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Day 73: So How Do People Catch Flu? Don’t Ask!

A reader sent me some shocking quotes and allegations. At first I thought it was a hoax, but he sent links, too. He was responding to my consternation about my ex’s claim that she caught H5N1 while barricaded in my apartment. He didn’t try to explain, but it seems anything is possible—or at least, not impossible.

The first shocker was a quote from—and link to—a 2005-6 research solicitation by the CDC, wherein the Feds offered tax dollars to get scientists to conduct some pressing research:

The biological and genetic basis of transmissibility of influenza viruses among humans, and mammalian species in general, remains poorly understood.


DEAR MA, TODAY A DOCTOR SWABBED LIVE KILLER FLU INTO MY NOSE AND THROAT. BUT I FEEL GREAT....Then he quoted and linked to a reprint of a paper co-authored by leading global flu researchers, including legendary flu-fighter Robert Webster, a New Zealander who was first to figure out that influenza originates in birds:

A key feature of a potentially pandemic influenza virus is its ability to spread efficiently from infected to noninfected hosts (i.e., its transmissibility). The molecular basis of influenza virus transmissibility remains unresolved.”

The CDC and the man who helped develop the method by which flu vaccine is now created are saying that the biological, genetic, and molecular bases of flu transmission among people are not understood. Not even for seasonal flu!

And I thought it was a slam-dunk: Someone sneezes and we breathe it in, or touch the active residue. (You know, on fomites.) Nope.

I spent the day trawling deep science on the Web. Thanks to the University of Toronto’s website, I found a faint photocopy of a 599-page work about the 1918-19 pandemic. An extremely respected doctor named Edwin Oakes Jordan wrote the book for the American Medical Association’s Chicago branch, which published it in 1927, when experts were still trying to determine if the pandemic had been caused by a virus or by a bacterium.

Strangers on a Plane—Proof of Flu Transmission?

In Epidemic Influenza, A Survey, Jordan reports (pps. 441, 442, and 443) on three distinct attempts in 1918 and 1919 by the U.S. Public Health Service to transmit H1N1 from numerous sick people to healthy volunteers. They failed to demonstrate a single impeccable transmission, even after rubbing fresh, hot sputum into volunteers’ throats. And that was a fearsome flu.

In only a handful of studies have researchers claimed to have observed direct flu transmission. The most commonly cited paper dates back to 1979 and concerns an airplane stuck for four hours on the tarmac in Alaska. A very sick passenger is said to have transmitted the flu to many others while the air filtration system malfunctioned.

That, folks, is an anecdotal report. There were no controls. Ventilation was down and passengers wandered on and off the plane. I’m not saying it didn’t happen. But a decades-old cause-and-effect observation is the best they’ve come up with to prove what we all ‘know.’

As Dr. Michael Gardam, director of infectious disease prevention and control for Canada’s Ontario Agency for Health Protection & Promotion, told the Los Angeles Times: The only thing the study proves is that it was extremely unpleasant to be on that plane.

Heck, I was stuck next to a woman sneezing from Madrid to New York at the peak of last year’s flu season. I was sure she’d infect me. I could feel her fever radiating at me as I leaned away, into the window. What did I get? Nada.

I can’t explain the alleged Alaska flu carrier. I don’t disbelieve it. Maybe it was a ‘superspreader’—as happened in several cases with SARS transmission. But I’m flabbergasted that it’s all they have. I don’t understand how I failed to notice that the science of flu transmission is so incomplete.

Have you folks ever heard any of this?

I’ve been selling masks and gloves and goggles on the assumption that sick people spread the flu. I think I’ll keep at it—and continue wearing them. I’m not going to risk my life or anyone else’s on the gaps in popular flu theory. Hey, it feels better to wear a mask. Might help. Who knows?

The more I learn about bird flu, the less I know I know.

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