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Supercomputing Technology

Flu Models Predict Pandemic, But Flu Chips Ready 216

An anonymous reader writes "Supercomputer software models predict that swine flu will likely go pandemic sometime next week, but flu chips capable of detecting the virus within four hours are already rolling off the assembly line. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which has designated swine flu as the '2009 H1N1 flu virus,' is modeling the spread of the virus using modeling software designed by the Department of Defense back when avian flu was a perceived threat. Now those programs are being run on cluster supercomputers and predict that officials are not implementing enough social distancing--such as closing all schools--to prevent a pandemic. Companies that designed flu-detecting chips for avian flu, are quickly retrofitting them to detect swine flu, with the first flu chips being delivered to labs today." Relatedly, at least one bio-surveillance firm is claiming they detected and warned the CDC and the WHO about the swine flu problem in Mexico over two weeks before the alert was issued.
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Flu Models Predict Pandemic, But Flu Chips Ready

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  • by Hmmm2000 ( 1146723 ) * on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:08PM (#27792757)
    All this talk of swines, avians, and now Pan(demic)s make me hungry for bacon & eggs.
  • Make Money Fast! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by wsanders ( 114993 )

    "Veratect, based in Kirkland, Wash..."

    "The company...has tried unsuccessfully to sell its service to the CDC"

    "Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., who talked with the CDC, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies..said the federal government had made a mistake in not purchasing the company's program"

    I think there's a "Dicks for Sale" joke in there somewhere.

    • I'd buy it, as long as it is sold in a box. []

  • What's the point? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by try_anything ( 880404 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:16PM (#27792835)

    What's the point of closing schools if the virus isn't virulent enough to burn itself out? If it's about as severe and durable as the garden-variety flu strains that circulate everywhere anyway, then it will continue to circulate in Mexico indefinitely, and wherever else it establishes itself. We can't exterminate it any more than we can exterminate other moderate strains of flu.

    So when we reopen the schools, borders, or whatever else people are screaming for, the swine flu will be there waiting... waiting to make us cough and hack and stay home from work... waiting to kill children, the weak, the elderly... waiting... just like the regular garden-variety flu that we get every year.

    (I'm not a biologist, I'm just baiting a real biologist to correct or clarify anything I got wrong. Please and TIA.)

    • by slashkitty ( 21637 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:22PM (#27792881) Homepage
      The main point is to delay and ultimately prevent the spread if it has a high fatality rate. 100 cases and 1 death don't give us a 1% fatality rate... we have to make sure those 100 people recover.

      While we delay the spread, we can learn more about the disease and maybe produce a vaccine.

      • Here's some points.. (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The main point is to delay and ultimately prevent the spread if it has a high fatality rate. 100 cases and 1 death don't give us a 1% fatality rate... we have to make sure those 100 people recover.

        While we delay the spread, we can learn more about the disease and maybe produce a vaccine.


        (A) many more people are expected to get this flu than the regular seasonal flu because humans have no immunity to this flu. In 1918 they figure half the human population eventually got it. So whatever the mortalit

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          To get 2%, you took 4% (mortality in confirmed cases) or 6% (mortality in suspected cases) and divided by two or three to get 2%. I don't think that's reasonable, because it assumes that people who died from swine flu when those numbers were being collected were only twice as likely to be tested for it as the average person who got it. You could just as reasonably assume that someone who died from swine flu was 100 times as likely to be tested for it. After all,

          • Most people who get the flu don't seek medi
        • that death toll was just because of pneumonia, secondary infections. not a concern today. really, this whole thing stinks of someone's agenda. and note that after Baxter at least twice makes bad mistakes (one with a body count of over a hundred), they nevertheless get the vaccine contracts and also get samples of this new virus....i'd say it looks like they have a nice profit improvement process going.

      • by try_anything ( 880404 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @06:45PM (#27793757)

        100 cases and 1 death don't give us a 1% fatality rate... we have to make sure those 100 people recover.

        100 cases and 1 death don't give us a 1% fatality rate, because we have to take into account the people who got sick and didn't seek medical attention.

