Τρίτη, 11 Αυγούστου 2009
SWINE FLU: MYTHS AND FACTS
There is a lot of hype surrounding the new swine flu. Below, you will find a digest of scientific resistance against the swine flu hysteria and the need for vaccination.
1) IS IT NECESSARY TO GET VACCINATED AGAINST THE NEW SWINE FLU?
No it isn’t. The new flu seems to be a not aggressive and self limited subtype. At least in Greece –if it were not for the media- no one would have known that there’s a new flu around. Under its current form, the new swine flu is not deadlier than the common seasonal flu. It is only more easily transmitted. If things remain the way they are, there is no reason for public health alarm or social uprising and of course, no reason of mass vaccination. There may be a need to determine the high risk groups and vaccinate them selectively. Unfortunately, during the last months no systematic effort to determine the exact epidemiologic characteristics or the virulence of the disease has been undertaken. (Garske T, Legrand J, Donnelly CA et al. Assessing the severity of the novel influenza A (H1N1) pandemic. BMJ. 2009 Jul 14;339:b2840. doi:10.1136/bmj.b2840).
2) IS IT A PANDEMIC?
No it isn’t. According to “Texbook of Influenza” (Nicholson KG, Webster RG, Hay AJ (editors). Texbook of influenza. Oxford: Blackwell Science, 1998, p. 3-18), for a flu outbreak to be called a pandemic, either of the two following prerequisites have to be fulfilled: 1) the occurrence of a rapidly spreading flu, that affects a great number of people, causing many deaths 2) the occurrence of a new flu subtype bearing a haematoglutinin gene (the H in the H1N1) that is not related to the haematoglutinin gene of the subtypes that used to circulate immediately before the appearance of the new flu and that is not the product of a simple mutation of the gene. None of these terms is fulfilled in the case of the new swine flu: it doesn’t kill nor it possesses a new haematoglutinin gene. The “new” H gene is the good old H1 that already exists in the H1N1 subtype, already in circulation in our earth for decades.
3) WHY HAS WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION (WHO) DECLARED A PANDEMIC?
If WHO’s decision to call the new flu a pandemic was not based on epidemiological grounds, then what was the reason? No one knows for sure. Maybe the heads of the organization were a bit oversensitive about the prospect of a world tragedy. Some others suggest to simply “follow the money”. The ones who stand to profit from WHO’s decision are the pharmaceutical companies, the health professionals and the state bureaucracy. Pharma companies are the obvious beneficiaries of WHO’s sensitivity. Just for the vaccines, the orders that they are going to receive exceed 40 billion euros, on a world scale. The swine flu pandemic will give doctors and health professionals the opportunity to justify the merciful (for them!) oversized health sector and to secure the lavish living conditions of this redundant class of professionals. As far as the state and its functionaries is concerned, we have to resort to a rather communist analysis. The state acts as an intermediary of the medical-industrial complex and of the citizens, who are actually called to support both of them. In this way, the state secures the interests of a specific class at the expense of the others. In other words, the members of the state bureaucracy anticipate that they will be rewarded by the medical industrial complex for bringing citizens on the doctor’s operating table, in order to perform a subtle operation called walletectomy! In political terms, what is actually performed is an act of social transition, where newly ascending classes rewrite the social contract by attracting indirectly, towards their side, the social wealth. As Cheap Trick put it, “It’s the Way of the World”!
4) IS THE VACCINE SAFE?
We still don’t know. It is the first time in human history that over a billion people of the western world will be vaccinated with a vaccine whose side effects are actually unknown. WHO’s proclamation of a pandemic, paved the way for pharma companies to submit the approval files of their vaccines, following the “fast track”. This means that given the “urgency” (according to WHO) of the situation, pharma companies are not obliged to contact large scale clinical trials to sufficiently prove the safety of their vaccines. So, vaccines that are planned to be used on 1-2 billion of people, will have been tested on 1000-2000 people, at best. This testing scale (1:1,000,000) is unable to detect the rarest and more serious side effects of the vaccines. This becomes even more worrying when one takes into account the fact that there is no reason for mass vaccination et al. In this sense, the harm to benefit ratio is infinite! A verification of all these fears came recently from USA. There, the Health Secretary offered legal immunity to vaccine makers against any lawsuits from citizens for any side effects that may arise from the swine flu vaccine. The legal immunity was given to state agencies as well, proving that health authorities and pharma companies have really something to fear of. It is not yet known what are the plans of EU, but in a related turn, the Greek government, in an unprecedented move of (un)health(y) extortion, plans to oblige its citizens to sign a written form of acceptance of the possible side effects of vaccination, just like the informed consent signed by patients before taking an experimental treatment of unknown consequences! This speaks volumes about the validity of the guarantees offered by health officials.
