The World Health Organization is investigating a claim by Australian researcher Adrian Gibbs, who says that the swine flu virus circling the globe may have been created as a result of human error.
Gibbs, who collaborated on research that led to the development of Tamiflu, said in an interview that he intends to publish a report suggesting the new strain may have accidentally evolved in eggs scientists use to grow viruses and drugmakers use to make vaccines. Gibbs said he came to his conclusion as part of an effort to trace the virus’s origins by analyzing its genetic blueprint.
“One of the simplest explanations is that it’s a laboratory escape,” Gibbs said in an interview with Bloomberg Television today. “But there are lots of others.”
Gibbs, who has studied germ evolution for four decades, is one of the first scientists to analyze the genetic makeup of the virus.
Bloomberg May 13, 2009
|Dr. Mercola’s Comments:|
First of all I am very grateful that the article I wrote last month has had such a powerful influence on quenching the fear mongering that was going on shortly after the information about swine flu was released.
Most of the panic seems to stem from an overly nervous head of the World Health Organization, who gave unfounded warnings that seemed to precipitate the panic.
Nevertheless the article has been viewed well over one million times on my site alone. The day it was published it was the sixth most viewed page on the entire Internet, and it crashed our servers that could not keep up with over 100 MB/sec bandwidth demands.
Swine flu this time around has not been able to develop into a panic like it did in the pre-internet era when it first appeared in the 1970s. It is enormously satisfying to observe that we CAN make a difference. But ultimately this was a very small victory.
The primary battle will be to win over the consciousness of the public and convince them that natural options are nearly always superior to expensive and potentially toxic drugs that are depleting their income.
Theories as to Swine Flu Origin
Several theories have floated about, trying to explain the mysterious cocktail that makes up the new flu strain A(H1N1), better known as the swine flu.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta has reviewed Gibbs report, which offers up the possibility that the strain is the result of a laboratory mistake that somehow “escaped” the confines of the lab.
However, the CDC gives little if any credence to Gibbs’ theory, stating there is no evidence to support his conclusion.
Nancy Cox, director of the agency’s influenza division, stated that researchers don’t have samples of swine flu viruses from South America and Africa, where the new strain may have evolved, so those regions still cannot be ruled out as natural sources for the new flu.
Said Dr. Julie Gerberding, an infectious disease expert and the former director of the CDC,
“In this case I’m not concerned that this virus represents anything other than a naturally occurring mixture of viruses happening in nature.”
And, in a previous interview with ABC News, Christopher Ohl, an associate professor of medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and a specialist in infectious diseases commented,
“Technically it’s plausible but not likely.”
Still, the idea that this virus evolved in nature may be equally farfetched.
Richard Webby, a virologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, discovered the new strain is the product of two distinct lineages of influenza that have circulated among swine in North America and Europe for more than a decade.
But, according to Gibbs, the rate of genetic mutation in the new virus was about three times faster than that of the most closely related viruses found in pigs, suggesting it evolved outside of swine. And, other recent discoveries support the notion that pigs may not be the source as well, which I’ll review in just a moment.
Swine Flu a Mystery But Not a Pandemic Threat
As of May 27, 2009, 48 countries have officially reported 13,398 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza A(H1N1) infection, but so far there have only been 95 deaths WORLDWIDE — 80 of them were people born in Mexico.
According to the World Health Organization’s Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response site, updated as of May 27, the latest numbers are: site the latest numbers are:
Additionally, the following countries each have 1 reported case of swine flu and no deaths.
As you may have heard by now, “patient zero” was identified as a five-year old boy living in the southern Mexican town of La Gloria. He got sick in late March or early April, but recovered after a few days.
The fact that he lives near a large pig farm fueled the suspicion that the origin of the outbreak had been tracked down. Meanwhile, however, the farm claims none of its workers or pigs are sick. And while Mexican officials are testing the animals for signs of the virus, they have stated they do not believe the infection came from there.
Instead, growing evidence suggests the virus may have originated in California, reports the Wall Street Journal in another recent article.
It appears there were cases in California predating the Mexican cases, and none of them had traveled to Mexico or had any contact with pigs.
These cases contradict the conventional understanding that the strain originated from swine.
The first known California case was a 10-year-old boy in San Diego County, who developed a fever on March 30. By the time the CDC had received samples, on April 14, and determined it was the swine flu, the boy had already recovered.
According to Michael Shaw, associate director for laboratory science for the influenza division of the CDC, the flu theoretically could have first appeared in California. But he also points out that the strain also exhibits genetic characteristics traceable to Eurasia.
So the plot thickens, as experts try to weed out the possibilities of how it could have ended up in multiple locations, around the same time, even without contact with the farm animals in question.
Could Factory Farming be the Source of Swine Flu?
As I reported earlier in my Critical Swine Flu Alert, an earlier theory was that it was caused by American factory farming practices. In the United States, pigs travel coast to coast. They can be bred in North Carolina, fattened in the corn belt of Iowa, and slaughtered in California.
While this may reduce short-term costs for the pork industry, the highly contagious nature of diseases like influenza (perhaps made further infectious by the stresses of transport) needs to be considered when calculating the true cost of long-distance live animal transport.
The majority of U.S. pig farms now confine more than 5,000 animals each. With a group of 5,000 animals, if a novel virus shows up it will have more opportunity to replicate and potentially spread than in a group of 100 pigs on a small farm.
With massive concentrations of farm animals within which to mutate, these new swine flu viruses in North America seem to be on an evolutionary fast track, jumping and reassorting between species at an unprecedented rate.
Could a Laboratory Make Such a Critical Mistake?
Gibbs, a researcher whose work led to the development of Tamiflu, believes it’s possible. And personally, I think the answer to that question is an unequivocal yes.
The facts speak for themselves, and the fact is such horrendous “mistakes” have happened before.
As recently as March of this year, the pharmaceutical company Baxter was under investigation for distributing the deadly avian flu virus to 18 different countries as part of a seasonal flu vaccine shipment. The event launched a media probe, with Czech reporters questioning whether or not it may have been part of a deliberate attempt to start a pandemic.
And the idea that multiple viruses could be combined in a lab, with the potential to be used for such a purpose?
That too is being done on a regular basis. It’s called “reassortment,” and is just one of two common ways pandemic viruses are artificially created, for whatever reason.
Some scientists say the most recent global outbreak — the 1977 Russian flu — was started by a virus created and leaked from a laboratory. According to Gibbs, the swine flu may have “evolved” and originated in a similar fashion.
And, while officials will deny any human or corporate wrongdoing, “mistakes” like that are certainly possible, and have happened more than once.
Backing up Gibbs claims are previous reports by sources like The Online Journal, which have stated that a top scientist for the United Nations concluded the current swine flu virus possesses certain transmission “vectors” that suggest it’s been genetically-manufactured as a military biological warfare weapon.
And Army criminal investigators are also looking into the possibility that disease samples are missing from biolabs at Fort Detrick — the same Army research lab from which the 2001 anthrax strain was released, reported the Fredrick News Post on April 22.
I have yet to find an update on those allegedly missing samples.
For now, it seems the exact origins of this latest hybrid flu strain remain a mystery. But what you can do to protect yourself against it, and ANY kind of flu, is not.
For a refresher on how to avoid catching this or any other flu bug, please review this previous article that covers it in detail.