Saturday, November 12, 2005

Bird flu

This doesn’t sound very good—Bird Flu Triggers Immune System “Storm.” (Hat tip: Glen Reynolds.)

As concern mounts over the potential spread of avian flu to humans, researchers believe they've discovered one reason why the infection can prove so deadly.

Experiments with human cells have found the H5N1 virus can trigger levels of inflammatory proteins called cytokines and chemokines that are more than 10 times higher than those that occur during a bout of the common flu.

This massive increase in cytokine and chemokine activity can inflame airways, making it hard to breathe. It also contributes to the unusual severity of the avian flu, which can result in life-threatening pneumonia and acute respiratory distress….

"This is basically a cytokine storm induced by this specific virus, which then leads to respiratory distress syndrome," Osterholm said. "This also makes sense of why you tend to see a preponderance of severe illness in those who tend to be the healthiest, because the ability to increase the production of cytokines is actually higher in those who are not immune-compromised. It's more likely in those who are otherwise healthy."

Basically, the healthier you are the sicker you become because of increased cytokine production. That turns things on its head. For other illnesses, being in good health lessens the effects. Not with bird flu it looks like.

This is not good.

Bird flu has been found within ten miles of Ukraine’s southern border in Romania. I kid with people in the US that we are eyeing the birds that land on our balcony suspiciously. Not any more, the kidding that is. This looks serious and we could be part of the initial surge of it, if it crosses the human threshold. But this doesn’t look good on that score.

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