Somewhere in Southeast Asia (or Africa, the Mid-East, Europe etc) . . .
A hen clucks and shifts around in her perch. She sniffs and sneezes.
Inside the lining of her respiratory tract and lungs, millions of influenza viruses - commonly called A/H5N1 or bird flu - are infecting her cells and forcing them to replicate millions more of the virus.
This is the same virus that's deadly to chickens. People can catch it through close contact with chickens, but they can not spread it to other people.
The hen excretes. Her white waste material - full of A/H5N1 - falls to the floor below, mixing in with the dirt and other chicken manure.
The pig below the hen also feels ill. Several days ago, the farmer who owns them both sneezed on the pig while feeding her. Now the pig has a case of ordinary human flu. It's not life-threatening to the farmer or the pig, but it is highly contagious.
Hungry despite her flu, the pig gobbles down some chicken manure, including some which contains A/H5N1.
A/H5N1 works its way through the pig's body to the pig's respiratory system. There, it starts drilling into the pig's cells with its spikes of hemagluttinin.
There it meets up with a virus of ordinary flu infecting the pig - just like two bank robbers who enter the same vault from two sides.
It's not true love, but it's not bad. They combine genetic material and soon have an offspring who's the best of both of them.
As contagious between human beings as ordinary flu.
As lethal to human beings as A/H5N1.
Soon Junior uses the neuraminidase protein spikes on his surface to cut himself loose from the pig's cell he calls home, and makes his way out into the world . . . to infect his very own cell.
He takes over its genetic material and soon has instructed the cell to replicate millions more of himself.
Soon those viruses are spreading through the pig.
Several days later, the farmer's oldest son comes to feed the pig. Heavily infected with the contagious form of lethal bird flu, the pig snorts and sneezes onto the boy.
Who later rough houses with his friends at school, including Pim.
Pim takes the virus home to his father, Yu.
The next day, Yu takes a bus to Bangkok to buy some supplies and equipment for his farm. He spends much of the day talking over his order with Mr. Chen, the owner of The White Lotus Farm Store.
Mr. Chen goes home that evening and spends a lot of intimate time with his wife, who is leaving tomorrow to spend two weeks visiting relatives in Chicago, U. S. A.
When Mrs. Chen boards the early morning Thai Airways flight to Los Angeles, she is not aware that 145 kilometers away from her, a chicken and a pig are dead . . . and a farmer's son and his friend are too sick to go to school.
Neither do the other 200 passengers who spend 11 hours breathing the same air as Mrs. Chen.
The farmers have taken their children to the nearby clinic, which has taken throat samples and sent them to the United Nations World Health Organization laboratories to be tested.
The doctor is worried, because the other family members are also feeling poorly and many of their farm animals have died. He's feeling weak himself.
After landing at Los Angeles International Airport, some of Mrs. Chen's fellow passengers go into Los Angeles. Some of them go on to flights to Canada, Latin America and New York City. A few plan to continue on to London and Paris. Mrs. Chen finds her gate to a American Airlines flight to Chicago.
A few days later, WHO and CDC workers fly to the small farming village and the Thai government imposes a travel ban on the entire province.
In Chicago, Mrs. Chen has taken to her bed and her relatives are sneezing on their jobs . . .
c 2006 by Richard Stooker
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