Ron Seybold's Viral Times

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Archive for the ‘Public health’ Category

Corpses Present the Greatest Infection Risk from Ebola

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ebola corpseEverybody wants to be sure they know how the Ebola virus infects us. Studies show that skin won’t transfer the virus unless a person’s died of the disease caused by the virus. Casual contact with the Walking Sick — those suffering some of the symptoms such as fever, sore throat, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea — probably won’t infect you either. You just have to keep your hands to yourself.

A 2007 study from the Journal of Infectious Diseases took samples from saliva, from semen, sweat and bodily fluids of patients infected with the virus. Scientists were looking for specimens viable enough to grow in a petri dish. One in 12 saliva samples carried the virus. None of the skin swabs tested positive. In semen samples, two of the 38 samples tested positive. The one sweat sample? It tested negative.

The researchers concluded that Ebola transmission via casual contact is a low probability event. Keep in mind that Ebola is not an airborne virus yet, either. So how did the latest person, a doctor in New York City, get infected by the virus? Working with infected patients in Africa. Patients who are emitting blood, or feces via diarrhea, are the most virulent. Even dried blood can remain infectious for over a week.

Where on your body do you get infected? Cuts in your skin, mouth, nose, or eyes. Soft tissue openings always offer a pathway to any virus or bacteria. If someone with active Ebola is still alive, and those pathways of yours are protected, you should be safe. But once a person has died, even their skin carries the virus. Dead bodies, African healthcare duties — there are the elements that contribute to an Ebola infection.

That Journal study was conducted seven years ago. Viruses do mutate, and quickly.

Written by Ron Seybold

October 24, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Panic and Fear Drive Ebola Virus Responses

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The world’s most deadly virus is infecting our populace with two dangerous diseases: fear and misunderstanding. First comes the misunderstanding. Ebola is not contagious until a person shows symptoms. One of those symptoms is fever, but fever can precede a more commonplace flu.

gowning healtcareBut people on aircraft who show signs of flu will now be asked to de-board, in some places. Not official policy, just someone being careful. Too much care. Everyone on a flight where an Ebola patient flew — one who had symptoms, but wasn’t detected — will be tested for the virus.

In Texas schools, children who show up with flu have trigged a closing of their schools in the days that follow.

Misunderstanding comes first, and fear follows. Finally, civil rights are removed.

The Ebola virus can only be contracted by contact with bodily fluids. Healthcare workers have elaborate protocols to follow. The CDC is making those protocols more severe. Hospitals don’t have the funding or staff to follow the protocols that are in place. More elaborate protocols will be harder to follow.

Hazmat suits are sold out in major cities in the US. The only people who need a hazmat suit are those in contact with Ebola victims who are fighting the virus. Healthcare workers. But the suits are being purchased by plenty of people who don’t work in healthcare.

Sold out hazmat suits: More evidence of fear, driven by misunderstanding. This is the kind of emotion that drove the Patriot Act, which founded the TSA, which now demands we remove our shoes. Unless the passenger is under 12. Honestly, wouldn’t a dedicated terrorist use a child anyway?

So in response to Ebola fears, airline traffic will decline over the next several months. Smaller airlines, or those in bad financial condition, will struggle when they miss ticket revenues in this busiest of travel seasons. Fear is the most common symptom of a viral infection. It spreads to everyone who does not understand how a virus works, or how to protect ourselves.

Getting a flu shot is more effective than buying a hazmat suit or skipping school or a flight. Last year 52,000 people died in the US due to flu. Ebola has killed one person in the US.

Written by Ron Seybold

October 20, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Government funds hurry-up disease fighters

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The world is so far behind on its supply of anti-bacterial drugs that the US government is paying a major pharma to create and test formulas more quickly. This government aid to pharmaceutical giants like GlaxoSmithKline rolls into full tilt in Viral Times, just some five years from now.

But this year, pressure has mounted for accelerated creation of drugs to fight superbugs — things like MRSA and worse, for which there appears to be no protection. Going to the hospital is a serious decision itself about maintaining health.

From the New York Times:

Government officials, drug companies and medical experts, faced with outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” are pushing to speed up the approval of new antibiotics, a move that is raising safety concerns among some critics.

The need for new antibiotics is so urgent, supporters of an overhaul say, that lengthy studies involving hundreds or thousands of patients should be waived in favor of directly testing such drugs in very sick patients. Influential lawmakers have said they are prepared to support legislation that allows for faster testing.

The Health and Human Services Department last month announced an agreement under which it will pay $40 million to a major drug maker, GlaxoSmithKline, to help it develop medications to combat antibiotic resistance and biological agents that terrorists might use. Under the plan, the federal government could give the drug company as much as $200 million over the next five years.

“We are facing a huge crisis worldwide not having an antibiotics pipeline,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration. “It is bad now, and the infectious disease docs are frantic. But what is worse is the thought of where we will be five to 10 years from now.”

If you play out this trend, two aspects emerge. First, the defense of our populace from disease will make the military defense budgets look small. While you’re unlikely to be attacked by a rogue cell of terrorists, catching a superbug is a genuine possibility. Uncounted billions will be tossed at this threat.

Second, this is only drug defense against bacterial infection we’re seeing in the Times story. Viruses are much more adaptive and evasive. We have fewer successful anti-virals than anti-bacterials. It’s reasonable to imagine that pharmacos, like PharmaCorp in Viral Times, can grow larger than a defense contractor like McDonnell Douglas.

