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.
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.
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.
An article on the Slate website interviews a medical researcher whose specialty is discovering ancient remedies to diseases. One such remedy, broccoli, was so often prescribed that the Roman leader Cato advised all residents of the city to grow their own. In one instance it appears to have been used for colon cancer treatments.
Then there’s the spider webs.
In the world of Viral Times these are the remedies pursued, tested and used by naturopathic healers like Angie Consoli, the woman who finds the prospect of recovering love that she lost in the viral pandemics which sparked AIDS Ultra. Given the right cocktail of these healing arts, diseased people without medical plans sometimes survive without pharma medicine.
Viruses exhibit legendary behavior, especially in the power of their ability to spread. It’s one reason why something that spreads without any barriers is said to have “gone viral.” Now there’s a website that’s devoted to the concept of kindness spreading like a virus.
Good Virus has a 2-minute movie that leads you into a site that’s devoted to the mission of revealing kindness as an essential human element. We’re all infected with it.
The purpose of Good Virus is: 1) to illustrate that—contrary to what you may see, hear and read in the news—kindness is all around us (THE GOOD) and 2), to inspire people to spread that kindness (THE VIRUS). Good Virus is all about the small things, tiny acts of kindness that don’t cost a lot of money or oblige praise. The essential premise of this project is that many small acts of kindness may make more of a difference than a few big ones.
In Viral Times, one unstoppable defense against disease is love. Love breeds faith, and any faith in immunity raises the level of natural immune system defenses. A wide range of other healing arts are needed to survive a pandemic. But inducing kindness is simpler than raising the level of T-cells. Plus, the former can lead to the latter: meditation for example, shown to be an element in the increase of immunity.
If there’s a learning curve to spread the virus of kindness, nature compensates with a few barriers for disease viruses. There are natural flaws that a biological virus can exhibit in spreading. Scientists report that H1N1 doesn’t spread as effectively as a flu virus. From the journal Science we learn that aerosol transmission hasn’t been a feature of “bird flu,” the root of H5N1. Good thing.
A distinctive feature of avian influenza viruses in general, and H5N1 viruses in particular, is that they are incapable of being transmitted among humans by aerosol. Because pandemic influenza strains originated in avian influenza viruses, it can be argued that past pandemic influenza viruses were once avian influenza viruses that “learned” how to jump to and transmit by aerosol in humans.
The New Flu in Viral Times is a precursor to other disease. Nothing is more effective than the flu in propagating itself. Good Virus’s film states that scientists believe kindness spreads like a flu virus, however. So go spread a virus.
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.
Chinese doctors have researched 472 herbs for antiviral activity, and 10 have antiviral activity. Patinia villosa, is one of the active herbs in Eurocel, a Korean product distributed by Allegry Research Group. Eurocel is to be taken twice a day, 2-3 capsules in each dose.
In his book Viral Immunity, doctor J.E. Williams reports that the active ingredient in Patrinia is a wild perennial plant used in Japan and Korea to reduce liver toxicity. Williams treated a patient with Eurocel and said the patient’s levels of ALT (Alanine aminotransferase) were reduced by 50 percent. In healthy bodies, ALT levels in the blood are low. When the liver is damaged, ALT is released into the bloodstream. The liver, of course, is the body’s engine for eliminating toxins.
Williams’ book is one of the dozens of volumes that make up the medical foundations of Viral Times. It’s one that bears some of the most numerous colored tabs, marking significant remedies. (The Little Book of Germs is another well-thumbed guidebook I’ve used.) In the viral times of 2020 — with pharma remedies just as ineffective as ever against viruses — more affordable compounds like Eurocel (about $4 a day) are a part of the healthcare regimen for the uninsured masses. With widespread demand for these compounds, prices may drop even further during a long-term pandemic. Patents don’t exist for natural remedies, so prices are lower. But the PharmAlliance combine keeps working to discredit and block such natural remedies.
There’s plenty of groundwork for PharmAlliance in our current day. Tamiflu, one of the trade names best-known to describe oseltamivir, is controlled via patent (and so much more expensive) by Gilead Sciences. Wikipedia reports
The patent held by Gilead Sciences and is valid at least until 2016. Gilead licensed the exclusive rights to Roche in 1996. The drug does not enjoy patent protection in Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and several other countries.Gilead is politically well connected: Donald Rumsfeld served as chairman from 1997 until he became U.S. Secretary of Defense in 2001; former Secretary of State George Shultz and the wife of former California Governor Pete Wilson serve on the board.
No matter how you look at it, these board members have a proven history of waging wars in the name of defense and protecting the interests of commercial investors. Given enough of a public emergency, the potential for monopoly drug ownership during a wartime against viruses will skyrocket. And so can be born the PharmAlliance, a combine of pharma and insurers.
A new book from Judith Horstman on how brain activity affects love includes a message about how much fMRI scans have taught us about the neuron dances that our minds do when we’re in love. From an article and interview with Horstman in the Marin Independent Journal:
We know more about the brain in love than ever before, thanks to technology such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that maps brain activity in real time. And it’s shed light on how taking the Pill might affect the men that a woman’s attracted to (which could possibly be the reason behind some divorces); how love can be addictive (especially for women); how meditation might make you a better lover (who wouldn’t want to be?); and how taking acetaminophen just might relieve some of the often devastating pain of being jilted.
Horstman’s book “The Scientific American Book of Love, Sex and the Brain: The Neuroscience of How, When, Why, and Who We Love” examines how our biggest sex organ builds the emotion we all need. In Viral Times, Jenny Nation wins a Nobel Prize for her research into mapping brain activity in 2017. The discoveries lead her to develop a new drug that will impart love to all who take it — a most holy kind of love.