“You’re from Pittsfield. Know what happens to scholarship students caught cheating on exams? You had the flu that day, didn’t you, David? You didn’t take the exam? You missed the test. And since you were ill, why not write me an essay instead? Go get started.” – Dreamcatcher (Flu obsessed Stephen King)
Pictured – Cosmic Background Radiation left over from the Big Bang. Maybe.
Winter is flu season.
I know, I’m being so topical. I promise I’ll get off being topical in two minutes and take you someplace you’ve never been before. Promise.
First, let’s get to basics:
What exactly is the flu? The flu is a virus, from the Latin word . . . virus. It literally means “Poison” – but it’s been a long time since Poison had a viral video . . .
Hmm, that was way, way cooler in 1988 before Bret Michaels discovered carbs.
Anyway, the flu virus isn’t poison – it’s a cellular invader. A virus can’t reproduce by itself, it can only reproduce inside a cell. And since it doesn’t have any cells, it needs a host critter that does have cells. The flu picks . . . you.
Once it gets inside of you, it spreads as fast as it can, by attaching to a cell wall like a stripper on a billionaire. After injecting part of itself into the cell, the cell cooks up millions of copies of the virus. So, the virus uses your cell as a copy machine. But it’s really awfully hard on the machine. It’s like you sent a copy of your taxes to your printer and it exploded, but left you two million copies of your taxes splattered all across your basement. Because the virus, in order to reproduce, makes the cell explode. Thankfully, you don’t have to drink toner to get better. (Although I’ve heard that toner solves the problem so quickly life insurance companies will not pay off – they don’t like tonercides.) But still? The cells explode.
In this case the cells are located in your respiratory tract. You know, the place that provides life-giving oxygen so your Twinkie® and ice-cream eating body can live another three minutes? Yeah, that place.
Your body has groups of virus hunter cells who look and dress exactly like mid-level late 1990’s programmers. These virus hunters isolate the virus, and, once isolated, they extrude flagella that look exactly like baseball bats and destroy the invading virus.
Yes, I know that’s not the original song. The Boy subscribes to this blog.
That’s how you get better, really, from any sickness this planet tosses at you – programmers attack it with baseball bats. And your immune system keeps those geeky programmer guys around – so you don’t get the same virus again. But the flu comes in all sorts of strains and mutates every year so the geeks don’t recognize the next virus.
How is the flu deadly?
Two ways. The first and most psycho way is a cytokine storm. A cytokine is a chemical signal that brings the cells with the baseball bats to destroy the copier. (I apologize if this is getting too technical). But let’s just say that your body releases too much cytokine? In a really bad design flaw, all of the guys with baseball bats come from everywhere in your body and start trashing the place, even when they’ve run out of copiers.
In a cytokine storm your immune system trashes everything. And can kill you. So when you hear that a 205 pound (that’s 650 kilograms for you in Canada, or, as I like to call it, America’s hat) 22 year old bodybuilder with 4% body fat died two days after getting the flu? Cytokine storm.
Medical hint: If a medical science describes something as a “storm” it’s generally not a good sign, unless it happens to a really rich relative that liked you.
So far, I haven’t had at cytokine storm. Since I’m breathing and all. But the second reason flu kills people is the one that gets me in trouble:
All of the cells (copiers) that explode? Well, all of their parts are everywhere in your respiratory system. Your respiratory system is beyond inflamed – it’s covered in cell debris. Which looks just like food to normally harmless bacteria that live, well, everywhere in your throat. They sense the food? Yeah. Bacteria food fest. And they don’t necessarily stop at the cell debris. And then your already psycho baseball bat wielding immune system comes along, and . . . pneumonia. Nothing fun about that.
That’s the one that gets me to get on the phone to my Internet doctor and pretend I have strep throat to get some amoxicillin. It only happens every 11 years or so (this is important for later) so it’s livable, and also defines then interval between doctor visits for me.
But let’s get to the REAL point of this post, the one I’ve been teasing.
Flu, or “Influenza” comes from the Italian word . . . wait for it . . . “Influenza.” Yay! It’s easy when English just coopts the whole word. But in Italian, influenza means, literally, influence. Influence of what?
Influence of the stars.
So, you and I would just chalk this up to fate, karma, or some random encounter with some grimy plague covered dude.
But not Fred Hoyle.
Fred Hoyle, excuse me, Sir Fred Hoyle was a British dude. And not only was he a British dude, he was a British dude who was smarter than Stephen Hawking. Yeah. I’ll stand by that. He was (essentially) cheated out of a Nobel® Prize™ for the discovery (solo discovery) of how heavier elements are formed in stars and supernovas.
