Sunday, January 29, 2006

“They told me. Don’t worry. Look around for it. It will turn up.”

...and there I was swimming around in the effluent of the internet when the strange buzzing of the chikungunya carrying mosquito was heard...

“These are the worse viruses in the world,” said Levitt.

For seventeen years, Neil Levitt, an energetic man with wire rim glasses and thinning salt and pepper hair, worked as Senior Research Scientist at a high security “hot suite.” His task was to develop a vaccine against the chikungunya virus, an organism considered by the Army to be a biological warfare threat. Previous attempts by the military to develop a vaccine using a specific cell line had been abandoned when the viruses reverted to lethal form after inoculation into human subjects. Levitt found that similar problems were occurring in mice which received injections of viral fluid. He informed his superiors of the problem and recommended that the cell line not be used for human vaccine production. The results of his study were, however, deleted from the USAMRID report which was sent to Congress. Instead, the military reported on the vaccine’s progress in glowing terms.
During a routine inventory in 1981, Levitt discovered that the entire stock of this monkey-
derived chikungunya virus was missing from his lab’s locked freezer. About 60 vials contained 2500 ml of virus. Each milliliter housed over one billion virus particles, enough virus, he told his bosses, “to infect the entire world’s population.” As Levitt later recalled, “They told me, Don’t worry. Look around for it. It will turn up.” It never did and Levitt ended up blowing the whistle to Congress.


The following is worth reading in full and can be found on
- the typos are theirs!

Reunion Island Chikungunya
Outbreak Now 40,000 Cases

From Patricia Doyle, PhD

This appears to be a serious Chikungunya outbreak. Has the patogen mutated? This outbreak, which is seriously underestimated, appears to have complications of myelo-meningo-encephalitis. There is an unidentified illness in Angola which has symptoms quite similar to the symptoms we are seeing in Reunion Island.

Has this illness spread beyond Reunion? Chikungunya is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. The numbers of cases are high for a mosquito borne virus.

More information on the current virus sequence would be needed to determine if the virus has mutated to a more deadly form.

Patricia Doyle

From Lionel Suzon

I'm a doctor at the southern end of Reunion Island. First of all, almost everybody here, especially doctors, agree that the epidemic is underestimated. According to an unofficial estimate by the "Conseil Departemental de l'Ordre des Medecins", there would be almost 40 000 cases.

2 weeks ago, I was personally seeing about 5 new cases of chikungunya fever each day, whereas there were officially about 100 new cases a week for the entire island. The epidemic began 11 months ago and was focused in a limited number of areas. During the last week, the epidemic has become explosive and out of control, but I was on holiday, so I didn't notice it personally. On Monday, when I'll be back to work, I'm afraid the number of new cases will be much higher.

This disease is usually considered a benign one, and this is also my clinical impression, even if some patients suffer arthralgias or stiffness for months. But some unexpected complications have occurred here: several cases of myelo-meningo-encephalitis have been reported, some in neonates, with a strong suspicion of maternal-foetal transmission. Some wonder if we will see the first-ever fatal case of chikungunya.

Fear, as fever, is now spreading in the population. Unfortunately, communication is mainly controlled by local press and politicians. I would personally prefer a recognised expert.

you read it here first...

...well sort of, in English anyway. This crazy mosquito borne virus has certainly been hitting the headlines this past week and we are even to be blessed with a visit by the Minister of Health himself. Thanks to Chikungunya the schools will remain closed for an extra week - after all two months of holiday is just not enough - and one needs to treat all public places; and two months is just not long enough. So, what is to happen is that the schools will be closed but will open as the parents have nowhere to install their offspring whilst working. One must understand that the schools are to remain closed whilst they are demosquitofied, yet they will be open for those children who would otherwise be walking the streets - which haven't been demosquitofied. This is all the more intriguing when one considers that most schools in infected areas were treated before Xmas and a lot of the students have already had the Chik as it is affectionately known. Why am I constantly dreaming of stable doors these days?

It is certain that news of the island "plague" is spreading and this morning I was delighted to see that the BBC ( has seen fit to illuminate the plight of us "islanders". Now "we" are drafting troops to kill mosquitos, which just proves that the war on terror is not respecter of size, be it a volcano or a mosquito. I look forward to the ensuing report on the effect of massive pesticide inhalation on the population...

There are still no cases of the Chi, where I live but I did descend today to the balmy lows of St Leu for a swim, snorkel and a bowl of chips. I did not see any mosquitos- well none that were behaving suspiciously - mind you, when I do succumb i'll probably be amoaning like every one else but then not on the apocalyptic scale of the Journal (

Monday, January 23, 2006

blue monday

One thing that is certain in life is that age makes you grumpy. I have been working on grumpiness for a long time now but it was only this morning that I discovered the real secret.

There I was at the small airport of Pierrefonds, from here one can travel to the “capital” St Denis, Mauritius and even Madagascar. It is here one can find also that magnificent specimen, alas not extinct, known throughout the DOM as a functionaire with a complex.

What is it that happens to an old man when you strap a pistol on his hip, give him a nice blue shirt and plenty of badges, and the power over his fellows. He becomes a miserable, bitter megalomaniac that is what…

…and all this because I got a parking ticket. This was a result of the never-ending development that neglects to erase road marking whilst painting new ones. The whole island is becoming a mess of public works graffiti which even those that have lived here for generations fail to comprehend. One moans about the vertical graffiti, the atomised vomit of delinquent minds but then that is nothing next to the rabid droolings of the public works functionaire. On driving through a town such as St Pierre it is not uncommon to become stranded in a two way one way no through-road by-pass , follow the markings on the road and you’ll soon be on the sort of trip only Kerouac could dream about..

