Thursday, February 02, 2006

Bird flu

As we begin to think about our trip to Turkey next month for the solar eclipse, we are keeping our eye on the bird flu situation. Of course, everyone on the planet these days is doing the same, especially those charged with protecting us from infectious diseases.

What is the bird flu virus? A snippet of genes in a protein shell. A submicroscopic packet of disruptive strife. Ten thousand could line up across the head of a pin. Viruses lack the genetic information to make their own energy or proteins. They can only reproduce and build their protein shells by hijacking the chemical apparatus of an invaded cell.

And what they leave behind is a mess. Their name comes from the Latin for "poison." Just look at the devastation wreaked by the 1918 flu pandemic that claimed 20 to 40 million lives worldwide. Smallpox, chickenpox, AIDs, ebola, poliomyelitis, hepatitis, yellow fever, mumps, measles, respiratory infections, rabies, warts, genital herpes, the common cold: There's not much to like among the viruses.

And yet, and yet . . .

They are beautiful.