Genes, viruses, Swine Flu…

Saturday, July 25, 2009
By Wolfgang K Piller MD

Wolfgang - Clinica…And the good news is that you are 700 times more likely never to reach a hospital after a heart attack than dying of swine flu once you have contracted it. The bad news is that heart disease is the number-one killer in the West, accounting for every 5th death. So I would queue for swine flu, if I had to choose, although the mini-outbreak that I had to witness in winter 2000, in London, made me get my flu jab every year.

The appearance of my patients just put flu on my list of illnesses I want to avoid. But for heavens sake, news reporters, if 100,000 traffic accidents resulted in only 29 deaths (those are the current figures for swine flu in the UK) you would have a really good reason to campaign against speed cameras and for drink driving.

I, however, seem to have caught another virus, though, which only briefly had been in the news at the beginning of the year. This year, I just can’t shift my winter belly, which never used to be a problem. I have started to think about whether I have got the virus AD36 or AD37, which has been linked to obesity. They are from the group of adenoviruses, which are easily caught and highly contagious, normally causing diarrhoea and colds. This would explain why the WHO and others speak about obesity as a pandemic. But the virus fortunately only seems to affect the developed world and the middle classes of the developing world, in other words people who have got the money to feed themselves well.

As a matter of interest, Richard Atkinson, a leading researcher in this field is a major shareholder of a company selling blood-test kits to detect adenoviruses. I am still undecided whether I should buy a test kit or just go to the fridge less frequently.
Staying with obesity, a news item on BBC World News caught my attention last week: there is a gender link to obesity, obese mothers have obese daughters and obese fathers have obese sons, implying a genetic component. With 25% of the British population being overweight, I immediately thought where are all this genes suddenly coming from, they certainly had not been there 50 years ago. It took me some digging to find the original article, which only postulates that children copy their same sex parent’s behaviour, news indeed at the times of Sigmund Freud. Let’s wait a while; maybe the political conclusion of that jewel of research will be that obese children are better off with same sex couples of the opposite sex.
I myself will start a research project, whether or not frightening and plain-nonsense health news will lead to poor health and premature death, they certainly always get my blood pressure going.

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