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12th October & 7th November 2005
AUSTRALIAN DIARY

ARCHIVES.

- H5N1 - BIRD FLU -

Recent warnings from the World Health Organization are scary.  H5N1 is a bird disease, and seems to strike all species of birds, although with different levels of virulence.  In chickens, the fatality rate is high. Wild ducks can carry the infection with no visible signs.  That is where Wendy Orent went astray.

12th November 05  The very best page for those like myself who fear global pandemic is that produced by the nom de blog effectmeasure.  Although the author is a dyed in the blue liberal, the medical information seems as accurate as timeliness allows, and the speculations are a hypochondriac's wet dream (platitudinally speaking).  He did an interesting series on somebody called George Larkoff, who has propounded a cognitive theory that likens human thought processes to "frames" which he likens to metaphors, but to me Larkoff frames appear to be a cross between memes and platitudes.

Some health professionals in Australia seem to be in a state of panic.  Australia is one of the few Tamiflu producers, and should have more available per capita than just about anyone else, however none is available for purchase.  The other antiviral treatment (Relenza) is apparently useless, since the H5N1 virus currently in SE Asia has reportedly developed an immunity to it.  Local pharmacists report that people in Sydney's eastern suburbs are hoarding Tamiflu.  This is likely to be a waste of money.  According to Wikipedia, H5N1 has already mutated to a form that is resistant to Tamiflu.

In any case, Tamiflu and Relenza are not inoculations, but treatments.  An inoculation teaches the bodies immune system to defend against the virus.  A treatment directly attacks the virus, and allows the body's immune system that extra bit of time that it needs to develop it's own defense.  Tamiflu would hopefully be used to stop the virus from gaining entry to the body, although that would be a particularly wasteful manner in which to use the drug.

Update note 7th November 2005 - More important are prophylactic measures that can be taken.  WHO advises that careful handling of chickens and eggs prior to cooking is essential.  The virus can last for up to one month in cold conditions (such as in a refrigerator) but is destroyed by cooking above 70deg C.(about 160deg F)

The presence of H5N1 in Europe has been confirmed.  For the winter, birds from Europe migrate to Africa.  The problem with Africa is that monitoring of outbreaks in birds and humans would be difficult, permitting a mutated human infection to gain foothold.  The problem with bird flu is that, unlike SARS, it is infectious before it is detectable.  (At least with SARS, there were symptoms before the infected person became infectious).  Need I paint a picture of what would happen in AIDS riddled Africa?

Update note 7th November 2005 - H5N1 was reported today in China on a major migration route to Australia.

Even survival of an H5N1 infection would not necessarily guarantee future immunity for the individual.  It is possible that the virus would mutate so rapidly that, like the annual cold, a new inoculation would be needed each year.  On the other hand, the first inoculation is crucial, as it confers some small immunity against the mutated virus.

12th November.  The Spanish Flu that reportedly killed 20-100 million circa 1918 might have been a recombinant infection.  There is speculation that the lethality of that strain may have resulted because the strain is came about after the Spanish flu had mutated in birds to the point where it transmitted directly to humans, and then transmitted (with no further mutation) between humans.  The Spanish Flu was reported as most lethal against those in the 20-40 year old age group.  Scientists in HK claim that those with the strongest immune systems are most at risk, because the disease manufactures proteins that overstimulate the immune response.

Our politician's strategy is to attempt to find all cases where H5N1 has infected a human, and isolate those cases hoping thereby to prevent any spread in the instance where the H5N1 has combined with an existing human virus to provide a new strain that would transmit easily between humans.  If (as seems to have happened in 1918) every bird could potentially be carrying the strain that has mutated to the point where transmission between humans would occur, then the outlook for stopping the disease with that strategy is grim.

Mutation is happening rapidly.  Researchers have found that the virus is becoming more virulent.

Our leaders (in the interests, I suppose, of preventing a panic) are concealing the extent of the potential disaster.  From reports it appears that about 50% of people infected with H5N1 survive, although of course that 50% has had the benefit of oxygen tents and anti-viral (Tamiflu or Relenza) treatments.  Without those aids the survival rate could be very low.   It is anticipated that (after the virus mutated to a human pathogen form) it would take up to six months the develop and produce significant quantities of an inoculation.  And that is assuming that problems with mass production of the virus in eggs can be solved.  (apparently the virus kills chicken eggs before the inoculation can be produced. Might I suggest duck eggs?)

My own (very uneducated) guess is that between 200 million and four billion people could die within that first six months.  Most of those fatalities would be in locations having a dense population of humans and birds.

25th October - a report in
OhmyNewsInternational reads:

The General Director of World Health Organization (WHO) Lee Jong Wook said that it is a certainty that avian flu will become a human pandemic and it's just "a matter of time" before the H5N1 virus mutates into a type capable of being spread among humans. "This will be a pandemic...The WHO predicts 25 million people will be infected and hospitalized and 7 million people will die around the world in a short period of time."

