October 18, 2005

While I had been watching for some time the progress of the newest variant of bird influenza across Asia and now Europe (and at one point it had reached N. America as well); that is all I am doing: watching. Yes, I agree with the more visible assessments that should H5N1 establish itself in humans and become fully airborne, this variant could be potentially as dangerous as the Spanish flu of 1917 -- which itself would have played some role in bringing that war to an end, as countries increasingly discovered other concerns having been brought much closer to home -- but so are a dozen and more other diseases that we live with invisibly each and every day, most of which already are far more communicable and have comparable mortality rates.

Given that some basic steps are being taken such as to curtail spread insofar as possible, I see no need to add to a global hysteria-mongering.

We have even come to such accommodation with many diseases of our present and our past that their markers live permanently within our DNA: constant background possibility to burst loose in times of significant systemic stress. We know it best in that late cousin to chickenpox, shingles: but it is possible to catch even something such as smallpox more than once, even after having been vaccinated. (For me, this bit of trivia is family history: I grew up knowing first-hand what smallpox scars looked like -- and found amusement in watching the discovery-reactions of later doctors who had not.) It is only natural to take such steps as we can to avoidance: but we remain part of the gaiasphere, and as such we, no less than any other species, are subject to its checks and balances. Some we can attempt to deny or postpone: but in all things balance will be found, even if a forest fire ... and the longer we attempt to defer, the harsher that balance will end up being.

(Working within that balance rather than trying to fight it directly, the most effective treatments against bacterial diseases are no longer antibiotics but antibacterial phages: much of the research into which has been stranded by the sudden collapse and re-identification of the USSR into the CIS, abandoning Georgia. The politics of a term-focussed government is necessarily short-sighted.)

Nor did the current germ-of-the-day suddenly become a story only once it reached N. American and European shores. The world, it seems, is yet larger than it seems from an electronic Anglo-centric perspective. Nothing hides in the shadows: but until a drift of news is translated into English, it may as well not exist.

On truce in the face of disaster it seems, a few days ago, that I spoke too soon: and yet, no matter what the majority (even of militant independence groups) may believe or seek to impose, always there will be one. Think of it as the price to pay for living in a society which allows individual free will.

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