Avian Flu v. Everyday Plagues

An editorial in the Financial Times by Ewa Bjorling, an Associate Professor of Virology and member of Swedish Parliament emphasizes that "the risk of infection from avian flu is tiny." To date, throughout the world a total of 121 humans have been infected with avian flu and 62 have died. The current strain of avian flu is not transmissable between humans, those who have been infected most likely enhaled droplets of virus contained in bird droppings, feathers, or blood while working very closely with birds. As a virus researcher Ewa Bjorling writes:

"I find the barrage of information and recommendations to "hoard" antiviral drugs now sweeping the world most regrettable"

Maria Zambon of the UK Health Protection Agency says in "H5N1 Virus Hard For Humans to Catch" (Financial Times October 26):

"Avoid being in touching distance of [birds that could be affected]. Don't kiss chickens."

But in the same issue, in "EU Bird Flu Alert on Eating Raw Eggs", the Financial Times lists some of the measures countries are taking to prevent an epidemic.

  • "A European food safety authority will say consumers should avoid eating raw eggs and should cook chicken carefully."
  • "Italian farmers yesterday held demonstrations aimed at reassuring the public."
  • "French producers are worried that the market for foie gras...could be threatened."
  • "The French agriculture ministry ordered farmers in the coastal and easter regions...to keep their poultry indoors"
  • In Brazil, "Roberto Rodrigues, agriculture minister, said...metal detectors at airports would be modified to detect organic matter, and remains of meals served on aircraft arriving from infected countries would be burned."
  • Also in Brazil..."the world's largest exporter of chicken said it would set up sanitary controls at airports to stop bird flu from entering the country."

When that ambling V-like line of Canadian geese snags up customs on your way to Florianopolis you'll know why.

An editorial by Abigal Zuger; "Scare Yourself Silly, but the Real Terrors Are at Your Feet", in Sunday's New York Times tells us that our greatest health fear right now is not avian flu. Nor in years past was it anthrax, Ebola, or Lyme disease. Instead our greatest risks are to the seemingly boring health issues that we refuse to deal with while riveting our attention on potential "crises":

"Scary health news gives adults the extraordinary ability to ignore the immediate in favor of the distant, to escape from the real (and the really scary) into a far easier kind of fear".

The author underlines the real concerns - the everyday thorns that we're stubbornly callous about - the antibiotic resistance in hospitals, obesity because of atrocious eating habits, cigarette smoking and myriad other health encumbering habits we refuse to give up and public health concerns (like Medicaid changes) to which we pay no attention.


Acronym Required writes frequently about public health and science in the media. H5NI mutates quickly and the concern is that it could become a virus that more easily infects humans. The World Health Organization WHO has information about avian flu.

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