I foresaw a Pandemic problem more than five years ago (see the transport page) and recommended that international airports be reduced in number and located in remote regions.  Unfortunately, I suspect that the travel convenience of our politicians & the needs of MacQuarie Bank executives to earn unconscionable profits has swamped anybody's addressing of such concerns.

We are facing nothing less than the possibility of the breakdown of civilization.  Maybe some of those southern fundamentalist preachers have got it right.  Perhaps it is time to stock up on food and the other necessities beloved of survivalist literature.

I do not know whether I am ever again likely to view birds as one of God's harmless and beautiful creations.   Right now, I would be tempted to vote to exterminate the entire species.

- BALI NINE & ISLAM -

There is a report that our police force accepted advice from a potential drug courier's father, assured that father that they would warn the courier, and instead advised Indonesian drug squad officials of the couriers intent, which has resulted in the courier being caught red-handed and charged with a capital offense.

It also appears that the law governing intelligence exchange between international police forces has been broken, or at least bent.

If there is any iota of truth in that report, then the responsible officers should be jailed for life.  By assuring the father that the courier would be warned, police preempted the father's own warning to the courier that the authorities had been alerted.

I am sad that our police officials are so motivated by ambition that they appear to have lost their humanity.  The sort of person who would tell a lie, knowing that the lie will probably result in the death of fellow human beings, that sort of human should not be in public service, but in jail.

Originally I was quite pro-Indonesian.  That was before the days of Jemah Islamia.  If Indonesia's majority Muslim population decides that Sharia law must be the law of the state, then non Muslim people within that state must be permitted to secede.  It is all very well for Muslims to insist that Muslim people must live in their own religious Sultanate.  In the interest of consistency, the other side of that coin is that localized majorities of non-Muslim people (such as the Hindu in Bali, or the animists of West Irian ) must be permitted to secede from the Muslim state.

If living under Sharia law is so important to Muslims, then I feel that we should not deprive Australian Muslims of the opportunity to live under Sharia law.  If a Muslim has as a religious necessity the need to live under Sharia law, and perform such religious and cultural acts in public as wear a Bourka or pray to Mecca, we should allow them to publicly register as Muslims living under Sharia law in Australia.

I do not think that Sharia law is in strong conflict with our own laws.  Stealing and murder and rape are all crimes under Sharia.  There are a few extra crimes, such as adultery and usury.  The penalties under Sharia are somewhat different, and to our culture some of the penalties might appear to be harsh.  For instance, under Sharia law, I believe, the penalty for stealing is to have the left hand amputated.  On the second offense, the right hand is amputated.  The third conviction leads to mandatory execution.  For rape or adultery the penalty is  death by stoning (I think).  Of course if a Muslim wanted to renounce Islam & no longer live under Sharia law, he/she should be permitted to recant his/her beliefs.  (This recanting would not be retrospective, so a crime committed while a Muslim would be tried in a Sharia court and vv.)

We have already established a parallel justice and punishment system for native Australians.  Why not establish a Sharia justice and punishment system for Australian Muslims?

- CITIZEN MURDOCH -

There was a report today that the average age of newspaper readers was 55 years.  A few weeks ago Murdoch sold a newspaper, purchased Internet titles. 

Recently Rupert was reportedly having problems with family (from what we glean from the papers, he attempted to enlarge the trust that previous wife Anna demanded as a divorce settlement, which trust named his children as directors having a significant proportion of NEWS corp as their inheritance.)  Rupert wanted the family trust to be enlarged to include children borne by most recent wife Wendy Deng.   This would have given Wendy two votes, as trustee for her two children.  Apparently son Lachlan stood up to Daddy, and (presumably) the trust remains with only the first (four?) children as director-beneficiaries.

The problem seems to be compounding (as such things have a habit of doing) in that renewal of the poison pill previously set to stop Malone, who had swapped non-voting shares for voting shares when NEWS moved to the state of Delaware in the USA is being challenged by recalcitrant shareholders.

I still believe that Murdoch has the nous to cope with the evolving business environment, but it does seem that Anna might have put a spoke in Wendy's wheel.

23 October 2005 In what must be seen as a worrying indicator for any media corporation that relies principally on advertising revenue, Google is predicted to pass the $100 billion capitalization mark shortly, making it more than twice as large as rival search engine Yahoo, and bringing it to a net worth greater than Bill Gates personal fortune.  Microsoft and Yahoo are not advertising media corporations, they are corporations that rely on copyright and patent material for their revenue.

And just incidentally, valuing Google at more than twice the value of NEWS corporation.

I am agog and bemused at the unfolding panorama.  It is my tip that WIKIPEDIA is a key of which both NEWS & GOOGLE seem unaware.   I envisage something along the lines of WIKINEWS.

7th Nov 2005 Drudge published today a Flash Report - "Bloodbath List" showing audits of the top 20 US daily papers, all but two had falling circulation, and those two had minuscule (<0.5%) rises.


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