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Unfiled April 20, 2007
The H-Bomb
Everything you never wanted to know about the herpes epidemic By Yasha Levine Browse author Email

Spring is here and so are migrant birds. That means another bout of bird-flu media-frenzy. H5N1 was supposed to be a pandemic, remember? The Bubonic Plague without borders. Millions would die, cooked alive in their own skin. But other than a few lousy peasants dropping dead here and there, nothing has happened. In box office terms, the flu is a flop. Millions spent on the greatest fear marketing campaign and nothing to back it up. Sure, H5N1 could still mutate into a form that allowed it to spread between humans. But I say let's worry about it when it happens.

Bird-flu is typical of the kind of disease hype we have to put up with. Take the HIV scare. That virus is a great piece of evolutionary sculpting: a virus that doesn't actually kill its host, but weakens its immunity just enough to allow other infectious diseases to enter it, wreck havoc and finally finish it off. HIV is almost honorable. You could call it the affirmative action virus: It gives everyday street thugs like the common cold and pneumonia a full scholarship to your body and a chance to succeed. The virus was scary. But now we know that HIV's been isolated to a few high-risk groups and a whole class of third world countries. Everyone talks about Africa's AIDS epidemic. But go to Africa and you'll see that AIDS is just one of thousands of diseases and parasites they have to deal with.

Which chick scares you more from a public health perspective?

Meanwhile, there are millions of diseases out there that make AIDS look like jock itch. Most of them aren't as deadly, but that's the point. They are smarter than that, and more evil. Their only purpose is to feed off you, replicate and keep you alive to make your life a living hell for as long as possible.They're as close to the devil as we're gonna get here on earth, and I want to be the one that introduces them to you. Think of this new column as an in-depth version of the eXile's Schopenhaur Awards.

I'm going to start with the herpes simplex virus. The media seems to be much more comfortable feeding the masses horrible developments about diseases in far away third-world countries that pose no real threat. Not herpes. With this baby, there is no such distance. It's easily the most horrific modern-day STD out there. Worst of all it's real and you're probably infected and don't even know it.

First, the basics. Herpes is a virus. You might remember from you high school Biology class that a virus isn't technically a living organism. Unlike bacteria and other amoeba-like single-celled life forms, viruses lack the basic machinery to replicate themselves. They don't need food. In fact they don't need anything, but you. They are the original parasite and they're sneaky. They don't engage your body in honest cell-to-cell microbiological warfare. They play by their own rules.

See, a virus is nothing more than a hardy protein-based delivery vehicle for genetic code -- basically a hacker program for cell DNA designed to mutate a host cell's genetic code to do the virus' reproductive bidding.

Most other viruses that kill off their host cells after it has birthed a new viral swarm -- sort of like that zygote alien that bursts through that astronaut's chest while he was eating dinner in Ridley Scott's Alien. But herpes is smarter, it keeps its hosts alive. It thinks in terms of slow, maturing, long-term investments. Herpes has evolved to know that it doesn't make sense to go on an all out rampage like the H5N1 or the Ebola virus and kill off the host organism as fast as possible. A virus' reproductive potential terminates with the host. To stay in the game for as long as possible, a virus has to manage its infection and stay out of sight. That's why the rampage viruses that we're taught to fear are actually very easy to control. Sure, they produce a high fatality rate but quickly quarantining the infected population and letting them die off eliminates the threat.

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Browse author
Yasha Levine is an editor at The eXile. You can contact him at

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Save The eXile: The War Nerd Calls Mayday
The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

Scanning Moscow’s Traffic Cops
Automotive Section
We’re happy to introduce a new column in which we publish Moscow’s raw radio communications, courtesy of a Russian amateur radio enthusiast. This issue, eXile readers are given a peek into the secret conversations of Moscow’s traffic police, the notorious "GAIshniki."

Eleven Years of Threats: The eXile's Incredible Journey
Feature Story By The eXile
Good Night, and Bad Luck: In a nation terrorized by its own government, one newspaper dared to fart in its face. Get out your hankies, cuz we’re taking a look back at the impossible crises we overcame.

Your Letters
Russia's freedom-loving free market martyr Mikhail Khodorkovsky answers some of this week's letters, and he's got nothing but praise for President Medvedev.

Clubbing Adventures Through Time
Club Review By Dmitriy Babooshka
eXile club reviewer Babooshka takes a trip through time with the ghost of Moscow clubbing past, present and future, and true to form, gets laid in the process.

The Fortnight Spin
Bardak Calendar By Jared Lindquist
Jared comes out with yet another roundup of upcoming bardak sessions.

Your Letters
Richard Gere tackles this week's letters. Now reformed, he fights for gerbil rights all around the world.

13 Toxic Talents: Hollywood’s Worst Polluters
America By Eileen Jones
Everybody complains about celebrities, but nobody does anything about them. People, it’s time to stop fretting about whether we’re a celebrity-obsessed culture—we are, we have been, we’re going to be—and instead take practical steps to clean up the celebrity-obsessed culture we’ve got...


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