        Anyway, where do you get those numbers? I thought the latest word was that it might not be any more fatal or infectious than normal. And since nobody has told me what the original fear of high mortality was based on (unless it was the 12 dead out of 312 confirmed cases in Mexico, a terrible statistic to base a mortality estimate on) I'm not inclined to buy into it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by m.ducharme ( 1082683 )

          I also am skeptical of the current claims about the infectious rate and the death rate. I was watching on t.v. (take with a grain of salt) a scientist here in Ontario who pointed out that given what we know about the virus' virulence there may have been one- or two hundred thousand cases of this flu by now in Mexico, that have simply gone unreported because people haven't gotten sick enough to go to the hospital. If that's the case, and if we can believe the current figure on deaths out of Mexico, then this

        • The first wave (Score:3, Insightful)

          by symbolset ( 646467 )

          In the 1918 pandemic [] the world was swept by a mild version [] that killed very few and infected many. And then in six months in the biomass of humanity the mutagenic properties of influenza found a superflu that killed, by some reports, 100 million or about 10% of all living people at that time. At that, some think we were lucky. It could have been much worse [].

          But don't panic.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I'm no biologist either, but isn't the "regular garden-variety flu that we get every year" a new strain (or more than one) every year? And don't they have a new vaccine for the strain they expect to be prevalent that particular flu season?

      So wouldn't it be great if the spread was halted long enough for a vaccine for this new strain to be developed?
      • I'm no biologist either, but isn't the "regular garden-variety flu that we get every year" a new strain (or more than one) every year?

        In the same way that Windows 3.11, Windows XP/Vista, BEos, VXWorks, and Linux are all just new strains of operating systems. Aren't they all just about the same?

        IANAMB, but wikipedia is your friend:
        genetic/antigenic drift (ie: POSIX compatible versions of each other):

        Antigenic drift[1][2] is the process of random accumulation of mutations in viral genes recognized by the im

    • Re:What's the point? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:26PM (#27792933)

      The point is to delay the spread so that infections don't happen all at once and overwhelm the health system. See this article:

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        That is an excellent answer and the first sane article I've read about the issue.

        Still, I'm not convinced it's worth it. What's the maximum N for which we should keep N thousand students out of school for a month to save a life? We're leaving it up to somebody to answer that question for us. Who is it?

        • A fool's errand (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Un pobre guey ( 593801 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @06:01PM (#27793359) Homepage
          It's a fool's errand. It is better to make sure everyone is well nourished, reasonably fit, and has easy and cheap access to front line medical care; have a system of generating new vaccines as quickly as possible (takes months; can't quarantine people that long); have a good public health system, have an educated public that practices simple yet powerful techniques (wash hands, stay home when sick, etc.); and have a pharma industry that focuses more on developing useful drugs for more people (including variations in drug metabolism, etc.) than in producing "blockbuster drugs" of sometimes questionable merit.

          In other words, continue doing more or less what we have always done, improving wherever and whenever possible, without panic, fear-mongering, or hyping up the threats.

          The current "pandemic" is largely an exercise in ignorance, incompetence, self-delusion, opportunism, corruption, and an unhealthy dose of general idiocy.

          • It is better to make sure everyone is well nourished, reasonably fit, and has easy and cheap access to front line medical care;

            This may be possible in Mexico. But in the US? No way! Never going to happen. ^^

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            (wash hands, stay home when sick, etc.);

            Easy for you to say. Regardless the "protection" I have in place via the Family and Medical Leave Act [], my boss will make sure I am unemployed if I don't work like a rented mule.

            Do NOT give me the "Then get another job" speech. I don't have the income to support the family I have without a job more than a month. I refuse to gamble with the well being of my family. Right or wrong, that is the situation, and I am not even close to the only person in this position.
            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Good think you're not unionized then.

              How's that free, unfettered market working out for you now, eh? You'll get no sympathies from anyone, mule.

        • by copponex ( 13876 )

          In this case, it's the Center for Disease Control, at least for Americans.

          And in my opinion, just as important as slowing the infection to avoid overwhelming our hospitals, is also making sure the whole country isn't ill at once. It'd be a virtual petri dish, since you'd have a bunch of people spreading to the virus one another while their immune system is down, increasing the likelihood that it could mutate into something bad.

