Antigenic Shift/Drift

There are two really scary yet very real properties that transform antigens making them harder to identify, isolate and resolve. They are antigenic shift and antigenic drift.

Antigenic drift is when an antigen accumulates enough changes to evade immunity or vaccination. When there is a heavier than normal flu season, the CDC starts talking about antigenic shift. Like kicking off your flip flops to run from danger faster. Drift can account for subtle changes in the properties of an antigen to make an antibody less effective in battle. Some years, flu shots are wasted because the drift was significant enough to sneak past the vaccine.

Antigenic shift is really alarming to me. It is when two totally different strains combine to form a new super strain. Conceivably, avian strains could mix with sheep or swine strains to form a nasty and powerful strain the likes of which we’ve never seen let alone prepared for.

Look at any company through this metaphoric lens.

There are many moving parts in business…moving so fast, in fact, many people are unable to shift or respond when necessary. For example, Twitter or social media in a larger context mixed with a big hairy crisis and the business can have a really shifty antigen or strain on its hands. I can think of a good half dozen companies wishing they could do many things over again because they weren’t prepared for it, weren’t staffed for it, had no idea it was eating them alive and didn’t take it seriously after it had eviscerated their brand reputation. And even today, at least three of those big notable brands are still unsure what hit them and haven’t really assessed the damage, several months after the fact.

And when antigens change shape, the antibodies that are supposed to fight them, can’t… which allows the antigen to enter undetected and wreak havoc on healthy cells. And often, there is nothing able to stop the damage until it is either too late or more damage was done than was necessary.

The bottom line is that things change, or they mix with other things, and pose significant new mutated risks to companies. The plans in place to deal with these emerging risks are not always adequately suited to stem abrupt or punctuated change. The enterprise defenses need to be perpetually updated. Scenarios need to be created to help companies anticipate and outrun the antigens, create powerful antibodies to defend the corpus and to allow its people to focus on moving forward instead of repairing.

This updating, scenario planning and outrunning  is what ANTIGENcy is working on.

1 thought on “Antigenic Shift/Drift

  1. I read this article right after reading about United airlines and the broken guitar viral video. It’s easy to imagine United’s bottom-tier triage customer reps treating the problem with the same aspirin and low-grade broad-spectrum antibiotics they treat everything else with. Then (too late) realizing that today, anybody with a broken guitar probably has a spare guitar and is only a low-production video away from becoming a highly contagious super bug.

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