Table of Contents:



I. Storm Gathering

1. 1918

2. Master of Metamorphosis

3. H5N1

4. Playing Chicken

5. Worse Than 1918?

6. When, Not If

II. When Animal Viruses Attack

1. The Third Age

2. Man Made

3. Livestock Revolution

4. Tracing the Flight Path

5. One Flu Over the Chicken's Nest

6. Coming Home to Roost

7. Guarding the Henhouse

III. Pandemic Preparedness

1. Cooping Up Bird Flu

2. Race Against Time

3. Tamiflu

IV. Surviving the Pandemic

1. Don't Wing It

2. Our Health in Our Hands

3. Be Prepared

V. Preventing Future Pandemics

1. Tinderbox

2. Reining in the Pale Horse


References 1-3,199

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Washington Post headline

Antibiotics may be even less help. We live in a global, just-in-time economy, which allows manufacturers worldwide to streamline their production to precisely meet demand, thereby reducing inventory warehousing costs and waste. The problem is that a single glitch in the supply chain can almost instantly dry up supply. Thus, even now, we have a shortage of seven major antibiotics and three pediatric chemotherapy drugs. During a crisis in which we shut down our borders, globalized supply chains will be shattered and vital goods like pharmaceuticals in general will be in short supply or unavailable.507

Antibiotics only work against bacteria. Although they can be effective in treating secondary bacterial infections, they are useless against viral pneumonia. Antibiotics were useful during the 1957 and 1968 pandemics because these were essentially just bad flu seasons when more people than expected came down with the flu due to the novelty of the bird-human hybrid viruses. 1918 was different: Many people were killed by their own immune systems in the cytokine firestorm sparked by the virus.508 Antibiotics may not have been much help in 1918,509 and we may face the same situation with H5N1.510

In the 1960s, though, a breakthrough was made. A new class of drugs—antiviral drugs—hit the market, drugs that could actually block influenza viruses from entering cells.511 The medical community breathed a collective sigh of relief. The CDC’s report of the 1997 Hong Kong outbreak confidently declared, for example, “Two antiviral drugs, amantadine and rimantadine, inhibit replication of virtually all naturally occurring human and animal strains of influenza type A [influenza strains with pandemic potential] and therefore can be useful for prophylaxis and treatment of influenza A infections.”512

Devastating news broke in June 2005. For years, Chinese chicken farmers had been slipping those very drugs into their chickens’ water supply to prevent economic losses from bird flu. Because of this practice, the emerging H5N1 became resistant to these potentially life-saving drugs. “Bird Flu Drug Rendered Useless,” headlined The Washington Post’s exposť.513 The scientific community’s fears had been realized.514 “In essence,” one expert wrote, “this finding means that a whole class of antiviral drugs has been lost as treatment for this virus.”515

China learned it from us. The use of amantadine in the water supply of commercial poultry as prophylaxis against avian influenza was pioneered in the United States after the 1983 outbreak in Pennsylvania.516 Even then it was shown that drug-resistant mutants arose within nine days of application.517 Although Europe has banned the use of antibiotics of human importance in farm animals for non-treatment purposes since 1998, producers in the United States continue to legally spike farm animal feed with more than a dozen antibiotics. In fact, the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that fully 70% of antimicrobials used in the United States are fed to farm animals for non-therapeutic purposes. U.S. poultry eat more than 10 million pounds of antibiotics a year, more than a 300% rise since the 1980s.518 With few, if any, new classes of antibiotics in clinical development,519 an expert on antibiotic resistance at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy warned that “we’re sacrificing a future where antibiotics will work for treating sick people by squandering them today for animals that are not sick at all.”520

Thankfully, in 1999, a new class of antivirals came onto the market, notably oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu®).521 Unfortunately, there is not enough to go around. Historically, it has been made in one plant, from one plant. One factory in Switzerland has made the entire world reserve of the drug from star anise, a plant in limited global supply. “It’s not just about having a magic bullet,” Osterholm cautioned, “it’s whether you can make it and find enough guns from which to shoot it.”522 The current U.S. stockpile covers less than 1% of the population,523 and there is a long waiting list for new orders.524

The Chinese poultry industry’s actions have created, as one world’s authority on bird flu put it, a “very, very dangerous” situation.525 “We are living in a brave new world where we only have one drug,” another expert told the G7+ Global Health Security Action Group.526 While Tamiflu is relatively unavailable, expensive, and hard to make, amantadine, as described by National Institutes of Health director Anthony Fauci, is a “very cheap drug, a widely available drug, a drug of which there are ample supplies.”527 Amantadine costs as little as $10 a pound;528 Tamiflu, because it’s still under patent, costs closer to $10 a pill.529 Even if there were enough Tamiflu, most developing nations could not afford it.530

Tamiflu is also a relatively unstable compound, expiring after just a few years, which makes it difficult to stockpile. Amantadine, on the other hand, is adamantine; it’s sticking around. Researchers took amantadine that had already been sitting on the shelf for literally decades, then boiled it for a few hours. It still retained full antiviral activity.531 “Thus,” the researchers concluded, “amantadine and rimantadine could be synthesized in large quantities and stored for at least one generation without loss of activity in preparation for the next influenza A pandemic in humans.”532 Not anymore, though, thanks to global poultry industry practices.533 Amantadine was no panacea—it had rare but serious side effects, and resistance may well have developed with human use as well534 —but it may have been our best bet,535