A message from Dr. Tom Frieden

Worried about bleeding lungs? Bleeding orifices? We, at the CDC, have got you covered. When the bleeding starts, just call our toll free number and one of our professional “watchers” will be dispatched to your home. Within minutes, s/he will be watching you bleed, with the greatest attention and interest. The watching will be intense and focused. We will not stop watching you bleed until, well, there is no more blood left to bleed. Of course, we won’t actually do anything to stop the bleeding. The Tamiflu will be gone by then, there won’t be any vents or ECMO, and vaccine won’t be available for you until Spring Break (by which time you likely won’t need it).

The CDC. Nobody beats us at watching Americans die. We’re just that good.


Peter Bogner’s Excellent Skiing Techniques and Killer Flu Database

Want to know how to ski better?

Talk to Peter Bogner. He demonstrates how in this video: Skiing Techniques (1985)

Want someone to organise a Yacht race?

Talk to Peter Bogner. He organised the Speed world challenge sailing 2003.

From a prestigious skiing dynasty and no less passionate about sailing, Peter Bogner the Chief Executive of the Bogner Organization brings his media experience and his management skills to the speed challenge. He says his strategies for sailing and running a business intersect at the point of using speed and state-of-the-art technologies to reinforce leadership.

Want access to H5N1 sequences? To pandemic H1N1 sequences?

Talk to Peter Bogner.

Huh? WTF!!!

That was my first reaction when I realised that a ski instructor/yacht racing organiser/media impresario would have control over the most significant nucleotide sequences in the world.

How did this happen? No-one seems to know.

When it was first announced, it was spun as some sort of good thing. Sequence data that had been kept secret in WHO vaults would be made publicly accessible. (See A nonscientist pushes sharing bird-flu data for more).

The thing is, if people really want to make sequences public, there is a simple way to do this: deposit them in GenBank. In every field of biology, with the glaring exception of influenza science, sequences are uploaded to GenBank and then made freely available to anyone who wants them with no pre-conditions whatsoever. This database is paid for by the US taxpayer via funding from the National Institutes of Health, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Want all the new H1N1 sequences deposited in GenBank? Here they are:

GenBank sequences from pandemic (H1N1) 2009 viruses

So, since there is already a publicly funded, completely accessible database for nucleotide sequences, why do we need a privately funded one for flu sequences? Hint: Because the data are not freely available. Instead, there are a number of preconditions attached to access. The contract you must agree to is more complex than the one I signed to buy my house. Some highlights: First, you must register by providing your name, address and other personal information. If Peter, the Ski Instructor, thinks you are OK, you will use a password and username to access the database. Every access of data will be monitored by Peter, the Ski Instructor. If you attempt to disclose the information to anyone else without gaining the permission of the person who submitted the sequence data, you lose access to the data. If Peter, the Ski Instructor, decides to cut you off at any time, then, no sequences for you!

These conditions greatly limit the utility of the data. If you want to analyse a large dataset, you need to get permission from all the many contributors. If you want to publish an idea that contradicts the hypothesis of one of the contributors, they may make it difficult for you. If you want to discuss your ideas with a colleague down the hall, you can’t. If you want to discuss an important result at a meeting, you may not be able to if you cannot get permission from all the sequence contributors in time.

This may surprise you, but it turns out that being a ski instructor is not the best preparation for building a nucleotide sequence database. So Peter, the Ski Instructor, contracted out the actual sciency part of the project to the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB). SIB and Peter the Ski Instructor recently had a dispute about ownership of the database. So, access to these critical sequences was interrupted….


Sorry, I get that way when buttheads endanger all of humanity due to extreme greed and stupidity.

To all the researchers who deposit your flu sequences in GISAID instead of GenBank, please, go buy a soul and have it inserted into your meat sack. Historians are going to record what you did. And if a lot of people die in this pandemic, a pretty good bet at this point, your wax image is going to be in the Bad Boys section of Madame Tussauds.