          The Spanish Flu did the same thing. It was a mild flu that spread amongst a bunch

      • If you can delay or slow the spread, you build natural immunity in the population the longer it is present.

        Getting a vaccine any time soon is secondary pipe dream. We will develop large scale immunity faster than they will get vaccine deployed.

    • by wsanders ( 114993 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:39PM (#27793055) Homepage

      It isn't the dangerousness, it that no one has any resistance and everyone gets it at the same time. I work at a university and we are following our generic "epidemic" plan - no cases yet, but we would follow the same plan whether it was regular flu or the food service served bad fish for dinner, when 500+ people got sick at the same time in the same place it's a problem..

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jaypifer ( 64463 )

      You are correct. However, people don't get fired if they do something.

      Scenario 1: A school closes down, then weeks later they get the swine flu. Well, the school can say they did what they could.

      Scenario 2: A school doesn't close down and they get the swine flu. Complaints will flow in from angry parents about why the didn't *do* something. Heads could roll, etc.

    • This is H1N1 (Score:4, Interesting)

      by shis-ka-bob ( 595298 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @06:31PM (#27793605)
      This is similar to the 1918 killer flu. From genetic experiments, it seems that there are two critical mutations that made the 1918 flue so deadly. The virus only has RNA (no double helix here), so is mutates very rapidly. It may only be dumb luck that is separating us from a killer of 10s of millions.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        H1N1 is the most common type of human influenza. It causes a large proportional of seasonal flu illnesses. It happens to include both Spanish Flu and this new strain, as well as milder forms.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by symbolset ( 646467 )

        It may only be dumb luck that is separating us from a killer of 10s of millions.

        Or it may be math. The prestrain has to infect a huge quantity of people so that it can get reproduction events up to a high enough number that an improbable critical evil mutation becomes likely. Because if you roll the dice enough times...

        BTW, there are 6 times as many humans as there were then so it has to 12% as infectious or at infectious parity the evil mutation is 36 times more likely. We move around about 100 times as much so... yeah, we've got about six weeks.

        Somewhere in here Reverend Malthus

    • If we can slow the spread, then the more virulent mutations will burn themselves out and we'll be left with a strain that is, for all intents and purposes, just the same as the moderate ones we get. The ability to spread easily from one person to another is one of the things that makes flus become more lethal (packing hundreds of chickens together in an enclosed space, battlefield hospitals, etc). So, slowing it down absolutely helps in the long run.
    • Friend of mine told me the spanish flu came in 3 waves

      wave 1 was weak and contagious.
      wave 2 was strong and contagious.
      wave 3 was virulent and contained itself by killing the host before it could spread.

      Apparently, there were a lot of survivors of wave 3 among those who had gotten sick in wave 1 or 2.

      I always thought that these contagions got weaker as they spread (or less likely to kill the host at least).

      anyone have some good links about this particular subject? I googled but didn't find much.

  • by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:18PM (#27792845) Homepage Journal

    I've already read World War Z [], so I'm not worried -- I'm prepared.

    You don't have to reload a blade.

    • by Chabo ( 880571 )

      You don't have to reload a blade.

      Yes, but after only a few uses of a blade, it will start to chip and break, and if you don't clean the blood off of it right away, it will make some serious pits in the metal.

      A blade is a good thing to have, but should never be used as a primary weapon. Depending on the type of zombies you're facing, you may not even want them within your blade's reach (think of Boomers from Left 4 Dead, or other zombies where bodily fluid contact is a very bad thing).

      • Even 'regular' zombies swarming. You don't want to be close to that. Did you see Shaun of the Dead? That's what'll happen if you don't have guns. You'll be swarmed until the army runs over everyone.
    • Good thing. Zack may already be on its way... []

  • by Sethra ( 55187 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:19PM (#27792855)
    If you trace back to the original EETimes article ( []) you'll see this in the opening paragraph:

    Swine flu may have been caught early enough to prevent a serious U.S. epidemic, according to computer models developed by Virginia Tech's Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory (NDSSL).

