Tuesday, 1 November 2005

Bird Flu, or not?

Is the Bird Flue pandemic another Spanish Flu disaster in the making, or just a Y2K for 05 -- all talk? The always thoughtful Jack Wheeler has his own doubts about the predictions of pandemic:
One more calamity to freak out about now, it seems, is an impending “pandemic” of the Asian Bird Flu virus known as H5N1. Every day we read about five billion more chickens or turkeys or geese in China or Romania or some other country being infected and killed.

A batch of folks in Vietnam have died of it, and the scare stories mount about how any day now, the virus will mutate, enabling not just bird-to-human infection but human-to-human. Then, the stories claim, the pandemic is on.

Well, maybe. All these comparisons to the Spanish Flu of 1918 are shaky.
Read on to see Wheeler's reasoning, and the measures that he's taking for personal protection. And read on here to see Tim Selwyn's sneezy update to the 'Dead Parrot Sketch': "Why did the chicken cross the road? To spread bloody bird 'flu everywhere, apparently."


  1. Comparisons to the Spanish Flu of 1918 are apposite. We now know the Spanish Flu virus was of avian origin.

  2. I'm not sure that origin is the whole story though, (and we do know that everyone likes a good scare story. Crikey, people lap them up.) As Wheeler says:

    "Well, maybe. All these comparisons to the Spanish Flu of 1918 are shaky. That virus appeared out of nowhere and hit soldiers in their filthy World War I trenches in France. Of all the American soldiers who died in World War I, more than half of them – 65,000 – were killed not in battle but by the flu. The soldiers who didn’t die from it then spread it through Europe, America, and thence around the world.

    "We’re not in the trenches in 2005, we’re far healthier, and we have antibiotics (penicillin wasn’t discovered until 1929) that protect against the pneumonia that comes after the viral infection and was the cause of over half of the Spanish Flu deaths."

  3. It's Wheeler's argument that's shaky, not comparisons to the Spanish Flu of 1918.

    "We’re not in the trenches in 2005, we’re far healthier, and we have antibiotics..."

    "We’re not in the trenches in 2005..." It was poor hygiene and close proximity to others, not trenches as such, that helped launch the 1918 pandemic. We have much more of both today than in 1918.

    "We’re far healthier..." No, we're not.

    "We have antibiotics..." Well, I don't. And I'm not sure where, or how, I'd get them in the event I needed them to treat complications secondary to an H5N1 infection.

    The threat of a new flu pandemic is more real, more serious, and certainly more imminent than the threat of (say) global warming and you ignore it at your peril.

  4. Seeing as how tens of thousands of people (maybe hundreds of thousands) die each year from the normal flu, and this is commonly accepted, you should be more worried about that. In America alone over the past 2 years, around 40,000 people have died of the flu. In the UK, over 20,000 people. Those are the only statistics I've found so far, but it tells a big story when put in comparison to the bird flu, which has killed only 60 people in asia in the past 2 years. More information here.

    Richard, you sound like Chicken Little, warning everyone that the sky's going to fall on our heads.

    How can you possibly think that the hygiene levels today are worse than what they were around the world in 1918, especially in Europe? The poor hygience of the war trenches has no comparison to today's normal environments, and if you really think it does, you should read a few history books to find out more about it.

    It's also strange that you say we're not healthier than those in 1918. Maybe you're talking about yourself here, since you seem to only refer to yourself when commenting about antibiotics. I do wonder about your level of self-sufficiency, when you say you'd have no idea about how to get antibiotics. Hmmm... maybe see a doctor?

  5. Alan, you sound like Neville Chamberlain declaring "peace for our time" one year before the outbreak of the World War II.

    Bad advice (yours): "Until people start dropping dead around me, I'm not going to be worried about it. And I recommend that you don't worry either."

    Good advice (mine): Don't be around people who are dropping dead from mutant H5N1. Avoid them like the plague.

  6. "The threat of a new flu pandemic is more real, more serious, and certainly more imminent than the threat of (say) global warming and you ignore it at your peril"

    Rubbish. A ton of money is being made out of this. Mark my words - and the words of the Offshore Advisory Council which met in NZ last week.

  7. "Rubbish. A ton of money is being made out of this."

    Well, guess what. Funeral directors make a good whack. That doesn't mean you're not going to die.

    Ruth, you're arguments are as specious as Alan's, who quotes, "An uncomfortable but undeniable fact is that there are a great many people and institutions in this world that have a vested interest in feeding the bird flu scare." Well, so fucking what? Whether or not people (such as Donald Rumsfeld, surprise, surprise) are making money by fanning fears of a flu pandemic is irrelevant to any assessment of the actual risk of such a pandemic occurring.

    Pandemics have occurred before. They will occur again. Who knows when the next one will strike? Perhaps not this year, perhaps not this decade, perhaps not H5N1 - but it will come. Are *you* ready?

    (Don't worry, you're not being asked to sign up to a Kyoto Protocol.)

  8. Richard, you sound like a brainless sheep who blindly accepts what the media tells you. "Bird flu is scary. If you don't die now, you'll die tomorrow. Buy Tamiflu, and your worries will be over." Blah blah blah. Not only do you believe them, but you jump on the bandwagon to justify the continuation of such bullshit propoganda.

    Tamiflu is not a cure to anything. All it does is slow down the symptoms of the flu in the hope that the body will develop its own immunity to the virus and fight back. Seeing as how so many hundreds of thousands of people already die each year due to the ordinary flu and resulting complications, to think that this will save you from the bird flu is not only illogical, but foolish.

    Creating global panic in order to sell increased quantities of a relatively unhelpful drug is not 'being ready', it's criminal. It's pretty much the same as creating false rumour about companies in order to drive up share prices and then sell them before they drop. Illegal.

    Yes, a pandemic WILL occur, but probably not from this bird flu. Since 1918 there have been 3 or 4 major pandemics. it hasn't been the end of the world, and it never will be. Sure, it'll be the end of the world for some, but the end of the world already arrives for millions around the world every day, for one reason or another.

    To justify the criminal actions of greedy companies makes you morally no better than them. Instead of justifying their actions, you could point out alternative methods of protecting yourself, like eating better in order to build up your immune system, and exercising. Oh, and stay away from thousands of infected birds, as they're the only way you can get the bird flu. Those mthods are far more effective at PREVENTING infection that any attempt to suppress the symptoms once it's too late.

  9. Jack Wheeler is a charlatan and a lunatic. That he thinks avian flu is an illusory threat is almost enough to convince me that the opposite is true.

  10. "Bird flu is scary. If you don't die now, you'll die tomorrow. Buy Tamiflu, and your worries will be over."

    Alan, read what I said before you comment on what I said. I did not recommend, or even mention, Tamiflu.

  11. Jack Wheeler is neither a charlatan nor a lunatic, Phil, which is why I take his arguments seriously.

    I was hoping that if clear evidence for a future pandemic exists, that it might have been posted here by one of the commenters above. That's really the issue isn't it, and what I was asking for: what evidence exists to say that ~this~ particular frenzy has any more credibility that the SARS panic, the Y2K beat-up, or all the other scare stories that the media love, but for which little real evidence exists.

    In its absence above then, here's three such sources of evidence that wil be worth keeping an eye on:
    CIDRAP (the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy), the Avian Flu blog maintained by academics at George Mason University, and the collaborative reference site Flu Wiki.


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