Surgical Mask Prophylaxis during Osculation: The Impact of Variable Lingual Muscle Thrusting

Surgical Mask Prophylaxis during Osculation: The Impact of Variable Lingual Muscle Thrusting. (2009) M. Besos, A. Lothario, and G. Cassanova. Emerging Infectious Diseases.


Human to human spread of influenza is known to be particularly efficient at educational institutions. Although substantial evidence has shown that the best way to limit the spread of pandemic influenza is early and complete school closures, current CDC policy requires that schools remain open as long as possible. Given this policy, it is important to explore the effectiveness of various mitigation strategies in educational institutions. Colleges pose particular problems as the presence of large numbers young people with peak reproductive steroid production oftentimes results in significant bodily fluid exchange. As saliva swapping is a known risk factor for influenza dissemination, we explored the potential of surgical mask prophylaxis to decrease the R0 among college-age humans.

Two groups, one which wore surgical masks during osculation and one which did not, were compared with respect to influenza dissemination. The two groups were matched for age, steroid hormone level and attractiveness. Of note, although 30 matched pairs were part of the original study design, N = 10 for the matched pairs due to insufficient numbers of female subjects. Interestingly, over 1,000 males had signed up for the experiment. The reason for this sex disparity in recruitment is unclear to us, but will be the subject of a future study.

In each group, one half of each matched pair, randomly chosen, was intranasaly innoculated with the H1N1 pandemic virus. IRB approval was based on the CDC finding that this virus is no more virulent than seasonal flu.

Based on a pilot project, force tensiometers were wired to each participants lingual muscle to determine the impact of thrusting force on prophylaxis.

In both groups, all individuals presented with clinical signs of infection. Symptoms included cough (70%), fever (60%), sore throat (55%), diarrhea (40%) and vomiting (36%). Three of the subjects in the control group and two in the experimental group unexpectedly became ill and needed to hospitalised. Two of the subjects required ventilation and one died. A thorough investigation revealed no breach of CDC approved protocols. 50% of the subjects were positive with Flu A tests. 100% of subjects were positive with RT-PCR assays.

One interesting finding from the current study was that our instrument for lingual thrusting force proved quite effective. A t-test indicated a significant difference between males and females in lingual thrusting force (p<0.001). However, we should note that the experiment was not carried to completion in 6 of the matched pairs as the males in these groups removed their own and their female partners surgical masks after less than 3 minutes of osculation. Post-osculation analysis indicates that the masks were removed with unnecessary force suggesting that future designs factor in more robust ear loops.

Although the current results indicate some limitations to the use of surgical masks as prophylaxis for college students during the ongoing H1N1 pandemic, the effectiveness of the tensiometers for measuring lingual thrusting force is encouraging. Additional studies are necessary to understand the psychological factors influencing premature prophylaxis removal.

The expert advice of Baiser Langoureux in study design is gratefully acknowledged

A public announcement from the Venetian Disease and Witchcraft Prevention Council

We here at the Venetian Disease and Witchcraft Prevention Council (VDWPC) wish to address some issues concerning the recent reports of a so-called “Black Death”. First, let’s start with the name. It’s over-the-top hyperbole. If it is necessary to refer to this condition at all, the correct term is “Discoloration and Inconvenient Swelling Discomfort” or DISD.

Now, we know there have been knee-jerk calls for closing our Ports down due to claims that the DISD is coming off the ships somehow. This suggestion is ill-considered and unlikely to be effective. Besides, the Spice Trade with Asia is critical to the local economy. If it becomes absolutely necessary, we will send Inquisitors to the Ports to determine if there are any signs of curses on the crew or cargo. This measure will be certain to prevent any spread of disease from this source.

