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H5N1: Heads You Live, Tails You Die

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted December 15, 2010

Death and taxes are as certain as the sunrise.

To that short list, I would also add the flu.

With the twinkling, colored lights found up and down the avenues these days, the flu arrives marked by fever, coughing, aches, and a runny nose.

The flu is something everyone would just as soon avoid, but that’s easier said than done. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 25–50 million cases of the flu are reported each year, while worldwide the estimates range as high as 1 billion.

Fortunately, most cases of the flu are relatively harmless; the typical case lasts four or five days. For most, it is an inconvenient and uncomfortable hindrance.

But that’s not to say influenza cannot be serious. For some, it’s as life threatening as a heart attack.

More than 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized due to the flu, while deaths from flu-related causes claim an average of 23,600 lives each year.

Across the globe, 300,000-500,000 people suffer the same tragic end.

The bigger nightmare is, was, and will always be the prospect of a worldwide flu pandemic.

The Granddaddy of them all

Like the H1N1 from a year ago, these decidedly more deadly strains are caused by newly-formed virus types that our immune systems are ill-equipped to handle.

The worst of these occurred in 1918, when 20%-40% of the population became ill with the infamous Spanish Flu. This outbreak resulted in over 50 million deaths worldwide, becoming “the biggie” that all strains will forever be measured against.

Today, numbers like those are simply unfathomable.

But don’t believe for a second that because this calamity happened in days gone by that something of that magnitude couldn’t happen again.

There is a reason the governments of the world go into a near-panic state anytime a true pandemic threatens. Our ability to effectively respond to such a crisis is outdated and hopelessly inefficient.

Just take our response to the H1N1 virus last year…

From initial detection of the killer virus, it took a full eight months for the FDA to approve a vaccine.

Meanwhile, the distribution chain was so fraught with problems that after 13 months, only 23% of the American people had received a vaccination.

To put it bluntly, that kind of performance would have been a failure of the highest order had it occurred in 1918… The Spanish Flu was actually at its worst in the first four to six months, killing up to 25 million worldwide.

Had H1N1 been more deadly, we would have had a catastrophe on our hands instead of a historical footnote. The next time, we may not be so lucky — especially if a mutated version of H5N1 shows up.

It’s nature’s answer to the worst-case scenario.

H5N1: Heads you live, tails you don’t

Flu researcher Yi Guan considers this very prospect a “super nightmare for the entire world.”

“If that happens,” Yi says, “I will retire immediately and lock myself in the P3 lab. H5N1 kills half the people it infects. Even if you inject yourself with a vaccine, it may be too late. Maybe in just a couple hours it takes your life.”

Yet the H5N1 virus continues to lurk out there…

As of October 18, the World Health Organization had reported 507 laboratory-confirmed cases of Avian Influenza A/(H5N1) worldwide that resulted in 302 deaths.

If you were flipping a coin, that translates to heads you live, tails you don’t odds.

We have literally placed our fate in the hands of chicken eggs.

It is this 80-year old method of vaccine production that will never be able to meet the threats a mutated virus will dish out.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks on researchers working to develop their own Holy Grail: a universal flu vaccine to protect people against all flu strains.

These vaccines work by targeting the elements of the virus that do not change from season to season.

In short, it’s the elusive new paradigm.

If successful, these DNA-based vaccines would represent a disruptive technology that would allow governments to build long-term stockpiles against the threat of flu pandemics (like the H5N1), vastly limiting the threat those dangers may eventually pose.

Needless to say, it’s going to mean big business for the company that finds and develops this technology…

And we think we may have tracked it down in an over-looked American biotech company with a universal flu dose that has been proven effective against both the 1918 swine flu and the H5N1 virus.

It may not only save your life someday, but also give a boost to your portfolio.

Death and taxes are unavoidable, but someday flu pandemics really will be a thing of the past.

Let’s hope we figure it out before that virus mutates.

Your bargain-hunting analyst,

 steve sig

Steve Christ
Editor, Wealth Daily