Saturday, November 26, 2011

New Flu Strain

Just because there aren’t enough hackers, cyber-vulnerabilities, and just plain terrorists to keep security managers awake at night, according to an blog at the CDC has announced that a new strain of our favorite wet-ware virus has been reported in circulation. The flu bug is always coming up with new ways to cause problems; due in no small part to it plagiaristic attitude towards DNA.

Flu cognoscenti keep track of the basic strains of the flu with a four character code HxNy. Most will remember the H5N1 bird flu concern of a couple of years back (it’s still there floating around killing hundreds of people every year, small potatoes for the flu). Then there was the H1N1 pandemic of just two years ago (a much higher death rate, but not anywhere near the 1917 flu pandemic).

New H3N2 Strain

The new strain of potential concern is a variant of the H3N2 virus that has been found in pigs in North America. Apparently some pig had the temerity to become infected with both the H3N2 and the H1N1 at the same time and the two strains of viruses exchanged gene segments. Typically animal strains of the flu don’t transmit well to humans nor do they make the human-to-human transfer that is necessary for a wide spread outbreak.

Earlier this month this new strain of H3N2 (technically S-OtrH3N2) apparently made the transition to a transmissible form of the bug. Three children in Iowa came down with the bug after appearing at the same event (their only link). More importantly, none of the kids or their families has had any contact with live pigs.

CDC’s Concerns

Now three patients is certainly a far distance away from an epidemic and even further from a pandemic. What has the CDC concerned, however, is that the current flu vaccine did not include this strain (they made the choice of strains for this winter’s vaccine last spring) and it doesn’t appear likely that the vaccine will be terribly effective against this new strain, particularly in children.

To raise concerns further, two of the common anti-viral medications used for treatment of the flu, rimantidine and amantadine are not effective with this strain, though Tamiflu and Relenza both appear to be effective. The folks at the CDC would prefer not to use those two drugs as they don’t want the bugs to build up immunity to these two powerful antivirals.

Flu and Security

Both human resources and security management need to keep an eye on the progress of the flu season in general and new strains specifically. Both are going to find it difficult to keep up minimum staffing levels if large numbers of people are out with the flu. Contingency plans need to be made to deal with the potential shortages of personnel. And remember, while manufacturing can reduce shifts or work days, the security will have to be there regardless.

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