Swine Influenza: Another Reasonable, Reasoned Discussion Thread

Jim Macdonald is hosting a good, science-y, factually grounded thread about swine flu over at Making Light. Snip:
You must know that proteins have shapes, and those shapes are how you can tell one protein from another. Your cells are covered with protein, viruses have protein capsules, it's all protein on the molecular level.

Your immune system (when it's working right) recognizes self and non-self. It protects the self and attacks the non-self. It does this in a couple of ways. First, you have generalized reaction. When cells are distressed, they release cytokines, and those switch on a kind of white cell called the NK-cell. NK stands for Natural Killer (no, I'm not making this up). The NK cells find anything they don't recognize, and, using specialized proteins, destroy it. When you've got an infection, those are the first things that come on line.

The next thing to arrive are the antibodies. These are specialized cells that are keyed to find one specific protein--the foreign invader protein--and destroy it. Before your body can produce antibodies, it has to have been exposed to the antigens (which is what you call non-self proteins), and be sensitized.

Meanwhile, your body is releasing enzymes that act as chemical messengers to produce various effects. Fevers, swelling, sweating, headache ... all enzymes. The aching in your bones that you feel is the marrow pumping out white cells to fight the infection.

Once your body has successfully fought off an invader, the antibodies remain. If they ever again encounter proteins of the same shape, they'll be on 'em fast. The infection won't have a chance to start.

Flu Redux (Making Light, thanks Teresa Nielsen Hayden!)

Previously: Swine Influenza Update from a Nurse: Virus, Panic, Precautions, and End of the World Websites.


  1. this is an outrage! everyone who’s anyone knows that Obama acquired the swine flu from Grey ETs from the 5th dimension who came through a portal in Dick Cheneys pantry, and that he dosed that museum guy with it in order to create a national panic so that FEMA can put us in work camps for the IMF! It’s so obvious why is no one covering this?!?!

  2. Reasonable, reasoned, discussion thread? Really? Quoting from the thread you speak of…

    “Don’t listen to the nay-sayers. Assault rifles can provide immediate full symptomatic relief of all flu symptoms. You know all those times you were lying there with a fever and headache and muscle aches, and you said “I wish I were dead?” There you go, instant relief!”

  3. Nutbastard, I had to endure an eerily similar (OK, my version had no extra dimensions) “discussion” this morning in my carpool.

  4. Just correcting a factual error in the post:

    Antibodies are not cells. Antibodies are themselves proteins – proteins that bind to the the foreign invader protein.

  5. Noen
    My point being, a “reasonable, reasoned discussion group” lives in that same extra dimension as the flying pig.

  6. Nutbastard is creating disinformation to obscure the truth.

    It’s actually the Amish Cabal working through their Canadians using their ‘NAFTA’ cover to gain control of North America and rid us of our buttons.

  7. Seems very reasonable to me. Light years beyond say…

    Team Sarah:
    did obama bring swine flu to america?

    “ok, why is swine flu hitting mexico and our beloved country? isn’t it strange the zero president didn’t get sick or could it be he and staff that went to central america may not have the virus but are carriers of it, spreading it wherever they go? how did it get to NY? something really fishy about all this.”

    But I guess “rational” is in the eye of the beholder.

  8. It’s pretty bizarre to keep insisting that one guy displaying obvious sarcasm with humorous intent somehow negates every other quality of the discussion.

    And why place quotation marks around a phrase that you and you alone have used in this thread?

  9. The website you refer to as reasoned and rational is neither, and contains several biological and scientific errors.

    -Biological and Biomedical Graduate student

    1. Biological and Biomedical Graduate student,

      I say that the website is practically perfect in every way.

      Emperor of the Known Universe and Captain of the Enterprise

      PS – You could also provide a rationale for your statement. And better credentials.

  10. @16 DRAGONFROG: Same thing happened to me. I’d rather not be aware of when my bone marrow secreting things around my body.

  11. All this cold analysis really harshes my Aporkcolypse mellow. Could we get some more Twitter Fear Sauce on this?

  12. Captain Squiffy @12: Some suggestions from one of the Reddit comment threads:

    El Flucho
    Manbirdpig Flu
    Hispanic Flu
    Litzman Flu (after this)
    Carumba Fever

  13. Fox News will probably call it Obamluenza, and call on its viewers to refrain from washing their hands or using Kleenex just because.

  14. Anonymous @17: Don’t bullshit, just tell us what the errors are. We already got the one about antibodies being misidentified as cells; what others can you tell us about?

  15. There may be “another reasonable, reasoned discussion thread” somewhere. But obviously this one ain’t it.

    Graveyard humor seems a bit premature at this point…

  16. @Antinous #28

    I’m not the ‘Biological and Biomedical Graduate student’, but I think [s]he does have a point —

    Jim Macdonald’s description of ‘antigen drift’ is correct, but I think what makes this swine flu outbreak so potentially dangerous is ‘antegenic shift’ which is type of viral re-assortment and an altogether more radical type of change. (Re-assortment is in fact described very nicely in his next-but-one paragraph: ‘Viruses have the ability to pick up useful traits….’)

    The genome of the Influenza A virus extends across 8 segments of single strand RNA, but this has nothing to do with the number of genes, and in particular it doesn’t mean that there are ‘eight genes in its genome’. The genome actually has 11 genes. (The recently discovered PB1-F2 protein is encoded by a frameshift of the PB1 gene, but AFAIK that still counts as a separate gene.)

    Flu genes don’t ‘insert themselves in the living cell’s genes’. (That can happen, but it’s very rare and it’s a different phenomenon: see Endogenous Retroviruses.) What flu (and other) viruses do is ‘trick’ the host cell’s transcription and translation machinery into expressing viral proteins and viral genetic material.

    Oh yeah, and technically the infected cells don’t ‘assplode’, they ‘lyse’ :-)

    It’s a shame that these errors crept in, because on the whole I think this is an informative, well-written piece, and it does a pretty good job of explaining some pretty complex science.

  17. I should have mentioned that my previous post was also in response to Neon and Nelson.C. (I was actually kinda hoping that the anonymous B&BGS would answer for his/herself and save me the trouble, but I get the feeling they’re not coming back.)

    I also found this post on the other thread from a guy who really seems to know what he’s talking about. And as he says, none of his corrections ‘affect the entirely accurate thrust of [the original] article.’

  18. MisterFricative, if you went over to Making Light and posted just as you have here, you would be welcomed. Jim does sometiimes update posts with corrected information, too, when he has time; but most of the participants in ML read the whole thread, which is still active.

    Can’t ever have too many people who really know what they’re talking about! …and, I should add, can correct errors of fact without denouncing the entire article and thread as unreasonable and unreasoning. I’m confident of your welcome at ML because of the tone of #38 and #39, not just their content.

  19. Annnnnnd, Rep Bachmann (R-Lunatic Fringe) just kinda-sorta-blamed Obama.

    Only with that cute “Shucks I didn’t really *mean* that” verbal wink that Palin trademarked. Just so all of her true believers know she really *did* mean that, but those nasty liberals can’t really prove it. Shucky darn, don’t ya know.

Comments are closed.