Monday, April 27, 2009

Thoughts on the Mexican Flu

Last time I can remember having Mexican fever was watching Salma Hayek in From Dusk til Dawn.    I am much less excited about our contemporary version.   Technically, they both involve rather gruesome deaths, but at least battling vampires is scary in a fun way, whereas my new boogieman, the cytokine storm, is just hide-in-the-basement terrifying.

When something freaks me out, I tend to read about it incessantly.  The additional knowledge, even if dispiriting, at least gives me the illusion of control.   To that end, I recommend the site    

In particular, I want to point you at this thread here (nerd alert!  this is extra nerdy stuff).  I found the discussion fascinating.  The fact that this level of detail is available this quickly is simply amazing to me.   I am a layman, obviously, so this might be old hat to the researchers among us, but I guess the fact that this data, and accompanying analysis,  is actually available to a layman like me is part of what amazes me.

Now I have a question for the researchers of KP.  On one of the other blogs I read, a couple of commenters made the argument that it is just a matter of time before this Mexican flu strain ends up infecting someone that is also hosting one of the virulent Asian flu strains.  A couple of recombinations and other genetic hoodoo later, and they stated that it was virtually a certainty that a virus emerges with the unique genetic code of the Mexican strain combined with the virulence of the Asian strains.    The discussion on the thread above obliquely suggested a similar conclusion.   So KP brains, is that a reasonable conclusion?  Is this destined to turn into a superflu next winter after some Asian tweaking or is it more likely to join the pantheon of false alarms flus?

While we're at it, let me pose another question.   The whole cytokine storm thing really bothers me.   Not only am I smack in the middle of the 20-50 age range that takes the brunt of cytokine storm fatalities, but philosophically, I'm annoyed that my own immune system would go Benedict Arnold and betray me.   I'm defending the Alamo here, and I look over to see my artillery men doing shots with Santa Ana as they turn their cannons on me.    Thanks, dicks!

My question, and I actually mean this seriously, is whether, in the face of a known flu pandemic where otherwise healthy people are getting capped, it makes sense to purposefully degrade my own immune system.  If a stronger immune system leads to a heightened risk of a cytokine storm fatality, shouldn't I greet the news of a serious flu pandemic with all-night sessions of Marlboro Reds, bottom-shelf tequila, and Ho-Hos?

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