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Bird Flu - Archives

Pandemic Panic

Who Will Die?
Who will die in a flu pandemic? And who will handle all the dead bodies? TPM Cafe tells us.

Meanwhile, according to a WHO official
, a bird flu pandemic is "almost certain" - in the long term. The short term outlook is "less clear".
June 1st, 2007


More Reasons to Panic
An ultra-severe flu pandemic could kill 140 million people worldwide and cost the global economy more than $4 trillion, according to a new computer model:

An ultra pandemic would cause recessions in the developed world, cutting GDP by 5.5% in the United States and 8% in Europe

...On the other hand, such a pandemic would hammer developing countries....The GDP of Indonesia would drop by 18%. Output in Singapore would shrink by 22%, in the Philippines by 38% and in Hong Kong by 54%.

November 13th, 2006


I Haven't Gone Away
The Toronto Sun reminds us that we should still be panicking.

Here's the headline:

Killer pandemic 'going to happen'

And here's the first sub-head:

World must prepare for the worst, expert warns

And the next sub-head:


Meanwhile, here's a headline in the Cincinnati Enquirer:

We're not ready for flu pandemic
November 8th, 2006


Winter's Coming - Time to Panic
Britain's sensationalist Sunday People newspaper reports:

Millions of potential killers carrying deadly bird flu are heading to Britain.

More than three million birds have started their annual migration from Scandinavia, Russia and Canada to spend winter in our milder climate.

And experts warn that some will have the lethal HN51 strain of bird flu which has killed at least 76 people worldwide.

In Russia last year 13,000 birds died of the disease and 113,000 were culled to prevent further outbreaks.

Britain's deputy chief veterinary officer, Fred Landeg, said: "Far from going away, there is an increased likelihood of finding the virus here. We must be vigilant. We're ready to deal with outbreaks."

The disease could also devastate poultry farms.

October 9th, 2006


What Happened to the Pandemic Panic?

A Post Chronicle columnist wonders:

Did I sleep through the "Avian Bird Flu" pandemic? It seems like only yesterday that the media was warning that millions of lives could be lost to this killer, even in advanced nations like America.

...However, just when one is ready to celebrate the eradication of one pandemic, another life-threatening malady is showcased. This time, it's reports of the "Obesity Pandemic" that has medical professionals wringing their chubby hands with angst.

Imagine this, if you can. I recently put on 35 pounds to be strong enough to ward off Avian Bird Flu, and now they tell me that obesity is the greater threat.

September 11th, 2006


Badminton players are panic-buying goose-feather shuttlecocks. Bird flu fears have led to the cull of millions of geese, and a resultant shortage of top-quality shuttlecocks.
August 2nd, 2006


Pandemic Panic
1. A bird flu pandemic could send firms with weak balance sheets "spiralling into bankruptcy," according to a senior World Bank official. Airlines would be particularly exposed.

2. US funeral companies would be hard pressed to meet demand for their services in a bird flu pandemic, because of the sheer volume of dead, and stringent public health rules that would likely be put into effect, according to Reuters.

3. Commodity prices would fall less and recover faster than other assets if there were a bird flu pandemic, according to a prominent fund manager. 
June 30th, 2006


The Pandemic Pandemic (Or Is It Just an Epidemic?)

What’s the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic? Even though, as a writer, I’m in the word business, I hadn’t really thought about this. But Fort Wayne News-Banner columnist Mark Miller has. He reports:


It strikes me that the latest word to become a fad is “pandemic.” The word is absolutely everywhere. It’s become almost synonymous with the bird flu threat, and I’ve seen it applied to other issues as well.


These things used to be called an epidemic, I think. Don’t hear that word anymore at all.


...According to Mr. Webster:


epidemic: “affecting or tending to affect many individuals within a population, community or region at the same time; excessively prevalent.”


pandemic: “occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population.”


Both can be used as either as an adjective and a noun.


It appears a pandemic might be considered worse, or at least more widely spread, than an epidemic. Hence, it is safe to say we are experiencing a pandemic pandemic.

May 16th, 2006


A Stomach-Clenching Sense of Panic

China’s Xinhua news agency reports on life in America:

An alarmist TV movie "Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in
America"  being shown in the U.S. now has aroused a stomach-clenching sense of panic among the American public.


A terrific movie, "Fatal Contact" tells a fictitious but vivid story of an avian flu pandemic threatening millions of lives.


An exaggeration? The Medical News Today reports:


We have received 112 emails from people in the USA with questions ranging from ‘How could other countries be so selfish as to withhold vaccines?' to ‘I woke up with a temperature and a cough this morning, do you think I may have caught the bird flu?'


As the movie was pure fiction, not a documentary, and bird flu has not yet arrived in the USA, it baffles me how people can be angry at other countries or wonder whether they are infected.

