Back in 2009 when the H1N1 pandemic was sweeping the globe--it would leave about 17,000 people dead by the beginning of 2010, with confirmed cases in more than 200 countries--waves of anxiety followed in its wake. For most, it was a fear of an illness that seemed at the time indiscriminate, unstoppable, and incurable. For the virologists and drug developers trying to battle the virus, it stemmed from the fact that H1N1 was so poorly understood. This new strain of influenza A was a hybrid borrowing genetic elements from a handful of flu viruses, and researchers weren't just without tools--they didn't even know for sure what tools might be useful.
Raul Rabadan hunts deadly viruses, but he has no need for biohazard suits. His work does not bring him to far-flung jungles. He's neither medical doctor nor epidemiologist. He's a theoretical physicist with expertise in string theory and black holes, and he cracks microbial mysteries in much the same way he once tried to decode the secrets of the universe: He follows the numbers.
In this depiction of the rod-shaped E. coli, two flagella trail from one end while hairlike pili surround a capsule full of tangled nucleoids.
This 41-inch-long sculpture of the Escherichia coli bacterium is part of British artist Luke Jerram’s “Glass Microbiology” series of portraits. Other organisms he has vitrified include HIV, SARS and swine flu.
Flu season in the Southern Hemisphere is almost over—and now it's heading back our way. At the time this issue went to press, there were more than 162,000 confirmed cases and 1,154 deaths worldwide from "novel H1N1," a.k.a. swine flu, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes this figure is a gross underestimate, especially since only a fraction of people who have the flu go to the hospital.
With the White House Council of Advisors on Science and Technology estimating that this winter's swine flu outbreak could lead to 30,000 to 90,000 deaths in the US (on top of the usual 30,000 deaths that occur from seasonal flu), the government has ramped up its effort to vaccinate as many Americans as possible against H1N1. In fact, the vaccination effort is so large, it may constitute the largest vaccination program in human history.
A game called The Great Flu, developed by virologists at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, lets you unleash the flu virus of your choice on the world, then use your $2 billion budget to contain it through a palette of public health moves.
Playing it, I've certainly gained a little knowledge about the flu and a lot of empathy for the WHO.
The Hajj, a journey to Mecca that retraces the steps of Mohammed, is one of the religious pillars of Islam. Pilgrims making the Hajj are the primary reason why Saudi Arabia is one of the world's most visited tourist spots. Like a religious version of Orlando, Mecca and Medina draw about three million visitors every year, from every country in the world.
Unfortunately, the date for this year's Hajj, November 25th to the 29th, falls right smack dab in the middle of flu season, and Muslim countries from Morocco to Indonesia have begun wrestling with the problem of religious duty in a swine-flu world.
By Steven KotlerPosted 07.20.2009 at 10:35 am 7 Comments
Before swine flu swept through the U.S., the virus had bounced around South America undetected for years. The H1N1 strain caught scientists by surprise, and without a vaccine. But a few weeks before the first North American case popped up, researchers successfully tested a therapy that could knock out almost any flu, and possibly any virus.