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H1N1 Swine Flu - Google Maps

H1N1 Swine Flu - Google Maps Purple marker is confirmed or probable Pink marker is suspect Yellow marker is negative Fatal cases have no dot

April 28, 2009

Swine Flu epidemic traced to industrial farming in Mexico?

Mike Davis: The swine flu crisis lays bare the meat industry's monstrous power | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

My wife is reading Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma," so industrial farming has been on my mind lately. It's a terrible trade off that we engage in as a culture: in order to feed the population we have, we find it necessary to mechanize farming and the raising of animals. Farm crops are now essentially being grown with petroleum-based fertilizers using genetically-risky seed. But it's the animal raising that is the problem here.

No one believes that being crammed into pens on concrete floors and pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics is "natural." But most people, I'm guessing, see it as an acceptable risk when it means they get cheap bacon or beef. One of the terrible side effects of the industrialization of meat is that the breeding pens become ground zero for virulent diseases. Bird flu, SARS, Mad Cow (aka BSE), and now this new Swine Flu. The way the animals--most of them sickly--are packed in together is sadly reminiscent of the way crowded hospitals after World War One gave rise to the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918.

This is all to say: we're going to keep getting these epidemics like clockwork until we fix the ways animals are raised for meat or until one of these epidemics kills us all.

But no one was less alert than the disease controllers in Atlanta. According to the Washington Post, the CDC did not learn about the outbreak until six days after Mexico had begun to impose emergency measures. There should be no excuses. The paradox of this swine flu panic is that, while totally unexpected, it was accurately predicted. Six years ago, Science dedicated a major story to evidence that "after years of stability, the North American swine flu virus has jumped onto an evolutionary fasttrack".

Since its identification during the Great Depression, H1N1 swine flu had only drifted slightly from its original genome. Then in 1998 a highly pathogenic strain began to decimate sows on a farm in North Carolina and new, more virulent versions began to appear almost yearly, including a variant of H1N1 that contained the internal genes of H3N2 (the other type-A flu circulating among humans).

. . .

But what caused this acceleration of swine flu evolution? Virologists have long believed that the intensive agricultural system of southern China is the principal engine of influenza mutation: both seasonal "drift" and episodic genomic "shift". But the corporate industrialisation of livestock production has broken China's natural monopoly on influenza evolution. Animal husbandry in recent decades has been transformed into something that more closely resembles the petrochemical industry than the happy family farm depicted in school readers.

April 27, 2009

Where is all the anti-matter?

Where is all the antimatter? - physics-math - 27 April 2009 - New Scientist

According to the theory, matter and antimatter were created in equal amounts at the big bang. By rights, they should have annihilated each other totally in the first second or so of the universe's existence. The cosmos should be full of light and little else.

. . .

There are two plausible solutions to this existential mystery. First, there might be some subtle difference in the physics of matter and antimatter that left the early universe with a surplus of matter. While theory predicts that the antimatter world is a perfect reflection of our own, experiments have already found suspicious scratches in the mirror. In 1998, CERN experiments showed that one particular exotic particle, the kaon, turned into its antiparticle slightly more often than the reverse happened, creating a tiny imbalance between the two.

. . .

The second plausible answer to the matter mystery is that annihilation was not total in those first few seconds: somehow, matter and antimatter managed to escape each other's fatal grasp. Somewhere out there, in some mirror region of the cosmos, antimatter is lurking and has coalesced into anti-stars, anti-galaxies and maybe even anti-life.

April 25, 2009

Virulent flu mutation hits Mexico City, spreads to California

Swine flu kills 60 in Mexico; 6 cases in state

Do we need to add a "Pandemic(k)" category?

Hospitals and public health departments throughout California, where six of the American cases have been found, were told Friday to increase surveillance of the rare strain of flu that combines genetic material from humans, pigs and birds.

State and federal health officials said there is little cause for alarm in the United States at this point - all of the U.S. cases have been mild, and the flu has been responsive to drugs. Everyone infected so far has fully recovered; one woman was hospitalized, but she had an underlying condition that complicated her case, state public health officials said.

But the cases in Mexico have been startlingly severe, with more than 800 cases of pneumonia in the capital alone that are suspected to be related to the swine flu, according to the World Health Organization.