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Swine flu still shaping up to be a pretty ordinary flu

Health Canada microbiologists confirm that the Mexican, American and Canadian variants of the swine flu are all the same strain:

Canadian scientists who sequenced Canadian and Mexican samples of the swine flu virus say it is the same strain, even though the virus seems to cause more severe symptoms in Mexico.

Scientists at Health Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg genetically sequenced and compared samples of the H1N1 flu virus from Nova Scotia, Ontario and Mexico. It’s the first time the sequence has been completed on samples from Mexico and Canada, said officials during a news conference in Ottawa Wednesday.

The results have ruled out a mutation to explain why the Mexican cases have been much more severe than elsewhere, said Dr. Frank Plummer, the chief science adviser of the national lab.

“Essentially, what it appears to suggest, is that there is nothing at the genetic level that differentiates this virus that we got from Mexico and those from Nova Scotia and Ontario, that explains apparent differences in disease severity between Mexico and Canada and the United States,” said Plummer.

— CBC News, “Swine flu is same strain in Canada and Mexico“, May 6th, 2009.

So what makes it so deadly in Mexico?  Pre-existing medical conditions?  Environmental stimulus?  Genetic predisposition?  Quality of care?

Launch every ‘Zig’ for great justice

cyborg_beetleAlthough this has just brought our world one giant leap closer to an enormous insectoid apocalypse (as envisioned in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers), there is something kinda cool about a big scary cyborg bug.

Give it a theme song full of wailing guitars and you’ve got the makings of a kickass Saturday morning kids cartoon.

If I see that thing in the kitchen though, I’m killing it.  Jus’ sayin.

(Via Instapundit.)

Keep swine flu in perspective

Keep your thinking cap on when you’re reading breathless media accounts of “swine flu”, a.k.a. influenza A virus, subtype H1N1.  We are a long, long way from it being an “oh my G-d, we’re all going to die” pandemic.

I have a hard time getting worked up over a flu where the vast majority of its sufferers recover, and whose only confirmed North American fatalities are twenty unfortunate Mexicans.  That’s a small number.  Tragic for those families, but still small.

By contrast, over 2 billion people (one-third of humanity!) have contracted hepatitis BThat’s a pandemic.  About 84,000 people die every year from hepatitis B (and complications arising from it).  Hep B will kill far more people in your lifetime than swine flu ever will.

UPDATE:  As my wife mentioned to me this evening, remember that SARS thing back in 2003?  Forty-four people died in Toronto due to that respiratory disease.  Remember how the world media was freaking out about it, and WHO instituted a travel warning?  Remember seeing tourists on the subway wearing surgical masks, even though 99% of the city’s population had never, ever been exposed to SARS?  And then the number of tourists that showed up took a giant nosedive?  95,000 people in the tourism industry laid off, 30-40% decline in hotel occupancy rates, etc cetera.

Well, that’s how Mexico is feeling right now.  Except the impact to tourism will probably be much more catastrophic in some areas.

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Weddell seals: Nature’s electronic synthesizer

weddell_sealsImage: Weddell seal mother and pup swim near a breathing hole in the ice.  Source: TIME.com

Just watched Werner Herzog’s 2007 documentary Encounters at the End of the World, and learned some amazing things.

First, Werner Herzog has a really annoying voice.  If you ever wanted to hear a middle-aged German doing a poor impression of Peter Lorre, he’s your man.  That wasn’t particularly amazing, though.

No, the amazing thing was hearing recordings of Weddell seals.  A scientist at the seal camp described it as “non-organic”.  That’s putting it mildly.  Go to this page, scroll down to the bottom, and have a listen to a male Weddell seal

1. mating call     
.  Apparently on quiet nights, you can actually hear them broadcasting away, even through the 6-foot-thick ice shelf.

Now the obvious question is, why hasn’t an enterprising animal behaviorist trained a bunch of Weddell seals to perform Peter Howell’s version of the 1980-1985 Doctor Who theme?