We all also wish to address the issue of the recent burning of the Witch in the town square. Yes, it is true that until recently she was a Healer working in the Sick House. And yes, it is true that she claimed that there were rats running  free amongst the patients and Healers. However, her complaints about infection control and our decision to burn her as a Witch are entirely unrelated. In any case, removing all rats from the Sick House is unacceptably expensive and unlikely to be necessary. As always, we encourage all Healers to bathe twice a year. That should be more than enough protection against DISD.

The most important thing for the public to remember is not to panic. We have had Plagues, er, I mean Discomforts, before and we will have them again. Most people on this World will survive this Discomfort. Thus, there is no reason for alarm.

Just remember to bathe twice a year and you’ll be fine.

This has been a message from the VDWPC proclaimed in  the Year of Our Lord, 1349.

If you die, it’s because you didn’t wash your hands

… but our hearts go out to your family anyways.

One of my self-appointed tasks is to contribute to the news thread at PFI_Forum by finding articles documenting who has died from the new H1N1.

After describing someone’s death in bland and often uninformative ways, most of these stories end with the state or national public health spokesperson suggesting that it is important to wash your hands frequently.

Well, that’s true. You should wash your hands often. But what does that have to do with the death that was just reported? Are they saying that the person who died was dirty and that’s why he or she died? Because that is the clear implication. The truth is that flu is mostly spread by respiratory droplets, something that washing your hands will not help. If you want to avoid getting the flu, the best way is stay home. The second best way is to wear a respirator that will protect you from inhaling flu droplets. The admonition about washing hands is intended to reassure people that if they only do this simple thing, they won’t get infected. This is misleading at best and an outright lie at worst.

The second scripted snippet that appears in almost every announcement of a death is the following :

“Our hearts go out to the family for their loss”

Really? Does it? I’m not so sure. Because if the people who are saying that really cared, would they mislead everyone about why the person died? You know, like implying they died because they were dirty?

To any public health official who is offended by this blog:

Wash your hands!

And my heart goes out to your family. Really, it does.

Mutual of Bali’s Wild Kingdom

From NewstalkZB:

A New Zealand tourist was chased down and sedated by Indonesian officials in Bali after he tried to escape swine flu quarantine.

The 40-year-old jumped a two-metre wall surrounding Denpasar Hospital before he was recaptured by officials.

You know, when I was reading this, the image that went through my mind was of a tourist jumping over a fence and being chased by guys in safari suits with a dart gun. Marlin Perkins, may he rest in peace, would have done the voice over.

“While I wait in this comfortable 5 star hotel,  Jim is chasing the elusive, but highly dangerous Kiwi, through the streets of Denpasar. Looks like he’s got the Kiwi cornered. Of course, that’s when they’re most dangerous. He’s only got one shot with the tranquilizer gun. Uh, oh, the Kiwi’s charging Jim!”

[Break for commercial]

“Shoot, Jim, shoot!”

The Kiwi is darted just in time. He’s put on a stretcher, his tongue hanging loosely out of his mouth.

“Well, that was certainly a close call. The Kiwi is now receiving the best veterinary, er, I mean, medical care that Bali has to offer. He’ll be released back into his home territory after he’s recovered.”

Tune in next week when Jim must confront an entire herd, er, group, of Aussie tourists in downtown Jakarta!

Muggle Murder – Swine Flu at the Theater

If  Lord Voldemort wanted to wipe out the Muggles, how would he do it? I mean without all the magical hocus pocus? Well, perhaps he would create a killer virus. However, he’d have to make sure it spread to as many people as possible. Since the deadly nature of the virus would soon be known and people would naturally avoid crowded places where they would most likely get it, he’d have to find a way to induce them into the theaters against their better judgment. How could he accomplish that?  Oh, I know, make a movie that people cannot resist seeing. Even more diabolical, give a cast member a “mild” version of the virus. That way, everyone who was worried about swine flu would find what amounts to an advertisement for the movie. Brilliant.

I’m not saying I know for a fact that Lord Voldemort is behind swine flu and the ad campaign for the newest Harry Potter movie. I’m just sayin’