How To Stop The Avian Flu

Chicken being de-beaked
There has been a lot of news lately about the avian flu — scientists have recreated the strain of virus that caused the 1918 “Spanish” flu, Bush has called for production of new vaccine, experts are saying that nobody anywhere in the world is prepared for the flu, a man in Indonesia died from a strain, etc. etc.

I’m very skeptical of the whole thing. Every winter now for the past few years there has been some medical crisis that failed to materialize in any serious way: SARS, “bird flu,” contaminated flu vaccines, etc. None of them turned out to be as serious as “experts” told us.

(That is not to say that nobody has died or that I don’t think these are legitimate medical concerns. What really bothers me is the way the media and American public, in general, gets all worked up about these things. SARS and avian flu are a legitimate concern for Asia, yes, but in the U.S. I really think people need to stop freaking out.)

And now, again, as winter approaches the avian flu (the “politically correct,” it seems, name for the “bird flu”) is starting to freak people out again.

I’m not a biologist or anything, but first I just want to set one thing straight: The flu virus that everyone is afraid of doesn’t even exist yet. Right now, the avian flu that has killed people is just that — an avian flu. That is, a flu virus that affects birds. It has “jumped” to some humans, but even after jumping, the flu that has killed is still the avian flu. It has not mutated into a form that is transmissible from human to human.

Yes, if that happens it will be very bad because humans do not have the antibodies to fight a virus that originated in humans. The avian flu is unlike the common flu viruses that affect humans so we have no immunity against it.

So basically, while the media is hyping up the avian flu, keep in mind that what everyone is worrying about is something that doesn’t even exist yet. And it may never exist. I mean, lots of animals have different flu strains and I am sure there are random cases where those strains are passed onto humans but for the most part, those viruses haven’t mutated so that they can pass from human-to-human. From what I understand, we’re worried about the avian flu because it is especially deadly, not because it is especially prone to mutation (like the HIV virus).

That said, if people around the world are really as serious as they seem to be about stopping the avian flu before it becomes a major concern, it seems to me that the best thing to do would be to stop eating poultry.

And yes, I know that people don’t catch the avian flu from eating meat from birds with the flu.

These chickens are getting sick because they are kept in extremely close quarters with other chickens, which means it is much easier for the avian flu to spread. Plus, the conditions that these chickens live in are extremely unsanitary. Plus the chickens are constantly pecking at each other causing lots of wounds and bleeding (that is, if they haven’t been de-beaked). I’m more familiar with the situation of factory farm chickens in the United States, but I can only assume that situations are the same, if not worse, in Southeast Asia where the avian flu has broken out.

Remember that the influenza pandemic of 1918 was very likely made worse due to close quarters during World War I and the general malnourishment of people around the world due to various side effects of the war. Chickens are in a similar position now.

So if leaders around the world were truly concerned about a global outbreak and honestly wanted to do everything in their power to prevent it, perhaps they would suggest that we instate a moratorium on eating poultry until scientists have a chance to get a better understanding of the virus and/or the avian flu epidemic among the birds subsides.

It’s the same thing with Mad Cow disease. If people really wanted to stop it, they would stop eating meat.

Now I know that this comes down to personal choices and freedom and all of that, which I totally understand. What I dislike is that people say they want something to stop and they say they are afraid of it, but then they do nothing to stop it.

When HIV/AIDS became a very serious threat to the (especially) gay community in the late-1980s/early-1990s, for the most part, gay men took the threat seriously and made sacrifices of please (arguably) to practice safer sex. They may have enjoyed not using condoms, but make a conscious decision that the sacrifice was worth it. And for a while HIV infections plummeted. (The recent rise may debunk this argument, but that’s another topic…)

But I’m guessing that when it comes to stopping to eat meat, people aren’t that serious about stopping diseases directly related to those choices and that all this talk of “nipping it in the bud” is just empty rhetoric to make people feel better while at the same time keeping them at bay in fear.

Really, and this gets into a larger, broader discussion that perhaps I will open up later, this current “culture of fear” in which we are inundated with threat (terrorism, spyware, avian flu, gas prices, etc.) has no purpose other than to scare people. Rarely is insightful, helpful information provided by the government and/or media, and even less so are people actually called to action to change their lives in order to truly prevent the threat that we are so afraid of. I’m not sure (or, maybe I am?) what’s going on here, but it seems very disingenuine and manipulative.

3 thoughts on “How To Stop The Avian Flu”

  1. This is a great post, Jason. The last paragraph reminds me of a book I’ve been meaning to read called The Culture of Fear by Barry Glassner. Have you read it? I think I’ll push it to the top of my reading list.

  2. I haven’t read that, but I should. The more and more I’ve been thinking lately, we really do live in a culture of fear. I, for one, would tie it back to religion, so I’m curious what Glassner says.

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