May 11th, 2006


Pandemic Panic (Update)

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said on Sunday that the US is “overdue for a pandemic, but we're under-prepared.”

Ifzal Ali, the Asian Development Bank's chief economist, has warned that bird flu is “one of the most underrated threats to Asia's fast-growing economies and could wipe out over $300 billion of their gross output.”

American vets are concerned that Tuesday night’s tele-movie, "Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America" will “cause unnecessary panic among the public, leading to a destructive, harmful or unhealthy response."
May 8th, 2006


Pandemic Panic

In America:


“I have a bunch of patients coming in here who are more worried about bird flu than they are about heart disease,” said Dr. Marc Siegel, an internist and associate professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine. “The fear is out of proportion to the current risk.”


On the stock market:


Shares of Tyson Foods Inc., the nation's largest chicken and beef producer, fell Thursday after the company slashed its earnings outlook because bird flu fears are suppressing demand and prices for exported chicken.


In Denmark:


Danish airport authorities briefly quarantined a Singapore Airlines flight on Thursday over fears a passenger might have bird flu.


In Europe:


A study published in The Lancet today claims Europe is only "moderately prepared" ahead of a potential flu pandemic.


…Dr Richard Coker, the report's lead author said: "Wide gaps exist in the pandemic preparedness of European nations.


"With the ongoing spread of the H5N1 avian influenza virus in birds and the impending threat of a pandemic, European nations need to work together to adequately prepare for the onset of such a pandemic."

April 21st, 2006



And now we’re hearing talk again – from several sources – of a looming bird flu pandemic.


In China, agriculture minister Du Qinglin told the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress that “in view of the current situation, the possibility of a massive bird flu outbreak could not be ruled out."


Meanwhile, a lengthy commentary in the International Herald Tribune warns:

Despite the commitment of billions of dollars to the fight against pandemic influenza, the world may lose the battle against avian flu, for lack of an effective strategy. Much of the money - nearly $4 billion from
U.S. taxpayers, alone - is being spent inappropriately.

February 27th, 2006


Learn How to Bury Your Dead

Reuters reports from a conference in the US on how to prepare for a bird flu pandemic:


When burying a body in the backyard, don't put it too close to the septic system. That was one piece of advice offered on Wednesday to a business conference on preparing for a potentially lethal bird flu pandemic.


Preparations for a global flu pandemic, which many experts believe is overdue, have begun but the grisly details are horrific and the number of sick could quickly overwhelm the health care system.


…In Seattle, public health officials are weighing the ramifications of hospitals overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of sick people and the need for thousands of body bags.


"We talk about how people should bury their dead in their backyards, how far from the septic systems," said Dorothy Teeter, director of the King County public health department in Seattle. "In case you're wondering, it's $20 apiece for high-quality body bags. In New Orleans (after Hurricane Katrina) they had to double-bag bodies."

February 17th, 2006


New Zealand’s Pandemic Panic

What is it with New Zealand (where I was born)? It’s unlikely to be any more affected by bird flu than any other Western nation, and as a remote island country might be even less hurt. Yet it seems the government and media there have gone bananas over the prospect of a pandemic. It’s prompted this reaction:


The government's preparations for a possible outbreak of bird flu are being panned as being completely over the top.

This week the Ministry of Health began distributing leaflets explaining how New Zealanders should prepare for a possible pandemic. It is already stockpiling shots of the ant-viral drug Tamiflu.

But Macquarie University professor Peter Curson, from Australia, said New Zealand is getting into a flap over nothing. He said the government is reacting to something that is very unlikely to happen.

Peter Curson said the country would be better off declaring a pandemic of some of the real health problems it has, like diabetes and obesity.


And here’s another commentary:


Is it not time the New Zealand Herald [the country’s biggest daily newspaper] was renamed the New Zealand Hysteria? Such a change would certainly seem justified after a bizarre article this week on how to survive the eschatological ravages of H5N1.


Readers were advised to stock up on bottled water, to buy a barbecue to cook on and to remember that hot water cylinders are drinkable.


Who would have known that a flu virus would knock out electricity, water and gas supplies? There were other such helpful hints - that empty plastic bottles are dandy for storing water, swimming pools can be used for sanitation and canned food does need a can opener.


The best advice was at the end. "Supermarkets," the newspaper breathlessly advised, "would remain open, but with fewer staff." So why do I need all those cans? And won't my neighbour get upset if I use his kidney-shaped bather for my ablutions?


This pandemic panic is being fuelled by health policy advisers to justify their jobs, the media to fill an otherwise bare news desert, and local bodies to justify their excessive rates demands.

