September 17, 2006

The Survivalist

One of my pet areas of pseudo-expertise is in viral and bacterial science.

Very much pseudo, very little expertise, but I'm still wildly interested and somewhat terrified by this awesome topic. Maybe you haven't given much thought to the threat of a bird flu pandemic; maybe you have, but then played a little que sera sera with it and knocked it off your to-do list.

This article from Slate should convince you to put it back on. This is not some recent occurence; the history of mass death from things we can't see goes back throughout recorded history. When my father was dying in the hospital, he contracted a drug-resistant microbe that the hospital had no clue how to deal with. This was 11 years ago, and very little changed until SARS showed up and started killing healthy people.

It is usually the sick and immuno-compromised who succumb to drug resistant microbes. But the bird flu, or H5N1, that is threatening, is different. It targets the healthiest among us. It tricks the healthiest bodies into attacking themselves.
The Slate article, which links to several other excellent pieces, gives you a heads up and some advice on what to do.

Laurie Garrett is a scientist who specializes in this field. Her PhD thesis was published as The Coming Plague, an absolutely fascinating book, hugely readable, that is as relevant today as it was 11 years ago. The woman is brilliant; the book provides a fascinating history of the origins of everything that is threatening us in this area today. She makes predictions that have proven to be spot on.

Fear may get your adrenaline running, but knowledge will carry you to the end of the race. There is a power in understanding what we face on this planet, how it came to be that way, and what we can do about it.

We've painted ourselves into the Stupid Corner by abusing antibiotics. Every time we've demanded them for a cold, every time we haven't taken an entire prescription as directed, every time we haven't done something as basic as washing our hands, we've helped viruses take a better foothold in our demise.

Garrett sums up a book that's five inches thick by basically saying that the bugs are going to win. They were here first and our cavalier attitudes and arrogant planet-destroying practices have ensured they will be here last.

I think what we're seeing all around us is that nature is being thrust out of balance. By us. Every system requires balance, and it will strain to right itself if threatened. It's not surprising it's the things we can't see that will deliver that message.


Blogger Rainypete said...

I'll just avoid chickens with fevers.

September 17, 2006 10:01 PM  

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