, though as yet unsubstantiated, link to an industrial hog farm in Veracruz, Mexico.

As my colleague in Mexico, Marc Lacey, reported on Wednesday, “state health authorities looking for the initial source of the outbreak,” toured the “million-pig hog farm in Perote, in Veracruz State.” Mr. Lacey explained:

The plant is half-owned by Smithfield Foods, an American company and the world’s largest pork producer. Mexico’s first known swine flu case, which was later confirmed, was from Perote, according to Health Minister José Ángel Córdova. The case involved a 5-year-old boy who recovered.

via The Lede Blog – NYTimes.

Some ways to track H1N1

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Swine flu fears prompt quarantine plans, pork bans

“Countries planned quarantines, tightened rules on pork imports and tested airline passengers for fevers as global health officials tried Sunday to come up with uniform ways to battle a deadly strain of swine flu. Nations from New Zealand to France reported new suspected cases and some warned citizens against travel to North America.


Governments including China, Russia and Taiwan began planning to put anyone with symptoms of the deadly virus under quarantine.” (Yahoo! News).


Students in New York Fall Ill, and Swine Flu Is Suspected

‘Tests show that eight students at a Queens high school are likely to have contracted the human swine flu virus that has struck Mexico and a small number of other people in the United States, health officials in New York City said yesterday. The students were among about 100 at St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows who became sick in the last few days, said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City’s health commissioner.“All the cases were mild, no child was hospitalized, no child was seriously ill,” Dr. Frieden said.’ (New York Times )

A few comments on pandemic influenza

Terry Jones
Terry Jones

“The virus has, as far as we know, not spent much time in humans yet. Once it does, it will begin to adapt itself in unpredictable ways. It may become more virulent, or less virulent. It may develop resistance to the antivirals that are currently effective. Antiviral resistance has been a topic of great concern for at least a couple of years. The current virus is already known to be resistant to both amantadine and rimantadine, though oseltamivir is still effective.


Some aspects of the current outbreak are, to my mind, cause for great concern.

The acting-director of the CDC has already said: “There are things that we see that suggest that containment is not very likely.” That is a remarkably candid statement. I think it’s very clear that the cat is out of the bag. The question is how bad is it going to be. That’s impossible to tell right now, because we do not know what the virus will look like in the future, after it has had time to mutate and adapt inside humans.


The new virus has been popping up in various places in the US in the last days. I expect it will go global in the next couple of days, maximum. What’s to stop it? The virus has been isolated in several diverse areas and in many cases is genetically identical. The 1918 virus also popped up, in many cases inexplicably, across the US…

There were 3 waves of the 1918/19 pandemic. The first was in summer of 1918 – very unusual, as influenza normally falls to extremely low rates during summer. Note that the current outbreak is also highly unseasonal.

The 1918 pandemic killed with a very unusual age pattern. Instead of peaks in just the very young and the very old, there was a W shape, with a huge number of young and healthy people who would not normally die from influenza. There are various conjectures as to the cause of this. The current virus is also killing young and healthy adults.

The social breakdown in a pandemic is extraordinary. If you read The Great Pandemic by John Barry, you’ll get some sense of it. America’s Forgotten Pandemic also helps give some idea of what it must have been like.


The influenza people at the CDC and the other international labs are an amazing team of experts. They’ve been at this game for a very long time and they work extremely hard and generally get a bad rap. It’s no wonder flu is such a political issue, the responsibility is high and the tendency towards opaqueness is understandable. Despite all the expertise though, at bottom you have an extremely complex virus – much of whose behavior is unknown, especially in the case of antigenic shift, especially when it is so young, and especially when you don’t know what nearby mutational opportunities may exist for it in antigenic space – spreading in a vastly more complex environment (our bodies), and with us moving and interacting in odd ways in a complex and extremely interconnected world. It’s a wonder we know as much as we do, but in many ways we don’t know much at all.” — Terry Jones via fluidinfo.


An Outbreak of Autism, or a Statistical Fluke?

Major brain structures implicated in autism.

Autism is terrifying the community of Somali immigrants in Minneapolis, and some pediatricians and educators have joined parents in raising the alarm. But public health experts say it is hard to tell whether the apparent surge of cases is an actual outbreak, with a cause that can be addressed, or just a statistical fluke.

… A small recent study of refugees in schools in Stockholm found that Somalis were in classes for autistic children at three times the normal rate.

Calls to representatives of Somali groups in Seattle and San Diego found that they were aware of the fear in Minneapolis but unsure about their own rates. Doctors familiar with the Somali communities in Boston and Lewiston, Me., had heard of no surges there.” NYTimes.