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An Uncommon Cold and Global Warming - Ties That Blind?

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The other day, when I opened my local paper to find the headline, "CDC: New respiratory bug has killed 10", my first thought was "Uh-oh, we're about to be fear-mongered".  I'm not the only one concerned about this phenomenon - in 2002 the prestigious medical journal BMJ devoted an entire issue to the topic.  And we're all aware of the media and medical-community promoted panic that ensued as a result of the small SARS outbreak, as well as the one that is currently being pushed concerning what some expect to be the next great flu pandemic.

So it was with great surprise and no small amount of relief that I read that "CDC officials don't consider the mutation to be a cause for alarm for most people, and they're not recommending any new precautions for the public".

At least for now.  Or at least until the pharmaceutical industry needs to drive sales for its latest answer to our medical prayers.

But even though the greedy can always try and manipulate the fearful in order to advance their own unenlightened financial ends, that doesn't mean we don't have real problems, ones that demand real solutions.

So my second thought was that the problem of newly emerging diseases has an awful lot in common with the global warming debate.  Among the questions that beg to be asked about these emerging diseases, most of which are similarly being asked about global warming, are the following:

1)  Is this mutation part of a natural change, unaffected by human activity?

2)  Is this mutation part of a natural change, affected by human activity?

3)  Is this mutation totally a result of human activity?

4)  If this mutation is solely a function of natural change, what natural forces have combined to change what has always been a benign disease into something that can now be lethal?

5)  Regardless of the cause(s), is there anything we can do to prevent and/or treat this newly lethal strain of an old harmless disease?

6)  Is this mutation in the cold virus part of a larger phenomenon, one that is causing other disease changes, including an increase in chronic disease, asthma, cancer in children, and immune system dysfunction, to only name a few?

The similarities are striking.

One would expect the "opposing" camps to be similar as well.

With global warming we see that a dwindling number of diehards continue to believe global warming is totally a function of normal climate change and there is nothing we can do about it. While they may be right, most scientists believe that at a minimum, human activity is a co-factor in the changes.  Among that majority of global warming scientists, the focus is on identifying the causes and attempting to minimize those factors while developing solutions to the problem.

There will likely be two camps vis à vis the mutating cold virus and other emerging diseases issue as well, one believing it is part of a completely natural phenomenon, the other believing humans play at least some role in its development. 

But who is correct?  Are those who do not see the effects of human activity on global warming and/or changing disease epidemiology on the right track or blind to those effects? Might they even simply be choosing not to see those effects because they are part of the problem? Or are those who do see those effects merely grasping at straws, looking for a comforting scapegoat on which to blame the inevitable?

If the lethal mutation of the common cold is, in fact, an entirely natural change, while there may have been nothing we could have done to prevent the mutation, thankfully there may still be things we can do to bolster the immune system (with the fittest surviving) and/or provide treatment. 

However, just like with global warming, chances are that human activity is at least a co-factor in this change.  If so, what might those independent or co-factors be?  How might we discover what they are?  And how can we use that understanding to prevent those factors from causing any further damage or change, or even avoid them outright?

In either case, unnaturally, one might expect that Big Pharma will be more than happy to provide real or imagined relief.

Fortunately for the public, but perhaps unfortunately for researchers, the numbers dying from the lethal cold virus are probably too small to adequately address the issue, and hopefully will remain so.   Regardless, the problem of emerging diseases does not appear to be going away.

And just as the planet is being viewed as an organism possibly in peril, so, too, should our research be directed at the human organism, also possibly in peril. 

What might all this mean?  Like it or not, what I believe to be the careless tinkering we have been doing with the human organism via the use of growing numbers of vaccines may be doing to our bodies what human activity is doing to our planet.

Soooooo - no surprise here - one likely fruitful approach remains the study of vaccinated vs. never-vaccinated people.

One reason?  The cold virus mutation may have a clear vaccine connection.

But there are already plenty of reasons to think vaccines could be causing a variety of health problems, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.  Some of them are outlined in an earlier column Scandals: Are vaccines involved in Gulf War Syndrome, autism and other chronic diseases? 

And what of the claims made by  people like paid vaccine developer and consultant Paul Offit, that vaccines are not involved? If one citation used in the study upon which this article is based is any example (and my experience says that it is), as usual, the studies do not use never-vaccinated people as controls.  (Imagine a study on the effects of smoking that didn't compare current and formersmokers to those who have never smoked!) 

Were we doing large, ongoing studies of these two populations, we would be able to determine whether or not vaccination might be playing a role in this and other emerging diseases and conditions.  After further study, any role vaccines play in changing disease epidemiology could then be factored into the benefit/risk ratio of vaccines and our decisions about their use. 

That is, if we could overcome the influence of those who benefit financially from their widespread use.

The consequences of both global warming and changing disease epidemiology could well be dire, regardless of the reasons.  In both cases, what we don't know can hurt us.

Natural or unnatural global warming is causing the "natural" extinction of many animals not able to adapt in order to survive.  We might well be among them, particularly if we aren't able to remove any blinders we may have which prevents us from seeing the truth and changing our behavior in accordance with it.

And just as it is natural for some species not to survive global warming, so will some humans not survive these disease changes.  Might the blind faith being placed in our health care providers and those influencing them not only endanger our health, but be potentially putting many more of us on the endangered list, with only the most fit surviving?

After all, it would only be natural.

Sandy Gottstein

Date: 11-17-2007

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." - Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), paraphrasing John Philpot Curran (1808)