Monday, August 01, 2005


Mike the Mad Biologist: The U.S.: The Arsenal of Virology?:
But I think they're right on this one. Every year influenza kills tens of thousands in the U.S. alone, and that's before it's potentially evolved into the highly transmissible and virulent H5N1 form (worldwide, it kills between 250,000-500,000, but there's a good chance that's a low estimate). Most of the chatter about influenza is coming from the right side of the spectrum. When I read it, it's really pessimistic: there's nothing we can do, start rending garments and wearing sackcloth, etc.

Bullshit. Yes, we've pissed away the last couple of years, but we can still do a lot. This is when we liberals–you know, the people who think government can be the solution have to start doing something. If we're willing to fight for Social Security benefits for the elderly, surely we can fight a disease that kills ~30,000 elderly people per year?
DemfromCT has been doing nice work on flu at The Next Hurrah. And you see stories about it regularly in Science and Nature, it just doesn't translate to the popular press. Bird flu is on the verge of breaking out into a global pandemic, and our infrastructure for producing vaccine is clearly inadequate. Mike has some good ideas about the sort of things we ought to be doing.

We pretty much understand how flu works. There are still details to work out about what makes each strain different, but we know the framework, and we should be able to mass-produce vaccines without guessing which strain will be important in a given year, incubating eggs for six months, and then trying to get that vaccine to the people who need it.

This is one of those things that government money can solve. It's not putting a man on the moon, but it's no less massive an undertaking than the Apollo Program.

We live in an age when we are capable of doing so much. We are on the verge of being able to switch to renewable energy, of returning to the Moon and going on to Mars, to feeding the hungry in every country, and curing horrible diseases. Each of those deserves its own Apollo Program, and none of them are getting it.

We need leadership, and it'll be 3 years before we have a shot at it.