It’s 3:14 AM as I write. I have just been awakened on a number of levels, and this time it’s not the neighbor’s dog.
But let me back up a bit.
I don’t read much news, especially mainstream media. Never have; life is far too absorbing. On my RSS reader is a modest list of mostly special interest news sources and a few bloggers, and I rarely delve into more than a handful of favorites. Only one source is dedicated to medical issues, and it’s very specialized. Most health related information available on the web is extremely limited — in relevance, in accuracy, in meaningful value to a practitioner of a mature form of medicine. The vast majority is mere ‘bread and circus’ for the masses.
But I keep my eye on this one source — not because it’s exciting or entertaining. In fact, it’s completely boring, both visually and as a source of raw data. But I give it a glance pretty regularly, because it gives me an opportunity to keep a finger on the pulse of viral activity around the world. It’s one of those arcane little corners of knowledge that could easily explode into the center of our personal and global universes.
Henry Niman is a scientist, not a writer. When I click on the title of a new article in NetNewsWire for a little more information than what’s hidden in the title, I’m unfailingly given an uninformative repetition of the title I clicked on. For example, clicking on CDC Prepares to Pivot to H3N2v Community Transmission yields “The commentary discusses comments preparing for a CDC pivot toward H3N2v community transmission. (08/25/12 07:15 ”. I know that if I want to find out what he’s talking about, I’ll have to go to the article and wade through official statements from the Centers for Disease Control and understated or exaggerated remarks from the media as well as Henry’s highly technical perceptions of what’s really happening in the world of evolving flu viruses.
Neither a biochemist nor a virologist, I’m left to glean what I can from the technospeak. Henry’s focus on his site, Recombinomics, seems to be divided between watching the unfolding genetics of flu viruses around the world and monitoring the CDC’s politically driven responses to these events. The inevitable naysayers on the web go so far as to denounce Dr. Niman as a “bio-terrorist” and interpret his fascination with this area of study as a madman, determined to prove the world is about to end. Personal communications with him back in 2006, when the world was alarmed about H5N1 bird flu, give me a very different perception of the man. He’s anything but an alarmist or doomsayer, and he holds in disdain those who are.
My perception is that Niman is one with a keen interest in this subject and an astute understanding of the dance of viral genetics. And I find his perceptions more reliable and timely than those of the CDC. (Please pardon this lengthy diversion into the defense of Henry Niman, but I think his is important information for anyone who’s consciously negotiating their way through the health challenges of life in these times. Henry is the canary in the coal mine of viral activity.)
What Henry’s detractors don’t seem to get is this:
- Viruses are continually evolving entities which occasionally and capriciously manifest as something to be feared by humans.
- Two independent traits of flu viruses give them this potentiality: the degree to which they become contagious among humans; and the degree to which they become lethal to their host. In this context, we are their hosts.
- Viruses are highly ‘promiscuous’ in their interactions among themselves. Slight genetic shifts can produce rapid and profound change in these traits — and commonly do.
- A virus which has developed the ability to effortlessly pass from human to human with stunning speed is dangerous whether or not its health consequences are dramatic, because an additional, slight genetic deviation can make it deadly. When this happens, as it did in 1912, lots of its hosts die.
- So, keeping a keen eye on rapidly changing flu viruses is an intelligent pursuit, whether the current pandemic manifests millions of deaths or not. Something is going to eventually come along and curb humanity’s prolific tendencies — if not this year, then another time, always the most ‘inopportune’ moment. A concurrent human tendency is to ignore universal principles, but this is always risky business.
The last time I was really giving my full attention to swine flu was a couple of years ago when it reached pandemic proportions. In less than three months it had covered the globe. That’s highly contagious. Most individuals with flu that season had swine flu. Was it lethal? No, but in dealing with clients, it was clearly difficult to get rid of, lingering for weeks. And I saw some of that tendency last year, as well.
The world now is a very different place than it was in 1912. There are now about 7 billion people here, as opposed to 1.65 billion in 1912. World travel is common, quick, and densely packed. Immunity and general level of health in industrialized nations is measurably diminished and continues to decline. Most importantly, nature seeks balance, and human life is not in alignment with balance on this planet. In its seeking, nature always finds its balance — which is another way of saying, it always wins in the end.
So, when I awoke in the middle of the night, two clients came to mind. One is a young college student whose home is in Michigan but who is now in school on the east coast. The other is a cancer survivor whose immune function has been stuck in a compromised condition. The college student is not yet as communicative with me as she needs to be regarding her health, and she has a miserable cough (which I only just discovered from her mother). The cancer survivor is seeking my help in restoring her precarious health. These individuals came to mind because I was being shown how lax I have been in paying attention to the rapid expansion of a subclade of the H3N2 virus in the midwest a few weeks ago, concurrent with state and county fairs where large numbers of swine were exhibited to larger numbers of fair-goers. Having watched these trends for six years, the potentiality for another pandemic is clearly present, as human to human transmission is obviously transpiring quickly. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that it’s in our midst right now — or soon will be.
Again, this virus is not particularly ‘virulent’, but neither of these individuals can afford to become infected with flu that lasts for weeks. And neither are prepared to deal with that eventuality. So, today I will be giving my attention to correcting that situation to the best of my ability. And I was moved to share this information with you, as well.
The Oriental Perspective
Oriental medicine deals with flu viruses quite well — if they’re recognized and addressed before they’ve fully manifested. This means being attentive and responsibly responding with prompt action appropriate to the symptoms. That action includes rest and the administration of specific Chinese herbal formulas for an individual’s unique confirmation (going to work or to class is not rest — nor is it responsible).
Flu is not flu in Oriental medicine. It is an invasion of Wind accompanied by another pathogenic factor, most commonly Heat or Cold. An accurate diagnosis is required to determine the appropriate formula for treatment. Speed of administration is paramount. Once the pathogens have gained a foothold, then the process becomes one of the more complex treatments in this medicine, as conditions and levels of disharmony can change hourly — especially with a pandemic killer. We want such a scenario never to reach that stage. Having a regular, working relationship with a competent doctor of Oriental medicine is highly advantageous in either case — as is having a selection of appropriate formulas on hand for immediate use, as well as the knowledge of how to select one.
An important aside here is a misunderstanding commonly embraced in the culture of alternative medicine. Western herbologists and the media promote the idea of taking tonifying herbs which build the immune system at the onset of colds or flu. Oriental medicine’s understanding is a little different. Taking tonifiers at this time carries a very real risk — that of actually tonifying the pathogen and prolonging the illness, thereby damaging the immune system in the long run. The time to tonify the immune system is when no exterior pathogens are present, not when they are clearly attacking the body. In Oriental medicine, popular Western herbs, such as echinacea, and inadequately understood Chinese herbs, such as astragalus, are contraindicated at this time. Clear the pathogens entirely from the individual first, and then, tonify the patient, if that’s indicated.
I’d like to extend my thanks to Dr. Henry Niman for the service he provides.