    So why is this Slashdot story claiming:

    "Supercomputer software models predict that swine flu will likely go pandemic sometime next week"

    So is the author just panicking unnecessarily or is this another case of using fear tactics to push an agenda, in this case boosting sales of a flu detection chip?
    • by rorin ( 1175501 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:26PM (#27792925)

      Even better, the blog author's "source" is the article on EETimes written by ...the blog author.

    • by airuck ( 300354 )

      I designed a parallel PCR detection system for that is definitive, more sensitive, faster, and a hell of a lot cheaper. I'll bet a lot of other people have, too. If higher resolution is needed, then you could simply couple it with a pyrosequencer. There are many ways to skin this cat.

    • by sowth ( 748135 )

      I am beginning to think the entire swine flu thing is fear mongering. This flu sounds a lot like what went through my dialysis center in Feb. (I live in Idaho.) My guess is this flu has already spread through the US, it just isn't nearly the issue here because we have better medical care.

      It sucked pretty bad and a lot of people got really sick. However, most of the people there are already old and have serious kidney problems, so take that into account. I think it caused serious long term complications fo

  • by GammaStream ( 1472247 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:19PM (#27792857)
    First link seems like astroturfing. A better link would of been [NDSSL @ Virgina Tech] [], where the research is being done.
  • No big deal... (Score:4, Informative)

    by hackingbear ( 988354 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:22PM (#27792891)
    As long as the governments keep drumming up the alert messages, nothing terrible will happen. Disaster only strikes when there are not enough media coverage!
  • by brkello ( 642429 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:23PM (#27792893)
    Flu season kills more than this strain will. Why isn't there a pandemic panic when we get the flu every year? This all seems so overblown to me. If this is a 5 on the scale that goes to 6, how is it that the regular flu doesn't push us to 6 with the number it kills. All these travel restrictions when you are more likely to be killed in any number of ways. The media is out of control on this one.
    • by digitalderbs ( 718388 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:32PM (#27792983)
      The fear is the mortality rate. Sure, the "regular" flu kills 35000 a year, but that's a mortality rate of 0.1%. This flu, if it's like the 1918 H1N1, which we already know it is *not*, could be much higher. Even if it's a 1% mortality rate, this is alarmingly high. (Infect 100 million Americans, 1 million die.)
    • by rts008 ( 812749 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @06:00PM (#27793329) Journal

      This is just the boogey man du jour. Got to sell those newspapers and that ad space!

      TFA is a prime example of this.
      The summary first links to a blog[ad space] that links to the real article[more ad space]. The real article is also written by the author of said blog.

      I will give credit for the real article being an interesting read, but why not go straight to the real article in the first place?

      To top that off, the second link(also a blog) in the 'fine' article is an astroturf piece for some data mining company that's whining that WHO, CDC, and one other organization are not buying his company's services and software, and pushing an international tracking system that his company 'deserves' to be part of.[his word]

      The whole point of this story was to increase adviews on two websites by the same guy, and push an astroturf on another blog.

      We used to blast Roland P. for this until he finally stopped. Then shortly died...Hmmm....

      There are a small handful of web sites I whitelist in Adblock+, but this crap is one of the main reasons I don't feel bad about using it in the first place.

    • by rachit ( 163465 )

      Flu season kills more than this strain will.

      How the hell do you know that? The spread of this flu has just begun.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:26PM (#27792921) Journal
    1. Write a cron job to warn CDC of impending disaster periodically.

    2. Wait for a disaster

    3. Shout from the roof top, "I warned! I warned!!".

    4. ...

    5. Profit!

  • Flu Chips? (Score:3, Funny)

    by ewhenn ( 647989 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:26PM (#27792931)
    Do they come coated in a powdered cheese? If so, I'll probably go through at least 3 dozen of them.
  • by NotBornYesterday ( 1093817 ) * on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:32PM (#27792985) Journal
    TFS leads off with 'OMG! Pandemic next week!', as does the tiny, uninformative blog TFS links to, despite lack of citation to a source that might be more authoritative than a 2-paragraph pseudo-article. Fortunately, that blog links to a story [] that is actually informative and somewhat related to technical matters. It leads off with the less exciting, but probably more accurate 'Swine flu may have been caught early enough to prevent a serious U.S. epidemic.' Nowhere in the article does it say a pandemic is predicted within a week, and nowhere in the blog TFS links to is there a citation for the author's pandemic prediction.

