Flu from Outer Space

From: Amara Graps (amara@amara.com)
Date: Sat Jan 29 2000 - 23:57:51 MST

Dear Extropes,

I don't know if you saw this news item from a couple of weeks ago.
It caught my eye because I _did_ have a pretty bad influenza a
few weeks ago, and I _do_ study cosmic dust. However, my first
reaction to this news item was "this is really weird, it must
be a joke". But I'm not a biologist. Do any of these ideas make
sense to you biologists out there?


P.S. The "solar" theory below, I just don't buy. My understanding
of radiation pressure forces in the interplanetary space and in
planetary magnetospheres is the material would be forced outward.
Therefore, this theory linking to heavier solar activity would
mean that the radiation pressure forces would blow the dust
outwards _more_ from the Solar System. If these scientists have any
science papers on this topic, I would like to see them because
maybe I missed their logical link. Have you heard of the journal
"Current Science"? My Institute doesn't have that in our library.


BBC News Online, 18 January, 2000

The flu outbreak which has struck down tens of thousands of sufferers
may have come from outer space, according to scientists based in

The flu outbreak which has struck down tens of thousands of sufferers
may have come from outer space, according to scientists based in

Astronomers at the University of Wales are challenging the view that
the outbreak was caused by the bug being passed from person to person.

Instead they blame the spread of the illness - which brought many
hospitals to a standstill - on solar activity which brought cosmic dust
into the earth's atmosphere.

However, a British expert in viral diseases, Dr Nigel Higson, has
described the theory as "very unlikely."

Dust from comets

The Cardiff-based team led by Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe believes
the dust from comets which passed near the Earth contain either the
virus itself or DNA molecules which produce the flu bug.

They also claim their solar theory was responsible for other outbreaks,
including the 1918 epidemic of Spanish flu which was blamed for 20
million deaths worldwide.

Their report, called The Dilemma of Influenza, is due to be published
in the journal Current Science.

Prof Wickramasinghe claimed the theory could also help health managers
prepare for major outbreaks of disease.

Solar activity link

"It could help predict epidemics because there is a very short space in
time between a peak in solar activity and the effects reaching us here
on earth.

"It has never been proven that a virus such as the flu can be passed
from one person to another," said Professor Wickramasinghe.

"Instead, we believe these outbreaks are caused by particles in the
stratosphere coming down to the earth's surface."

"What we are getting from the high atmosphere, be it a virus or a
genetic trigger, is significantly more dangerous than anything we may
catch from other people," he added.

Theory discounted

But Dr Nigel Higson, Chairman of the Primary Care Virology Group, said
it was "very unlikely" that individual flu outbreaks could be linked to
dust from outer space.

"Humans are not the natural host for flu, it tends to be found in birds
where it can change very quickly, before being transmitted to the human
population through close contact," said Dr Higson.

"I can't prove or disprove the theory that flu comes from space - but
it doesn't affect the management of a virus wherever it comes from," he

Dr Higson said further research was being carried out to establish how
flu viruses are spread from one individual to another.

Amara Graps | Max-Planck-Institut fuer Kernphysik
Interplanetary Dust Group | Saupfercheckweg 1
+49-6221-516-543 | 69117 Heidelberg, GERMANY
Amara.Graps@mpi-hd.mpg.de * http://galileo.mpi-hd.mpg.de/~graps
        "Never fight an inanimate object." - P. J. O'Rourke

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