The Bird Flu Blog

This blog deals with the bird (avian) flu epidemic, the feared bird flu pandemic and its implications on human health.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Bird Flu Vaccine? Impact of Avian Flu on Birds

New reports of bird flu being discovered in new countries come almost every day. Reuters posted a few days ago a factsheet entitled Bird flu in Europe, listing over 20 European countries with documented cases of bird flu. Experts estimate the epidemic will reach birds in US in less than 6 months.

On March 10, WHO said there were a total of 176 confirmed human cases of avian flu, with 97 deaths. At least one more human death occured since then in Egypt.

These are all sad news.

I wish we would hear more about the impact of this devastating disease among bird populations, too. And for a good reason. In Turkey alone, the authorities have culled around 2.3 million poultry to date... Other countries have followed suit, culling hundreds of thousands of birds in a desperate attempt to stave the spread of disease.

You may think these were necessary measures, and I agree. But I think we should not stop there. There is conclusive evidence that the industrial farming methods that make ever-cheaper chicken possible may also have created the lethal strain of bird flu virus, H5N1, that threatens to set off a global pandemic (I strongly encourage you to read the article under the previous link...). Which means we, humans, are to a significant degree responsible for what is happening.

Recently I've come accros this funny yet thought-provoking cartoon from PETA. As they state in their article, it’s not farfetched that a vegetarian diet could have prevented this deadly disease. The problem is becoming vegetarian, though healthy as it may be, is not a popular choice in our culture.

Yet we do have a choice...

The Avian Flu Doc

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Bird Flu Hype

With the recent human cases of bird flu diagnosed in Turkey and Indonesia, the media is playing the bird flu pandemic theme with all the bells and whistles again. Along the same lines, 33 countries and multilateral institutions pledged $1.9 billion to fight the disease at the January 18 Conference on Bird Flu in China. And with the recent announcement from the WHO that bird flu viruses are able to survive in bird droppings for more than a month in cold weather, most people feel the dangers of a bird flu pandemic are more real than ever.

But let's stop and think for a minute. How many people were killed by the bird flu virus so far? In nine years, the virus has infected only 144 people, killing 75 - all of them in Asia.

To put things into perspective, think about this: cancer kills more than one American every minute. I know, you may think this is not a fair comparison - after all, there is not much we can do about cancer... Or is it? The reality is that at least 70% of all cancers CAN be prevented by simple lifestyle changes. If you want to find out the details, please read my article on How to Prevent Cancer.

Then how come we hardly hear about cancer prevention on daily news programs, whereas bird flu is a regular topic?

Good question. I don't know all the answers, but I can think of at least two:
  1. Most people don't like to change their lifestyle. When I tell patients they should change the way they eat, they should do more exercise, etc., the typical reaction is: "You are taking away from me all the good things of life... I almost feel life is not worth living anymore..."
  2. Cancer prevention by changing ones lifestyle is hardly sensational. It takes a lifetime of commitment, and the results are not sudden and sensational. On the contrary, the bird flu has the potential of becoming a pandemic, is not under our direct control and thus is perfect for the media.

It is not my purpose to downplay the real dangers of a bird flu pandemic. My point, though, is that we often ignore real, present dangers to our health and spend too much time and energy trying to avert potential, future dangers we may never face...

I believe we would all be much better off is we'd make the effort to put everything in perspective.

The Avian Flu Doc

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Life In A Flu Pandemic

Imagine the bird flu pandemic happened. What would everyday life be like?

Well, for one thing, a pervading sense of fear would descend on most people. Most of us would be afraid to go to public places. Shopping, eating out, church going, using public transportation, going to school or work would suddenly change from routine activities to high risk, best to be avoided undertakings. To say nothing about going to the doctor...

At night we would dream of living in isolated bubbles and during the day we would wear masks and keep as long a distance from others as possible. We'd suddenly become experts in recognizing the signs of respiratory infections.

Imagine the impact on family life. During the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, panic was so strong that, according to historian John Barry, author of The Great Influenza, "close blood relatives were so frightened that they would not feed a family where people were starving to death".

This May 29, 1919 photograph shows rows of tents that had been set up on a lawn
at Emery Hill in Lawrence, Massachusetts where victims of the 1918 influenza
pandemic were treated.

One can wonder how would people react today in a flu pandemic... Would we be more capable of humanistic gestures today?

I have my doubts... Humans have not changed in the last century too much. The instinct of self-preservation is too strong in the majority of us... Unless you have experienced the true love Jesus talked about:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

The Avian Flu Doc