NUS' Prof Paul Ananth Tambyah's opinion piece in the Sunday Times today, about H1N1, entitled 'Understanding the 'mind' of a virus' provided an interesting and useful insight into evolutionary virology. He makes some interesting points - such as that among other things, if you want to be a successful virus you should try and avoid the host immune system, and not do silly things like killing off your food supply. By his reasoning through this anthropomorphising of the virus, he reckons this virus will not turn lethal.
It is an interesting model. But he is wrong.
This novel H1N1 should not be considered an separate entity from the other H1N1 viruses,or indeed the othe Influenza A viruses. It is more correct to view the entire family of like viruses as an entity - much like the cybernetic borgs in Star Trek. These viruses seek to propagate themselves, find a utilizable biological niche to occupy and as Prof Paul Ananth points, need to stay ahead of host immune systems by a constant changing of their disguise. If they remain genetically static,develop either useless non-infective characteristics, or virulent ones which may overdo their virulence and kill off the host. These are random events. There is a balance that a successful virus strain strikes, but it cannot keep that position indefinitely because the host immune system will eventually hunt it down, and destroy it.
The common cold and Infuenza A have been extremely successful in this constant change and adaptation and engaging us poor humans in this biological cat and mouse game. And they will remain very successful. Influenza A will from time to time produce a virulent and lethal strain. Statistics don't lie. It's only a matter of time. This strain may arise in the most unexpected of places; as this one did. And as we will not have the immunity for it, many will die. But the survivors of the the onslaught will live to fight another day. And they will be stronger. Until the next real pandemic arrives. And so on.
But such is life. Que sera sera?
2 years ago