Breeding Influenza: The Political Virology of Offshore Farming



Abstract:  The geographic extent, xenospecificity, and clinical course of influenza A (H5N1), the bird flu strain, suggest the virus is an excellent candidate for a pandemic infection. Much attention has been paid to the virus's virology, pathogenesis and spread. In contrast, little effort has been aimed at identifying influenza's social origins. In this article, I review H5N1's phylogeographic properties, including mechanisms for its evolving virulence. The novel contribution here is the attempt to integrate these with the political economies of agribusiness and global finance. Particular effort is made to explain why H5N1 emerged in southern China in 1997. It appears the region's reservoir of near-human-specific recombinants was subjected to a phase change in opportunity structure brought about by China's newly liberalized economy. Influenza, 200 nm long, seems able to integrate selection pressures imposed by human production across continental distances, an integration any analysis of the virus should assimilate in turn.