Written by Ron Seybold

July 5, 2013 at 3:47 pm

West Nile Virus on the rise in Texas

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In my home here in Austin, we’re hearing reports about a rising number of infections from the West Nile Virus. The mosquito population here never carried this disease, at least not until this year. Now there’s been seven reported infections in the Austin area, and at least one death statewide. A few people in my family are scared.

What’s notable is that the warnings and reports include the word epidemic. One doctor said he’d never seen an epidemic like this in Texas. He’s relying on a definition of the word that people who’ve seen Contagion may not understand — but it’s not the right term. An epidemic is a series of infections which are high in number across a geographic area. The number of infections, in total, doesn’t create an epidemic. You need a concentrated geographic area.

He may have been using comparative thinking, but seven infections among a Texas population of more than 15 million — anybody who gets a mosquito bite could be infected — well, that’s not a high number. Not high enough for an epidemic. Under one definition, an epidemic has to spread quickly, too. An epidemic is in a concentrated geographic area. We’re hearing our reports about Travis County. But that’s only seven reports.

Our world endured an H1N1 pandemic over the past two years. That’s an infection across vast geographic areas, though not necessarily high in overall numbers. Despite that official UN health organization’s designation, the 2010-11 infections didn’t change the world’s physical contact between persons, or reshape laws about sanitation and disinfection. Or spark a tremendous business sector devoted to protection. That’s the stuff of Viral Times — although the governments of my novel are not responding evenly, or with enough resources.

Written by Ron Seybold

August 8, 2012 at 8:59 am

Climate changes will increase evolution of new flu strains

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A report from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment says changing climate will affect the likelihood of contracting a new deadly strain of the flu. Never mind the heat — it’s the infection that will get you.

Migratory birds play a central role by giving a virus an additional opportunity to evolve

It’s the shifts between El Nino and La Nina weather that will wreak havoc with the bird migration patterns. Birds, migratory birds in particular, play a central role, by either passing a flu strain directly to humans (as in the case of H1N1) or indirectly via an intermediate host, giving the virus an additional opportunity to evolve.

The El Niño-La Niña oscillations cause significant changes in regional rainfall rates and wind patterns, which in turn affect the migration pattern of birds. And these shifts lead to different groups of of bird species coming into contact with each other in a given region, allowing for new strains of influenza to develop that eventually jump to humans.

In Viral Times, birds are an active transmission agent in the spread of the New Flu and other viruses. The dominant breeds of birds, especially starlings and crows, are among the deadliest of these agents.

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) refers to the state of the tropical Pacific Ocean as it sloshes back and forth, like water in a huge bathtub, west and east between Asia and the Americas. This movement affects temperatures and weather patterns worldwide.

One means to combat the infection might be to reduce use of fossil fuels. But after generations of burning coal and oil, it might be too late to reverse the Nino-Nina bathtub slosh effects. It’s back to our firewall of protection against viruses: natural immunity.

Written by Ron Seybold

May 2, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Pharma titan Pfizer adds natural immunity product

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Pfizer, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical enterprises, has bought the makers of Emergen-C. The vitamin C supplement is filling out the Pfizer consumer product portfolio, according to my friend Tracy Staton, who reports for FiercePharma.

Pfizer is snapping up the company that makes Emergen-C, those ubiquitous vitamin C packets that sell for some $10 a box. The world’s biggest drugmaker will add California-based Alacer to its consumer health operations, acquired along with Wyeth in 2009. “Emergen-C products add to and greatly complement our market-leading dietary supplement portfolio,” Pfizer Consumer Healthcare President Paul Sturman said in a statement. Alacer makes about 500 million Emergen-C packets a year, Pfizer said. The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Viral Times unfolds its story in a near-future where pharmas like Pfizer are allied with health insurance providers to create the PharmAlliance. This latest news shows Pfizer is expanding its business to include products like the 30-cent-a-day Emergen-C which don’t require medical insurance coverage, or a prescription, and so will never fall out of high-profit patent drug status. Patent drugs can have a very finite lifespan of profitability, while viruses have an infinite lifespan because they evolve as needed. The disease will usually outlast the drugs, if a virus is at work.

For example, Pfizer is struggling to maintain its client base for Lipitor this year, extending its own “co-pay” program to keep the brand-name version cheaper than the single generic version. Tracy reported in a separate article that WellPoint, a very large healthcare insurer, is now planning to stop covering Pfizer’s brand-name cholesterol drug April 1, favoring its generic rivals instead.

Tracy was an early workshopping reader of Viral Times before she took her MFA in writing from Texas State. She reports on pharmas for the Fierce group, as well as works as an associate editor for American Way magazine.

Written by Ron Seybold

February 28, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Bird flu goes airborne after modification

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20120108-182153.jpgA story in the New York Times reports that scientists are learning that avian flu has acquired airborne transmission ability after it was modified for increased strength. The experiments were part of studies to learn how the virus behaves. Now this virus can survive in the nose of ferrets, mammals whose nostril temperature is 4 degrees C cooler than a bird’s gut, where H5N1 usually grows.

The article points out that there’s a difference in ferret noses and those of us higher order mammals. One point cannot be smoothed out, however. The crossover point of animal to human is a step closer after this discovery. That kind of crossover is a prospect for triggering a pandemic.

Written by Ron Seybold

January 8, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Posted in Public health, Virus protection

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