Sunday, June 18, 2006
Have you noticed that bird-flu masks make the wearer look like a duck? Is this a case of the self-fulfilling prophesy I wonder?
So what happened to bird-flu? A few months ago it was going to kill us all. Now it’s just a sub-headline in some Third-World regional newspaper. Not even worth the bother of thinking about.
When it finally hit the British Isles in April (as we all knew it would) with all the attendant media attention - not to say, hysteria - they immediately closed down half of Scotland.
It was only a surprise that they didn‘t shut down Yorkshire too.
I have only one word to say to anyone who was ever worried about bird-flu: “SARS“. Remember that?
SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and a few years ago it was also going to kill us all.
Same thing. Reports from all over the globe. The latest statistics. People catching it in this, that or the other country. Speculations about it’s probable progress and possible sources. The latest updates. TV, newspaper and radio coverage. Fear of travelling. Panic buying, SARS masks, the whole thing.
So what happened to all those SARS masks? They’ve recycled them, that‘s all. They’re now selling them as bird-flu masks, the difference being that at least SARS was actually a disease of humans.
The last any of us heard about SARS was around 2003 when the total accumulated number of cases and the total number of deaths caused by the disease were as follows:
Number of deaths 774. Number of cases of 8096.
There have been no new cases since then.
Up till now bird flu has killed about 100 people and several hundred thousand birds. The birds didn‘t die of bird-flu. The birds were mostly killed by humans.
As I’ve pointed out before, of those 100 people who died, all of them worked closely with birds. These were people who were breathing in bird breath for up to twelve hours every day, mucking out bird manure while sweeping up bird feathers, in a totally enclosed, bird-infested environment; people whose whole lives were spent with their noses up a bird’s bum.
You don’t catch bird flu from any old passing bird. You most certainly don’t catch it from eating your Sunday lunch. In order to get bird-flu you have to go round virtually kissing chickens.
In other words, unless you have a penchant for being a little too intimate with poultry, you have very little to fear.
What is true is that the last great world pandemic, the so-called Spanish Flu of 1918, in which millions died, also began as bird-flu.
Here’s the difference. In 1918 there was a world war going on. The whole of Western Europe was scoured by these festering scars called trenches, full of slime, dead bodies, body-parts and innards, urine, faeces and rats. It’s true that the Spanish Flu began as a disease of birds, but it was spread in the trenches, which, I think, tells you quite a lot.
Was it the birds, then, or was it the trenches?
I’d also like to mention foot-and-mouth, a very real disease that struck the UK not so long ago. The trouble then was that foot-and-mouth was never actually a fatal disease, except when us humans got involved. Millions of animals died, slaughtered indiscriminately, for the sake of bureaucracy, in order to keep our animals certified foot-and-mouth free.
The most fatal disease on the planet is the human race.
Me: I’m the kind of person who is always in three minds about everything. In this case, as follows:
1) This is all being hyped up by the pharmaceutical companies to make money from developing vaccines for as yet unheard of strains of imaginary flu.
2) It is a conspiracy by the global corporations to keep us in a state of fear and distraction. What with global warming, the impending attacks upon Syria and Iran, the war in Iraq, and the ongoing loss of civil liberties around the globe, there are plenty of real things to be scared about. Bird flu just keeps our minds occupied with things we can do very little about.
3) It’s just us humans. Let's face it, we have always been a bit stupid when it comes to being faced with a prospective panic. It's what we do best. We must like being scared.