Monday, January 24, 2000

WC Professor Catches Four-Year Bug

Chestertown, MD — Juan Lin, professor of physics at Washington College, intends to spend the next four years with Influenza A. He hasn't come down with a particularly bad case of the flu. Rather, as part of a team armed with a $676,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, he and colleagues from Princeton University and two universities in Denmark will study how the flu spreads, with an eye toward controlling it.
Using demographic and molecular information on flu epidemics, Lin and collaborators will model how influenza spreads over time and space. "From the models, we hope to be able to understand the effects of vaccinations and the possibilities for controlling outbreaks of the flu," he says. The challenges to understanding the wily virus are great. "We're working on multiple fronts. We have to look at transmission, or how well flu spreads from person to person, and the susceptibility of the host, which is the actual infection and subsequent immune response. These characteristics affect how flu travels through a population and across distances," Lin says. "For instance, in the fall of 1997 a virulent flu strain developed in Hong Kong. Although several people who contracted it died, ultimately not many people became infected with it." That's because the Hong Kong flu's transmission from person to person was weak.
The team will also examine how different strains of a sub-type cross-react with one another and how those reactions affect the effectiveness of flu vaccines. Rarely does the flu virus undergo a radical shift—gene changes inside the nucleus—like the pandemic of 1918 that killed 20 to 40 million people. Shifts occur only once every 40 to 70 years. However, the influenza virus escapes immune surveillance by mutating rapidly. Lin says, "In regular epidemics only the outside molecular structure of influenza changes."
Lin also says that modern travel makes flu outbreaks more difficult to control and track. A person in an infectious phase of the disease flying from London to Baltimore, for example, can expose passengers sitting close by. When those passengers debark, they bring the flu with them. "The germ responsible for the latest outbreak in America, Influenza A, is also known as the Sydney/05/97 virus for its origins in Australia," Lin says.
Lin, who has been studying the dynamics of disease and epidemiology since 1994, finds applying physical and mathematical ideas to the modeling of the disease "a very challenging intellectual process." He says, "Collaborative research between physicists, mathematicians and biologists is becoming more important because quantitative models can be useful to further understanding of vital problems having social and ecological consequences."
The results of the team's research are about four years away. But those battling this year's epidemic can take some comfort that efforts are underway to tame the flu in the future.

Tuesday, January 18, 2000

"The Fantasticks" at Washington College

Chestertown, MD — The Riverside Players will present three performances of "The Fantasticks," Jan. 27, 28 and 29 at 8 p.m. in the Norman James Theater on the campus of Washington College. This musical features accompaniment by Dick Durham, well-known Shore jazz pianist.
The story is simple. A boy and a girl are in love. They think their fathers are against the romance, but in truth the wily dads have set out to engineer the whole affair. The fathers hire El Gallo, a roving bandit, to abduct the girl and be defeated by the boy, thus securing the union. But all doesn't go as planned. El Gallo's assistant in the abduction, an old actor, turns out to be an invaluable character, reminding everyone of the importance of make-believe in a harsh world.
The show, "pure theatrical magic," began its off-Broadway run in 1960 and continues in the Sullivan Theatre in New York today. Eight actors who sing accompanied by piano, harp, bass and drum; some simple props and costumes; and a theaterful of imagination add up to an unforgettable experience for everyone.
Admission to "The Fantasticks" is $5.00. Washington College students pay $2.00. Group rates are also available. Call Lindsay Krieg, 410-778-8773, for more information.

Thursday, January 13, 2000

Bias, Censorship, and Tabloidism in Today's Media

Chestertown, MD — The subtleties of day-to-day control over news content and its consequences for informed public debate will be the subject when Jeff Cohen, columnist and director of the media watch group Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), speaks at Washington College on Feb. 2.
"In this era of merger mania and 'New Media' hype, a half-dozen giant media corporations sit on the windpipe of the First Amendment. Journalism gasps for air as news becomes just another entertainment format," Cohen says. "Individuals need to respond as active citizens and critical news consumers."
Cohen has written three books of columns, with Norman Solomon, Wizards of Media Oz: Behind the Curtain of Mainstream News (1997), Through the Media Looking Glass (1995), and Adventures in Medialand (1993). In 1995, he co-wrote The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error.
Cohen's commentaries have been carried by USA Today, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, International Herald Tribune, Atlanta Constitution, Baltimore Sun, Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, Newsday, Oregonian, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. National publications frequently cite his views on issues of media and politics.
He has co-hosted CNN's "Crossfire" and is a weekly panelist on Fox News Channel's "News Watch." His national television and radio credits include "ABC World News Tonight," "Today," "Reliable Sources," "Larry King Live," MSNBC, C-SPAN, and NPR.
Cohen will present his lecture at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 2 in the Casey Academic Center Forum on the College campus. The lecture is sponsored by the Goldstein Program in Public Affairs and is free and open to the public.