Sunday, November 7, 2010

Flu Notes for Virus Novel, Still Untitled

Photo #1: Human Host, by Scott Camazine/Alamy, from  Human lungs are the most terrifying tools of the plague. Pneumonic plague, seen affecting both lung fields in this x-ray, is the only form of plague spread from person to person. It is transmitted by coughs and sneezes. The fatality rate of pneumonic plague is a staggering 95 percent. Treatment can be effective during the first 24 hours of infection, but plague is often mistaken as the flu. Victims are lucky to live more than 48 hours.

Photo #2: Plague Warfare, by Jason Lee/Reuters/Corbis, from  This building near Harbin, China, was host to Japanese germ warfare experiments during World War II. The boxes were for breeding rats, the vehicles for fleas infected with plague. Upon release these rat agents carried the Black Death—as well as cholera and anthrax—to infect enemy Chinese. Plague is still studied by governments and terrorist organizations for possible germ warfare applications.

It's worth mentioning that every source I've read says that the world is overdue for a super-virus that would devastate worse than the 1918 flu.  Wish me luck as I work on this novel.  I've already decided that the work would be present-day, but with flashbacks to other epidemics.  You'll see what I mean (I hope).  I already have a lot of images in my head about this; I can't wait to get them down on paper.   

More ominous notes from the book mentioned in yesterday's blog:

1918 flu virus: more than 40 to 50 million people died of flu in 1918-9 in less than one year, over 4 times the war casualties.  Pg. 306.

An estimated one-fifth (20%) of the world’s population was infected, and 2 to 3% of those died.

Major influenzas of 1957 and 1968 were mild, 1 to 1.5 million died worldwide each time.

1918 flu was unique because, for the first time, the very healthy died, not just the infants and elderly. 

Word “flu” first used by W.H. Auden: “Little birds with scarlet legs/Sitting on their speckled eggs/Eye each flu-infected city.”

91st Psalm: “You need not fear the terror by night,/nor the arrow that flies by day,/nor the plague that stalks in the darkness.”

On November 7th,1918, the ship Talune introduced the disease into islands of Upola and Savii.  Within 3 months, over 21% of those populations died, as did similarly those in Fiji and Tahiti.  “It was impossible to bury the dead…Day and night trucks rumbled throughout the streets, filled with bodies for the constantly burning pyres.”  Pg. 308.

See typhoid in Plymouth, PA in 1885; yellow fever in Philadelphia, 1793.

The plague killed 14% of 1665 London in 7 months.---Warren Vaughan, American Journal of Epidemiology, 1921.

See Numbers 11:31-34 for description of bird-caused plague.

Flu travels through the air in droplets launched by coughing or sneezing.  Victim incubates virus between 24 hours and 4-5 days before symptoms are obvious.  First signs are headache, chills, dry cough, fever, weakness, and loss of appetite.  Generalized fatigue and, in some, bronchitis and pneumonia follow.  Total recovery takes several weeks or longer.  Influenza is a distinct entity; it is not “flu.”  It is a virus and can be transmitted between people, dogs, pigs and ferrets, interchangeably.

The influenza viruses that strike humans are divided into types A, B & C.  Influenza A is the historical one, infecting man, pigs, horses, seals and birds.  This virus and its hosts have adapted mutually over many centuries and created a reservoir that ensures perpetuation of the virus.  It likely originated in aquatic birds.  When such viruses or their components mix with human influenza virus, dramatic genetic shifts can follow, creating the potential of a new epidemic for humans.

Tissue taken from a 21 year old private who died of 1918-9 Spanish flu and those of a native Alaskan who died in 1918 and was buried in permafrost were used to resurrect the extinct 1918 influenza virus.

Resurrected 1918 virus is 100 times more lethal than other strains; it produces 39,000 more virus particles than other influenza strains. Pg. 321.

H5N1 bird flu, first isolated in 1997, had by 2008 killed about 60% (236/373; 63%) of those with it, but had not jumped repeatedly or easily between humans.  75 million drug courses available in US today would treat only 25% of the population.  See for info. on US’s plan to control a pandemic.  Also

Outbreak of April 2009, human to human passage, led to WHO phase 5 alert.  Occurred in spring (rare), infects young adults, spreading rapidly.  Type of this H1N1 was similar to that of 1977, so those aged 32 and older should have some protection against this latest outbreak.

Possible future devastating outbreaks of measles, influenza, smallpox, and HIV/AIDS.  In US, 40,000 new cases of HIV/AIDS every year; anti-viral triple-drug therapy has increased life span so much of those infected that they will likely die of something else like heart attack, stroke, etc., but it still remains within them, and if it mutates…

Soviet Biological Weapons Program created new smallpox by inserting genes of Ebola with it.  This disbanded, but where did those scientists go with their stocks of smallpox?


Pg. 243: “…infect ten people with Ebola in downtown Manhattan and you could kill a million, or more.”

“If the two viruses [H5N1 and ordinary flu] did encounter each other inside a human host, a far more ominous strain of H5N1 might emerge.  It could be as infectious as the influenza bug that swept the globe in 1918, but several times more lethal.”  Pg. 246.

There were two waves of 1918 flu.  The first, in the spring, make people ill for just 3 days, then they recovered.  But the second wave, in the fall and winter, the genetic makeup had changed since the first wave, and this second one did all the damage.

20% of infected get mild dose of normal flu and get better.  But the rest get 1 of 2 things: so much fluid in the lungs that they can’t get enough oxygen and they suffocate.  They die in days or hours, delirious with high fever, gasping for breath, fall unconscious and die.  Second possibility started with normal flu symptoms—chills, fever, muscle aches.  But by day 4 or 5, bacteria swarms into their injured lungs and they get pneumonia that usually kills them.  Faces turn blue or black and they cough up blood.  Bodies were stacked at the morgue like cord wood.  Pg. 16. Those with black feet would not live.

There's more scary stuff about West Nile, Mad Cow, Ebola, and others, but you get the idea by now.  Makes me want to wash my hands every 10 minutes.

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