Thursday 8 December 2016

Bird Flu: Are they our feathered friends or foes?

March 2006


Question

I should warn you: this isn't a query about matters psychic and therefore I don't know if it's something that you normally deal with in your Ask Alan column. However, I've been noticing a lot in the news recently about the bird flu that is sweeping across Asia and Europe. All the reports are that this could be something that has serious implications for human health, and not just in those countries it's already hit. My question is motivated purely by self-interest: Do you think bird flu will reach the US and, if so, will it have any impact on the human population?

I look forward to hearing your views.

Martha

Answer

Dear Martha, I have to say that I am appalled and disgusted by the press coverage of the bird flu. With such shock statistics that over 100 million could die and that global economic losses could run into the trillions of dollars a chill has naturally blown across the world making nearly everyone wonder whether that little sniffle is just that or something much more sinister.

I say shame on the press and shame on the governments that are making political hay out of this. That's right, I sense that many of those less-developed countries are being strong armed into policy shifts and into surrendering many of their rights all in the name of avian influenza defences. Ultimately we'll see how it was linked not just to exchange rate controls but to the free flow of goods and people.

Birds are to become the newest face of terrorism. But will their weapon fire or fizzle? Here are my predictions.

I'm going to go out on a limb here as I predict that the pandemic will not come to pass. Is that because the threat wasn't there or because the response will be that effective? Well, I sense that a sledgehammer has been sent when a mere mallet would have done the job – if properly directed. You see, hindsight will reveal that we were looking at the risk all wrong. Wild birds won't have been the cause of all the problems but rather the conditions in which our domestic birds have been kept.

While it won't be nearly as bad as the doom and gloom prognosticators would have us believe, there is more to come. I predict additional cases will be found in France and across Europe. Spain will expand its avian quarantine policy even though the virus won't be found there. Similarly, I predict that the bird flu will not be discovered in mainland Britain, nor will it be confirmed in the continental United States.

So we can all let out a phew as a sign of relief, right? Well, not exactly. You see, the poultry farmers are going to be hit hard. Much harder than the media spotlight will reveal. And remember that virus mutation? It will take place and mix with the various strains making outbreaks much riskier. It won't affect just birds and humans, but other animals as well!

I predict that we are going to see a human death toll in the high hundreds to low thousands – far from the millions so-called experts have estimated.

In the end, I see that the influenza outbreak of 2006 won't be seen as a particularly bad year after all. If only we could learn the lessons for what's just lurking around the corner…but that's another prediction for another month!

Thanks again for your questions and I hope that I've put your mind at rest.

And with that, I wish you all the best!

Alan

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