January 23rd, 2006


A Pandemic in Two Years

A Russian scientist has stated bluntly that a bird flu pandemic will arrive in two years.


The director of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences’ Influenza Institute, Oleg Kiselyov, said that a global epidemic of bird flu will occur in two years, Interfax reported Wednesday. “A pandemic will occur, and it will occur in two years,” Kiselyov told journalists at a science workshop conference in the Russian Agricultural Sciences Academy.

December 15th, 2005


The Upside of Pandemic

A psychologist tells the Birmingham Business Journal the difference between productive worry about bird flu and unproductive worry:


Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says the very word pandemic is scary indeed, and some within the general population are panicking about the possibility of the occurrence "because it's been brought to our attention almost daily."


"I suppose the upside is that pandemic doesn't make epidemic sound so bad," Klapow says. The problem, he says, is not the news media's reporting in general but rather the repeated use of sound bites that reduce the average citizen's exposure to the subject to words and phrases like "pandemic," "not prepared" and "millions dead."


"The bottom line is that there's a lot more to public health issues than the doom and gloom people focus on, and it clearly becomes a situation of productive versus unproductive worrying," Klapow says.


Productive worrying involves variables people can control; unproductive worrying involves intangibles. "Unproductive worrying doesn't get you anywhere, and it causes unnecessary stress, so it becomes a question of how do you take that worry about something you can't possibly control and channel it into productive actions," he says.


"We can be as panicked as we want about a flu pandemic, but in the process we put our bodies at risk for contracting illness because heightened stress compromises our immune systems."


Klapow suggests backtracking to what is known rather than what could possibly be. The reality is that influenza season has arrived and, even under normal conditions, a small percentage of the U.S. population grows gravely ill and even dies from flu-related complications each year. Another known factor is that the flu is highly contagious, so infected people should not work while ill. Doing so prolongs the duration of the sick person's recovery while exposing his or her co-workers to the virus.


"Sick employees put an entire office at risk, and healthy habits provide employees more control to not only eliminate fear about a pandemic but also do something to directly create a safer workplace," he says. Adequate sleep, exercise, proper diet and keeping stress levels in check all strengthen an individual's immune system and decrease the chances of falling ill in the first place. "Far and away the biggest impact on health -- whether bacterial infection, virus or chronic disease -- the biggest impact comes from what people do or don't do every day," Klapow says.

December 13th, 2005


It May Never Happen

A bird flu pandemic may not occur, says a prominent scientist, contradicting the claims of inevitability from many others.


"It may never happen," said Jeremy Farrar, director of Oxford University's clinical research unit at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Dr Farrar said weaknesses inherent in the virus might explain why it had not killed more people and had not been passed from human to human in the two years since the first outbreak.


…"There may be constraints on the virus so that it may not be able to mutate and retain its nastiness and also go from one human to another," he said. "We haven't seen a case in Ho Chi Minh City for several months."


…"Why have so few people been infected, given the billions of poultry across Asia and so many people exposed to them on a daily basis?" Dr Farrar said.

December 12th, 2005


Then Panic

Headline at, from a story in South Africa’s Business Day:


'Don't Panic, Wait 'Til Bird Flu Arrives, Then Panic'

December 10th, 2005


Panic Early

The Edmonton Journal in Canada is out to terrify us. Its headline is “Survival Strategies: Stock up and steel yourself for 'societal disruption',” and underneath is a photo of a woman in a face mask. A lengthy article suggests we should panic early.


It starts with a snapshot of life today for Hans Machel:


Machel is so alarmed by the swelling mountain of research warning of an influenza pandemic that the University of Alberta earth sciences professor has enough food, water and emergency supplies to hole up at home for two weeks.


That includes gasoline stored safely in his garage and a 14-day supply of Tamiflu in his fridge, medicine that can ease influenza's aches and coughs.


"I'm using common sense," Machel says. "If half or even just a third of the population is ill, so ill they can't perform their job -- take half the people out of general society, gas stations, banks, grocery stores -- society as we know it will go belly up."


Then Sherry Cooper, chief economist for BMO Nesbitt Burns, describes what might happen at the first sign of the pandemic:


Crowds of worried shoppers will empty store shelves of emergency supplies such as bottled water, canned food and generators.


People also will rush pharmacies for essential medications and medical products such as insulin, she says in an October report on pandemic influenza titled “Don't Fear Fear or Panic Panic: An Economist's View of Pandemic Flu.”


"With today's global supply chain, shortages would soon develop," Cooper writes. To preserve supplies, shoppers may face rationing.


Meanwhile, we will wait for this highly contagious disease, popping up like weeds around the world as travellers spread the virus, to make its way here.


Read it all. Then panic.

December 5th, 2005


How Much Should I Worry?