    I'm not saying the disease isn't serious, but will someone please beat some sense into the fearmonger who cut/pasted this shitty summary together? It makes my eyes hurt just to read it, and stinks of someone trying to drive up their blog's hit count.
    • I have to agree on that and add that as somebody who has done cloning and genetic testing, I see a real problem with gene chips that identify this strain.
      This is off the top of my head, but, If you create a chip that matches X and it changes to Y (more deadly) it misses. Also, If you are too non-specific in the match, it falses on almost everything.
      I think that it is a boondoggle to give money to the bio-chip companies who in turn make big political donations, I would guess.
  • soooo hot (Score:4, Funny)

    by MagicM ( 85041 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:34PM (#27792999)

    2009 H1N1 flu virus

    Colloquially known as the heinie virus of 2009.

  • Source? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Darth Muffin ( 781947 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:39PM (#27793065) Homepage
    "Supercomputer software models predict that swine flu will likely go pandemic sometime next week"

    Source, please? Otherwise it's just more overblown panic-inducing hype. Neither the linked article, or the article it links to say this. In fact, the second article says "So far, we haven't even identified the incubation period or how long people are infectious," and if that's the case I don't see how any computer model could be accurate.

  • It's not a PROVEN epidemic until people have died or are veggetized. WHO cares about Veratect's anecdotal rumor of an epidemic? WHO's not on first!

  • Headline... (Score:5, Funny)

    by daemonenwind ( 178848 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:47PM (#27793165)

    Cluster Computer Predicts Cluster Fuck For Clustered People.

    Film at 11.

  • My Plan (Score:5, Funny)

    by BenSchuarmer ( 922752 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @05:54PM (#27793241)
    Try to stay at least seven people away from Kevin Bacon
  • You probably don't need a supercomputer for this one: the classic Kermack-McKendrick epidemic model, which is a just a simple system of nonlinear differential equations -- [] -- is probably sufficient.

    (Yeah, like anybody studies differential equations anymore...lazy young whippersnappers with your supercomputers...I just hope the mortality curve on this pandemic follows the 1918 model, har, har, har...and get off my lawn...)

  • []

    Some experts are cautiously optimistic. A computer simulation of this outbreak released Wednesday by a team from Northwestern University projected a worst-case scenario, meaning no measures have been taken to combat the spread. It predicted a mere 1,700 cases in the United States four weeks from now.

    I'm sorry you were saying?

  • by EEGeek ( 183888 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @08:25PM (#27794471)

    People seem to panic when they hear the word pandemic. What people are not realizing is the true definition of a pandemic. It is simply a disease or sickness that is prevalent around the globe. The swine flu can go panemic, and may not kill very many people.

    It seems that most people (with the exception of the 1 child in Texas that was visiting from Mexico) show relatively mild symptoms, and recover fairly quickly from this. You need to ask yourself why numerous people in Mexico die from this, and virtual no one else outside of Mexico are affected other than a few mild symptoms? (My city has around 20 cases, all have recovered at home, or are recovering, nobody hospitalized). There are a few possibilities, 1. Mexico is a third world nation and doesn't have the level of health care that US, Canada, Europe, etc have, 2. The virus may have mutated to a more mild version, 3. Mexicans have a genetic weakness to this influenza.

    The media and the WHO seem to be panicing over this, but if this is a more mild form and spreads easily, why not test our defences against a true pandemic such as H5N1 that kills virtually 100% of people who contract it? This is a great way to see if we're ready to battle a pandemic.

    I for one am not scared... then again the first wave of the 1918 Spanish Flu was mild, 2nd and 3rd waves killed 100 million world wide...

    • Also the pollution in and around Mexico city. Various reports on respiratory problems in Mexico city say things like 8-20% higher cases of asthma and respiratory related deaths. That might have something to do with why this flu killed so many people there and in the mountains to the east.

He's like a function -- he returns a value, in the form of his opinion. It's up to you to cast it into a void or not. -- Phil Lapsley