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Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Viruses - what doesn't kill you makes you stronger

I am experiencing a Spring flu since mid last week. I have been feeling immensely tired and slept a lot, also during the days. Consequently, I was wide awake several times each night. It was a relief seeing daylight again but each morning I was feeling tired of the restless night. It felt like a vicious cycle. Last night I slept quite late but in one good flow. While writing this, I am coughing, sneezing and feel my back protesting. Fortunately, I lost my headache by drinking coffee again.

During the past few days I have been watching some more TED videos than usual. One of them was a presentation by Bill Gates on viruses. While many people may be worried about AIDS, Ebola or the Black Death (aka plague), the real danger to humanity is the H1N1 influenza virus (aka flu). In 1918, at least 33 million people were killed in only 263 days by the Spanish Flu. The recent Ebola outbreak in 3 West African countries caused just over 10,000 deaths in 428 days. However, Ebola does not spread through the air. By sheer luck the virus didn't get into many urban areas. Else, the case numbers would have been much larger.

The 1918 flu pandemic (January 1918 – December 1920) was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic, the first of the two pandemics involving H1N1 influenza virus. It infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them - 3 to 5% of the world's population - making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. This pandemic has been described as "the greatest medical holocaust in history" and may have killed more people than the Black Death. It is said that this flu killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS has killed in 24 years, more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century. (Wikipedia)

Bill Gates suggested a military like response to virus epidemics next to a more structural approach.
"First, we need strong health systems in poor countries. We need a medical reserve corps: lots of people who've got the training and background who are ready to go, with the expertise. And then we need to pair those medical people with the military. Taking advantage of the military's ability to move fast, do logistics and secure areas. We need to do simulations, germ games, not war games, so that we see where the holes are. The last time a germ game was done in the United States was back in 2001, and it didn't go so well. So far the score is germs: 1, people: 0. Finally, we need lots of advanced R&D in areas of vaccines and diagnostics. There are some big breakthroughs, like the Adeno associated virus, that could work very, very quickly."

Bill Gates: "Now I don't have an exact budget for what this would cost, but I'm quite sure it's very modest compared to the potential harm. The World Bank estimates that if we have a worldwide flu epidemic, global wealth will go down by over three trillion dollars and we'd have millions and millions of deaths. These investments offer significant benefits beyond just being ready for the epidemic. The primary healthcare, the R&D, those things would reduce global health equity and make the world more just as well as more safe."

Viruses are our worst possible enemy: it's invisible to the human eye and keeps on changing its nature to remain its deadly potential. Remarkably, viruses are also an important means of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) which increases genetic diversity other than through traditional human reproduction. 

In other words: that which does not kill us makes us stronger. (Friedrich Nietzsche)