The Times columnist Camilla Cavendish wonders if she is over-reacting to the bird flu scare.


I started to wonder whether I was getting a bit bird-brained about all this when I found myself surfing the web to buy Tamiflu…Humans are not rational beings, of course. And what, in any case, is a rational response to a small but real probability of something truly awful happening? Should we now lay siege to spice shops and Indian restaurants, since the main ingredient in Tamiflu is star anise? The medics are no help; they seem entranced by visions of apocalypse.


….It is deeply irritating to be panicked by institutions that could do very little if bird flu struck, but that are simultaneously talking up the risk and failing to do what they should. In the US, an H5N1 vaccine is being tested that might help if the virus mutates — but here our ministers still cannot get their heads round how our factories could ever make enough. Only a few years ago, another devastating virus was predicted. It was called the Millennium Bug. Everyone had a contingency plan, but none was needed. It may be our duty as mothers to worry — but not quite so much.

December 2nd, 2005


Chicken Consumption - How Much Will It Fall?

The daughters of one of my wife’s best friends now refuse to eat chicken, fearing bird flu. They know you don’t get bird flu from cooked poultry, and in any case they know you don’t get bird flu here in Australia. But better safe than sorry.


I suspect a lot of people around the world are starting to think like that. Are global chicken sales about to nosedive?....continue reading Chicken Consumption - How Much Will It Fall?
November 10th, 2005

Ornithological Armageddon

Disaster experts from the Asia-Pacific region are meeting in Brisbane today to coordinate a response to any bird flu pandemic. However, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) is calling on delegates to the conference to act with caution. According to AMA president Mukesh Haikerwal, "From the evidence and the incidence of bird flu that is out there at the moment, it is probably a bit early and irresponsible to be talking of widespread doom, destruction and death. People need to be able to get on with their lives without the prospect of some sort of ornithological Armageddon creating fear in the community."

October 31st, 2005


Aussie Newspapers Whip up a Panic

“Panic about a possible bird flu pandemic sweeps the nation,” according to the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, citing as evidence a doctor who said “patients were swarming into her Eastern Suburbs practice claiming they were travelling to Asia or had been placed on a waiting list for the drug by a chemist and wanted a script.”


And on the website of the Telegraph’s parent company is a report that, “some doctors and medical workers have devised ‘exit strategies’ to flee their homes if human-to-human bird flu takes hold.” Not a shred of evidence is presented.

October 24th, 2005


Canada Gets Worried

The economic costs of a flu pandemic could rival the impact of the Great Depression, according to Canada’s Health Minister.


Meanwhile, a Canadian economist, Sherry Cooper, has told CBC News that a major flu outbreak


"would lead governments everywhere to shut down their borders, or, in effect, ground airplanes, because people would not want to travel, and that would be the end of the major trade in goods and services, at least for some period of time….And, given our global supply chains, there would develop shortages in many, many goods, many products, across the world very quickly." It would be hard to maintain food supplies "even across provincial lines, let alone across international lines," she added


She also said that she did not want to “generate fear unnecessarily.”


The same CBC News report said the Conference Board of Canada has warned that “a flu pandemic on a large scale would throw the world into a sudden and possibly dramatic global recession."

October 19th, 2005


Will We All Die?

Is there a vaccine and how can I get it F-A-S-T?


Don’t hold your breath (unless there’s a chicken about).


So says an amusing and lengthy report in Britain’s The Sunday Times, titled “How to Survive Bird Flu” and sub-titled “The deadly H5N1 virus is heading our way. Will we all die?”


It carries a lot of practical information, and ends with reassurance:



We humans love to scare ourselves, but rarely do our worst fears come to be — partly because we worry so much. Consider these scares of the past…


Here’s the list:


Global nuclear holocaust

Global cooling

The millennium bug

Mad Cow disease



October 16th, 2005


Believing in Fairy Tales

Reuters has published a pessimistic article about the chances of stopping a pandemic. Here are some quotes:


"To believe that you can contain this locally is to believe in fairy tales," said Mike Osterholm, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Minnesota.


Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO's assistant director-general for communicable diseases, told Britain's Times newspaper that cooperation had worsened since the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed about 800 people before it was contained. "That was a time when we were really working together as an international community of academics, politicians, public health experts. Everybody really was so focused," the newspaper quoted Chan as saying.


Even in advanced nations like the United States, little has been done to help provide even basic care for pandemic flu patients, the American College of Emergency Physicians said. "Many hospital emergency departments in this country are operating at, or over current capacity," said ACEP president Dr. Rick Blum. "We as a nation, have poured millions of dollars into preparedness, but virtually none of that has gone to the one place that is the true first response to something like a flu epidemic, or a hurricane, or a terrorist attack -- the nation's emergency departments."

October 12th, 2005