Back to the airport, I park, I walk around a bit and return to my car to find a parking ticket. I am about to leave thinking what I could have done with the thirty five euros when all those French type feelings of equality, liberty, fraternity and justice spring to mind. I am not alone, the woman next to me has the same parking ticket and we share incredulity and decide to ask for some advice. Good move, the two women at the reception are most helpful – Go and see the ‘police aux frontieres’ – quite where is the frontier in question, that which demarcates my parking spot from that of my neighbours?

Bad move, it is Monday morning and the aging pistol toting functionaire has obviously spent the weekend wondering what, or where his life has gone. I utter the necessary ‘bonjour’ and he commences his, “I am a dalek, you shall be fined just because I say so” monologue. He just won’t shut up, my fellow complainee has more sense and leaves as she can tell that rationale speech is useless in such a situation. I try to speak to a more reasonable policeman but his colleague won’t shut up which leads me to question why the shiny new land rover next to me hasn’t got a ticket…

Things not to do in France or anywhere controlled by French functionaries:

  1. try to reason
  2. try to be funny
  3. try to Be.
  4. try to be equal

I have written a letter and shall probably have to pay twice as much now, but then such is the price of justice, liberty and thinking that one man can change, not the world, just a parking ticket.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

tourist evaluation

In the pursuit of better tourism it is sometimes necessary to partake...

...nuff said!

Thanks to Andrew for being a good egg and Sirius for being a binary...

le chikungunya est dingue

Seemingly this morning I have lost my rucksack - this is of little interest to you but of great consequence to me as it contains my peanut ginger chilli chews and life will not be the same although my teeth could do with a break.

Nothing too exciting this week bar the fact that chikungunya (see continues to plague the island and the authorities are getting rather embarassed; they are not, however, telling the tourists!

I went snorkelling last week and got bitten by a picasso fish - as it was only 15cm long the wound is not terrible but I could be persuaded to make a fuss and pretend that it was the barracudda with which I swam on new year's eve.

I am off to find my rucksack... have a good weekend and watch out for the mossies.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

lava flows - is that a verb?

Not that I can promise too much, but a quick visit to the slopes of Mount Kalla (and no that is not its real name) resulted in a glimpse of the pubescent crater pustulating atop the right buttock of the piton de la fournaise (that is its name).

The resulting lava flow is some three km from the road now and promises to get closer even if the volcano appears to be sleeping. Those volcanologists that know promise greater things in the future...

Mind you, talking of the future leads me on to this morning's rant. The future is not Green the future is definitely litter and if it had a colour it would be grey. The grey of concrete, tinged with the false dawn of banal graffitti - there are other less banal kinds, but these are few and far between. This rant is leading us off on a short walk across the now cold lava flow of2004. It still remains impressive even after 18 months of erosion. Gone is the showroom glean of newly waxed and polished lava, but there is the new found beauty in the colours of erosion and the revelation of tunnels which once coursed with the earth's lifeblood...

... so what's my problem this time? Litter. Those of you sad enough to have read the item on the eruption last year will know all about the rant against policing the volcano - today no armed guards just a sign saying that by prefectoral decree it is forbidden to walk on the lava - one would be very silly if one wanted. What is it with these prefects and their decrees? Is this ancient Rome or the toilets of Eton? It would be better if they made an attempt to protect the island and its beauty from the public - yes that is you and I - it would be better if people were shot for dropping rubbish; Ohh isn't that rather extreme?

Probably, but then it is not everyday that one finds nappies adorning sites of great natural interest, or is it?

For more on the volcano as it progresses try for more on my state of mind as it regresses stay tuned...

Sunday, January 08, 2006

two thousand and sicks

I was not actually here for the coming of the new year as I was abducted to Mauritius and partook of much mirth, merriment, some snorkelling, several beers and braais on the beach. So much fun was had...

...but let us get back to being miserable. The closing of 2005 saw the number of cases of chikungunya ( rising to embarassingly high levels - embarassing that is for the tourist office who tells every one that there are NO health problems on the island. The DRASS (work that out yourself) have published a figure of 6000 of the number of cases. Unofficial estimates are somewhat higher and 30,000 has been quoted. So what? One thing people seem to forget is that this is a tropical island. We like it like that. Tropical island have lots of exotic tropical things and that even includes diseases. Of course everyone else is to blame and has nothing to do with people breeding mosquitos in all that rubbish, spare tyres and whatever that is left lying around. I, fortunately or not, have yet to be infected. Besides, last year I had Dengwe fever, which was nearly as exciting.

Letters have been published in the local press from disgruntled holiday makers (well two) who demand to know why they weren't told such a plague was gallopping through the isle. Bad for tourism. Strange that, I went to Paris last year but no one ever told me about the viral self combustion of cars - "auto de feu"?

If you are considering coming on holiday then do so, just be sensible and besides the Chiku hasn't killed anyone yet - just wait till bird flu arrives. Hey! Maybe that is why the dodo was killed off...

The volcano is still erupting but nothing too dramatic...


... as I haven't yet been to see it I haven't got any snaps to share. But if I did have i would probably complain about the police presence - see last years eruption. Oddly enough, my moaning seems not to have gone unheard and a recent article in the Journal ( questions why we have armed police on the volcano yet do nothing against the prodigal horseman of chikungunya, delinquency, immigration and all that stuff. You all know the answer; maybe next week they'll get around to tackling corruption...

Latest hot dribbling gossip is that the volcano is preparing for an eruption outside of the "enclos", might get some snaps after all ;-)

hot rock mantis