an army of clementines and the avian flu

Before Halloween, I had this idea that Linette and I could dress Clementine up as the Bird Flu and use her as a tool to increase public awareness. (I was going to teach her how to say, “You have Bird Flu” when people opened their doors.) I thought that it was a great idea, but Linette didn’t. And, since she was the one who was going to be making the costume this year, she won out. (It also didn’t help that I began to worry about tempting fate, and wondering if I might be inviting tragedy by making light of something that has the potential to wipe out 50 million people.) So, our little Clementine was a lovely, little bee instead. The universe apparently liked my original idea a little too much to just let it go though, and fate stepped in… I received a note a few days after Halloween alerting me to the fact that there was another little Eurasian girl named Clementine out there who picked up the Bird Flu baton where my daughter had dropped it, and ran with it. The image pictured here is of that girl and her parents, who accompanied her as Tamiflu and Ms. Influenza 2005.

I guess I could be really freaked out by the knowledge that there’s another little family unit out there, almost identical to mine, but instead I’m finding it kind of comforting. In a way, it takes a little of the pressure off knowing that there’s another little Clementine being raised by similar parents, somewhere else in the U.S. (They never told me where they lived.) I’m even hoping that there might be more of them out there, a little army of Clementines being rasied to save the world… It’s kind of like a happier, more hopeful re-imagining of The Boys from Brazil.

As long as we’re back on the subject of the flu, I thought that you might be interested in this article from MIT Technology Review on what might be a new, faster method of developing vaccines. Here’s a clip:

The flu vaccine-making system that serves as the best available protection against a pandemic relies on millions of chicken eggs, takes nine months to produce each year’s flu shots, and has changed little since the 18th century.

This creaky system poses a big problem if a new, deadly strain emerges once the annual and inflexible production process begins.

Several biotechnology companies are at work on a new and quicker way of making a flu vaccine they hope can replace one that requires people to be inoculated with the entire influenza virus. Their technique: extract just a few genes from the virus and inject it into people.

The nascent technology, called DNA vaccines, is a form of gene therapy that proponents argue is the best way to overhaul a 50-year-old vaccine manufacturing system…

I don’t know that it will encompass work on DNA vaccines (or door-to-door visits by little girls dressed as sick birds), but the President yesterday announced a $7.1 billion emergency spending measure to stockpile medicine for treating the symptoms of the flu (Tamiflu) and work on a vaccine. (A cynic might say that it’s just a give-away to big pharma, but I’m trying to remain hopeful.)

I mentioned it here before, but, when all is said and done, it may very well end up that we owe our lives to Mike “Brownie” Brown and the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina. The threat of a Bird Flu pandemic has been with us for the past few years and, until now, we’d chosen to do almost nothing about it. Thankfully, however, in the wake of Katrina, the administration has to at least go through the motions of making it look as though they’re doing everything in the power to prepare. As a result, we may actually come through it in a little shape than we would have otherwise. (Most experts agree that a global pandemic is inevitable at some point. It’s just a matter of time. It may not be this strain of bird flu, but sooner or later we’ll have another lethal outbreak of the human flu like we did in 1918.)

Of course, it’s not just the Katrina factor that might save us in this instance. It’s also quite possible, if we do dodge this bullet, that we have Bush’s sinking approval ratings to thank as well. Now that he’s hovering at around 30%, mired in an unpopular war abroad and scandals at home, he’ll most likely fall back on the tool which has served him so well thus far – fear. Like the spectre of terrorism, the threat of Bird Flu would make a perfect distraction from the dead in Iraq, the indictments, and everything else they don’t want us thinking about right now. Regardless of their motives, however, it may turn out to be a good thing. If the current strain of Bird Flu does mutate into a strain that’s more conducive to human-to-human transmission, the rest of Bush’s fuck-ups will pale in comparison…. So, yeah, on one hand I resent the administration latching on to this and using it to distract us, like a matador uses a cape, but, on the other, I’m happy about it. At least, in this case, the threat is real (not like when they toured the nation rhetorically tying Saddam to 9/11).

For more information on the Avian Flu, check out the CDC site.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning that there may be a silver lining to the Avian Flu. Apparently, it’s being touted by some as undeniable, observable evidence of evolution.

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  1. Tony Buttons
    Posted November 4, 2005 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Even without the Bird Flu references, I like the costume above. The fact that the parents have surgical masks and the baby doesn’t indicates to me that they’re afraid of catching somethng from their own child. I think that’s a great Halloween concept to explore.

  2. mark
    Posted November 5, 2005 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I was hoping that perhaps one of the Intelligent Designers in the audience could address the portion of the post relating to the evolution of the Bird Flu virus and whether or not it proves or disproves their underlying beliefs concerning evolution.

  3. Suzie
    Posted November 5, 2005 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    So, their daughter is really named Clementine? I mean, how common a name is Clementine? I think that’s a fantastic coincidence.

  4. mark
    Posted November 5, 2005 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Yup, and her birthday is almost exactly the same as ours, only one year later.

  5. EGNB
    Posted November 15, 2005 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    I would not be opposed to an army of Clementines, although I have to admit that when we chose the name Clementine, we thought it was going to be pretty uncommon. It’s odd and yet flattering to find your own picture in the subject of a blog entry.

  6. mark
    Posted November 17, 2005 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Next year, I’m thinkng that we’ll go as your family for Halloween.

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