Yeah. That smart.
Why was he cheated out of the Nobel©? I’m thinking it was one of two things: first, he berated the Nobel® committee for not giving the award one year to the grad student who actually did the work and made the discovery. Hopefully she appreciated that.
Second? He wasn’t shy about giving his opinion. On anything.
Ever hear of the “Big Bang”?
Sir Fred was the guy who came up with the phrase. He came up with the phrase while describing a theory that competed with the leading theory of the day – steady state. That means the Universe didn’t start with a singularity – it has always existed. Sure, we need more matter. Hoyle speculated that the matter itself was being continuously created – he postulated that was no crazier that the idea that the Universe came from nothing. His point when the background radiation was found by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson was that the radiation they found, if it were 10 times more or 10 times less would still have been proclaimed the background radiation from the Big Bang. The conclusion was fixed – the evidence could change.
Other crazy things. Carbon. Hoyle looked at carbon and the physics for carbon formation in stars and supernovae. He found that it was crazy unlikely that carbon would be present in the quantities that it is. (HINT: we are made of carbon. And if there were less of it? No us. There are literally millions of carbon compounds – it’s a crazy versatile atom.) He felt that the physical constants that governed carbon atom formation were so unlikely, that they were tweaked to make carbon since it is so important to . . . us.
Did I mention Hoyle was an atheist?
He also felt that life was so unlikely (the analogy of life being as likely as a “747 being assembled by a tornado throwing parts together in a junkyard” was his) that he was a major proponent of panspermia – the idea that life was seeded here from interstellar space. Because the idea that even single celled life occurs . . . is amazing.
Hoyle was also a fan of the concept of abiotic oil. Abiotic is just a word that means “no dinosaurs died in making your gasoline” – the petroleum is a result of natural forces bringing it together. If I didn’t have my next 18 blog posts planned out? I could just start with Hoyle and get a dozen. The man had ideas.
Yeah. He wrote novels, too. The one I read (The Incandescent Ones) was not particularly memorable. I read the synopsis and . . . oh, yeah, I guess I remember that.
But the biggie for this post has already been alluded to: Hoyle, in 1989 and in 2000 brought up . . . the flu.
Hoyle’s thesis was that the flu was not from Earth. The flu came from outer space, and incidents of significant flu outbreaks were tied to the Sun. See my link here (LINK) for other Sun linked things, and there will be (it’s currently scheduled for sometime in the next six weeks) another Sunspot linked post.
Did you catch that? Hoyle felt that the flu came from space (queue echoey space music) and the solar cycle correlated to when we would have flu outbreaks. The previous times Hoyle brought this up were at solar cycle peaks, in 1990 and 2000. And the Spanish flu that killed 50,000,000 and infected 500,000,000. (500,000,000 of a total population of 1,800,000,000. 25% of everyone on Earth got the flu. The same flu.) Yeah, that happened at a solar cycle peak. Going back to the origin of the word “flu” or “Influenza” or “influence of the stars”? Yeah. Most scientists thought he was wrong. Which is how every scientist feels about a new idea until they die.
Did I mention that Hoyle felt that life outside of Earth, began in space? Yeah. I did.
The Universe as depicted by 1978. Note: No Cylons were injured in the creation of this film.
The flu is dangerous. A minor modification could make that cytokine storm much more likely. Another minor modification? Near universal death. Call it a full flu. But that’s a sad thought. Not one that anyone has ever had.
Yeah, The Stand was an awesome book by Stephen King. Read it! It’s what a full flu would do to you! (Note, not an instruction manual for the Anti-Christ.)
So I’m struggling for the moral to the story this week. Don’t allow the flu to turn your immune system into baseball bat wielding dudes who will kill you? Avoid crazy ideas since you won’t get the Nobel™ Prize®?
So an atheist that knew more about science than you or I ever will was convinced that not only the Universe was rigged in favor of life (carbon atom formation) and that life was so improbable that he speculated it came from space . . . .
Yeah, that’s the moral. The flu can be more than a virus. It can make you flat-out think.
Be like Hoyle. Allow one crazy idea a day to enter your brain. Figure out where it leads. And take vitamin C (LINK) if you get the flu.
Believe me, you don’t want the one the aliens came up with this year.
Did I mention that my buddy John Apollo has a birthday this weekend? Yeah, he does. Happy Birthday! Leave a comment and let him know that you care. Or don’t and make him wallow in horrible sadness.