5) ARE THERE ANY OTHER DRUGS FOR COMBATING FLU?
Not really. Flu is a virus and the few antivirals that we have, Like Tamiflu and Relenza are of limited power. A scientific review that was published in Lancet, concluded that both drugs are of limited effectiveness. (Jefferson T, Demicheli V, Rivetti D et al. Antivirals for influenza in healthy adults: systematic review. Lancet, 2006, 367: 303-13).
6)ARE TAMIFLU-LIKE DRUGS SAFE?
Yes, they are, with one exception: pregnancy. According too the manufacturer of Tamiflu "TAMIFLU is normally not recommended for use during pregnancy or nursing, as the effects on the unborn child or nursing infant are unknown" (http://www.tamiflu.com/sideeffects.aspx). Oddly enough, WHO has just recommended the opposite: pregnant women should start Tamiflu, immediately upon signs of the first symptoms! It is a unique case of paranoia, where one international organization (WHO) recommends a drug use, in complete disregard for the guidelines of the manufacturer of the drug. We pinpoint the fact that the guidelines are actually orders, issued by another international regulatory authority (i.e. EMEA or FDA).
7) IS IT POSSIBLE FOR THE VIRUS TO MUTATE?
Maybe yes, maybe no. Mutation is not necessarily a bad thing. A virus can always mutate towards a less virulent form. The viral mutation after overexposure to Tamiflu may serve as an example of the unpredictability of the effect of a mutation: in the case of Tamiflu resistance, it is very possible that the virus will mutate towards a less aggressive form (Ives JA, Carr JA, Mendel DB, Tai CY, Lambkin R, Kelly L, Oxford JS, Hayden FG, Roberts NA. The H274Y mutation in the influenza A/H1N1 neuraminidase active site following oseltamivir phosphate treatment leave virus severely compromised both in vitro and in vivo. Antiviral Res. 2002. Aug;55(2):307-17). The prophets of doom that lament for this possibility, can only be dealt with metaphysical terms!
8) WHERE DID THE VIRUS COME FROM?
Nobody knows. Or maybe pigs do: the virus have emerged in pigs after the “fusion” of three different swine flu strains: one from N. America, one from Europe and one from Asia. Because it takes too much of a coincidence for this to happen (of course it is not uncommon, especially in viral evolution terms), some “conspiracy theory” minds have proposed another way: the virus could have originated from an attenuated triple swine vaccine that was not so “attenuated” and was given experimentally to pigs. It escaped from the swine organism and finally it attacked humans. What fortifies this theory is the fact that pigs do not actually get sick from the new flu. Could it be that they are already vaccinated against it and that the blue print of the human vaccine already exists? Too much of a conspiracy for an innocent mind!
9) WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF THE MAJORITY OF THE POPULATION CONTRACTS THIS “NON-AGGRESSIVE” FLU. EVEN IF 1 IN 10,000 DIES, WON’T WE START COUNTING DEAD BODIES?
It is possible. Living on this planet is not risk free. This doesn’t mean that we have to be vaccinated against every possible threat with unchecked vaccines. Until it is completely proven that the benefits of vaccination overcompensate for the possible side effects, we should not take even the slightest risk and proceed to mass vaccination with a product for which even its maker and its pusher do not take responsibility. For all of you who have second thoughts, we propose an educative TV show (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ro1WL5ketWg). It is about the victims of the 1976 swine flu hysteria, crippled after the urgent mass vaccination of 45 million people. Urgent for whom?
10) IF ALL THESE ARE TRUE, WHY ACADEMICS DO NOT PROTEST?
Shush! You might wake them up. They are busy asking grants from the makers of vaccines!