Just answer one question for me

Did anyone ever learn anything in Sex Ed class that they didn’t already know before the start of the class?

From what I recall these were 3 or 4 lame 1-hour classes, whose main theme was that professional educators were far, far behind parents (and even the frequently misinformed student grapevine).

A Canadian ‘sexpert’ [Sue Johanson] says Quebec’s decision to eliminate sexual education from the classroom could leave students without the important tools they need to navigate the world of sexual intimacy.

The province has virtually cut specific sex-ed courses from the classroom, instead asking teachers to incorporate the topic in all subjects they teach.

The move will make Quebec the only province in the country without a mandatory form of sexual health education.

— “‘Sexpert’ slams Quebec’s decision to ban sex-ed“, CTV.ca, March 10th, 2008

My take is that sex ed is primarily a parental responsibility.  My own mother was quite careful to indoctrinate me on all this stuff before I was even remotely interested.  She also gave me a very informative book written by a noted sex researcher that covered the good, the bad and the ugly of teenage sex.  Several years later when I had to attend the school’s sex ed classes, I quickly found that these classes were a giant waste of time.

Now I realise that my own experience may not be representative of many or even most students.  Perhaps their folks didn’t sit down with them and explain all this junk.  I don’t think 3-4 hours of school board-mandated classes is going to remedy that one iota.  My sense is that the moral aspect of sex education is the most important, and it is also, not coincidentally, the one that is guaranteed to be absent from publicly-funded sex ed.  Why?  Because the most important part of sex ed has nothing at all to do with the act itself and everything to do with the character and integrity of the partners involved.

There are hundreds of thousands of people who have received mandatory sex ed classes and yet continue to contract STIs.  I sincerely doubt the majority are ignorant to the risks of STIs or the methods of transmission.  But realistically, not everybody is going to go to safe sex extremes and strap on a condom, latex gloves or the always-romantic dental dam.

She said chlamydia is the most common bacterial STI: one in every four students tested for STIs will test positive for chlamydia.

Heintzman said the best way to prevent STIs is to use barrier methods—condoms for acts of penetration, dental dams for oral activities and gloves for manual stimulation.

— Kerri Macdonald, “STIs on the rise“.  Queen’s Journal, February 8th, 2008.

And it will come as a surprise to absolutely no-one that latex gloves and dental dams are rather enormous mood-killers.  Very few men or women wander around with them in their purses and wallets.  So the odds of them being used for casual sex by anyone other than health-conscious  sex-trade workers is exceedingly rare.  Ergo some people are, as a matter of statistical probability, going to acquire STIs if they change partners frequently.  The only way to avoid it is to play Fake Dentist when you want to bang, or have fewer, longer-term relationships with trusted (and verified) STI-free partners.  Ideally a single, lifelong partner, in which there is a mutual meeting and striving of minds, goals, philosophies and so on, not just bumping uglies.  This is an example for parents to impart, through a healthy relationship with each other, over a lifetime of example.  It is not a conclusion the school board will draw for you, even if the data points unerringly toward it.

Just giving people the information isn’t going to formulate a change.  They have to buy into the value system that lessens the opportunity for STI infection.  If you have a kid that doesn’t particularly enjoy school, or respect his/her teachers, then the information said teachers pass on probably isn’t going to make much of an impression.  The kids may know in their heads that without the Fake Dentist getup, they are at risk for contracting an STI, but hormones and natural human desire tend to wipe out such concerns in the heat of the moment.  Character, however, is a bigger hurdle for hormones to overcome.  Very often it will intervene long before anybody gets into their skivvies.

But who shapes a young adult’s character?  Here’s a hint: it is rarely the school board.

UPDATE:  By the way, CTV… how is this banning sex ed?  Quebec has cut specialised sex ed courses but not specified that it be completely removed from all curricula.  Individual boards and schools are free to incorporate it elsewhere… like say biology class.

Category: Miscellania  Tags: ,  2 Comments