As if Contagion weren't enough to freak you out this flu season, the dangerous details of a pair of new flu viruses -- one bioengineered avian, one naturally occurring swine strain -- is almost enough to make you start wearing a biohazard suit to work. But there's also some signs of hope in promising progress towards the development of a universal flu vaccine. Either way, be careful not to scare yourself into self-imposed quarantine when reading about the dangerous dangers of diseases.
Science magazine started off the latest wave of flu scares last week with their appropriately headlined article: "Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies." Well the storm came in waves over the past few days, perhaps peaking last night with the fear-mongering headline on Glenn Beck's news site The Blaze: "Pandemic Possible?" Explaining the details of the Dutch scientist who engineered the frightening new strain of the avian flu and reported his findings at an influenza conference in Malta in September, Gizmodo really slathered on scare tactics:
In his Netherlands laboratory, virologist Ron Fouchier was experimenting with the avian flu virus to see how it could become even more virulent. (Red flag.) His research involved spreading it throughout a population of ferrets, and he noticed that as the virus reproduced, it adapted to spread even faster. (RED FLAG.) Not worried about ferret flu? Previous research has shown that any strains of influenza that can pass between ferrets can also pass between humans. (RED FLAAAAAAAAAG.) Ten generations later, his efforts had created an airborne strain with the power could kill half the human population. (RED FUCKING FLAG, DUDE!)
It didn't help when the World Health Organization sounded puzzled when reporting on a newly discovered strain of the swine flu virus this week. Most unfortunately for many Atlantic Wire readers, the strain happens to be springing up around the United States, with 10 confirmed cases in Maine, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Iowa. "We're very aware that we don't want to over-play or under-play. We're trying to get that right," said leading influenza expert Dr. Keiji Fukuda from the safety of WHO headquarters in Geneva. "[We're] trying to make sure that we're ready to move quickly, if we have to move quickly, but also trying not to raise alarm bells."