Bird Flu

Doctor Strangelove meets Peak Oil?

factory farming of food animals is a threat to human health -- the threat of "bird flu" is a good reason to drop mass production of farm animals that spreads disease - vegan diets would also significantly reduce energy and water overconsumption

the Homeland Security Act passed with little dissent in Congress provides surreal powers for Bush/Cheney to round up populations, close down transportation systems, forcibly inject you and yours with experimental treatments (without liability to anyone) - let's hope some sanity prevails and the nightmare biowar scenario is averted

public health prevention programs would be a much better expenditure of money and effort than more wars to destroy entire populations whose main "crime" is live near fossil energy resources

Go vegetarian to avoid bird flu, says rights group

BEIJING (Reuters) - Scared about getting bird flu? Then the only really safe way to protect yourself is to go vegetarian, an animal rights group said on Tuesday.
Headlining a new Chinese and English language Web site ( "Avian flu: it's your fault," the Asia Pacific branch of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says it is drawing attention to unsavory factory farming practices.
The cramming together of thousands of chickens in buildings where the birds are never allowed outside and live in their own filth was an ideal breeding ground for disease, the group said in a statement.
"Avian flu is just one symptom of a very sick and cruel industry," it quoted PETA Asia-Pacific director Jason Baker as saying.
"With diseases running rampant in crowded, filthy factory farms and the significant health risks posed by the 'backyard'-type farms common in Asia, the safest thing to do with chicken flesh is to avoid it like the plague," he said.
Bird flu has killed about 100 people in Asia and the Middle East since 2003, including 11 people in China, and experts fear the virus could mutate and spread easily from human to human.
They also say properly cooked poultry and eggs should pose no danger, though they warn people to stay well clear of birds which have died of sickness in case it be avian influenza.
© Copyright Reuters Ltd. All rights reserved. The information contained In this news report may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of Reuters Ltd.

Fowl play: The poultry industry's central role in the bird flu crisis
GRAIN | February 2006

Backyard or free-range poultry are not fuelling the current wave of bird flu outbreaks stalking large parts of the world. The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu is essentially a problem of industrial poultry practices. Its epicentre is the factory farms of China and Southeast Asia and -- while wild birds can carry the disease, at least for short distances -- its main vector is the highly self-regulated transnational poultry industry, which sends the products and waste of its farms around the world through a multitude of channels. Yet small poultry farmers and the poultry biodiversity and local food security that they sustain are suffering badly from the fall-out. To make matters worse, governments and international agencies, following mistaken assumptions about how the disease spreads and amplifies, are pursuing measures to force poultry indoors and further industrialise the poultry sector. In practice, this means the end of the small-scale poultry farming that provides food and livelihoods to hundreds of millions of families across the world. This paper presents a fresh perspective on the bird flu story that challenges current assumptions and puts the focus back where it should be: on the transnational poultry industry.
Clusterfuck Nation: A Glimpse into the Future
by Jim Kunstler

.... Finally we must consider the question of epidemic disease, which can be thought of as a consequence of many of the problems mentioned above: overpopulation, population movements due to climate change, poverty, military mischief, even destabilized oil markets. A worldwide influenza epidemic on the order of the 1918 Spanish Flu is overdue. The world barely missed one such catastrophe two years ago when a chicken flu broke out in Hong Kong and was contained only by mass extermination at the giant factory farms where the disease spawned. Factory farming itself may be a menace to human life. I know intelligent people who believe that mad cow disease and other Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs) will decimate the human population of Europe over the next forty years. Global warming is sure to increase the range and lethality of current malaria strains, and other diseases (e.g., west Nile virus). People who are starving tend to process a lot of rats. Bubonic plague still exists. AIDS is obviously rampant in sub-Saharan Africa and becoming worse in Asia. Drug-resistant tuberculosis runs wild in Russia.

Stratfor subscribers have been sending us a steady river of requests for our opinion on the bird flu situation. Although we are not medical experts, among our sources are those who are. And here is what we have been able to conclude based on their input and our broader analysis of the bird flu threat:
Calm down.
Now let us qualify that: Since December 2003, the H5N1 bird flu virus -- which has caused all the ruckus -- has been responsible for the documented infection of 121 people, 91 one of whom caught the virus in Vietnam. In all cases where information on the chain of infection has been confirmed, the virus was transmitted either by repeated close contact with fowl or via the ingestion of insufficiently cooked chicken products. In not a single case has human-to-human communicability been confirmed. So long as that remains the case, there is no bird flu threat to the human population of places such as Vietnam at large, much less the United States. ....

Yes, H5N1 does show a propensity to mutate; and, yes, sooner or later another domesticated animal disease will cross over into the human population (most common human diseases have such origins). But there is no scientifically plausible reason to expect such a crossover to be imminent.
But if you are trying to find something to worry about, you should at least worry about the right thing.
A virus can mutate in any host, and pound for pound, the mutations that are of most interest to humanity are obviously those that occur within a human host. That means that each person who catches H5N1 due to a close encounter of the bird kind in effect becomes a sort of laboratory that could foster a mutation and that could have characteristics that would allow H5N1 to be communicable to other humans. Without such a specific mutation, bird flu is a problem for turkeys, but not for the non-turkey farmers among us.
But we are talking about a grand total of 115 people catching the bug over the course of the past three years. That does not exactly produce great odds for a virus -- no matter how genetically mutable -- to evolve successfully into a human-communicable strain. And bear in mind that the first-ever human case of H5N1 was not in 2003 but in 1997. There is not anything fundamentally new in this year's bird flu scare.
A more likely vector, therefore, would be for H5N1 to leap into a species of animal that bears similarities to human immunology yet lives in quarters close enough to encourage viral spread -- and lacks the capacity to complete detailed questionnaires about family health history.
The most likely candidate is the pig. On many farms, birds and pigs regularly intermingle, allowing for cross-infection, and similar pig-human biology means that pigs serving in the role as mutation incubator are statistically more likely than the odd Vietnamese raw-chicken eater to generate a pandemic virus.
And once the virus mutates into a form that is pig-pig transferable, a human pandemic is only one short mutation away. Put another way, a bird flu pandemic among birds is manageable. A bird flu pandemic among pigs is not, and is nearly guaranteed to become a human pandemic.


Senate Democrats Seek $4 Billion to Fight Bird Flu
By Richard Cowan
Friday 30 September 2005

Washington - A group of Senate Democrats on Thursday sought to add nearly $4 billion to the US fight against the deadly avian flu, with most of the money to be used to stock up on an anti-viral drug.
But a Senate vote on the measure might be delayed until next week and an influential Republican, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, said he would try to kill the effort.
Avian flu among flocks in Asia has been growing for several years and outbreaks have been spotted in parts of Russia. So far, 65 people in Asia who are thought to have had close contact with infected birds have died since 2003.
Scientists fear that a mutation of the H5N1 virus could make it transmissible among humans, sparking a worldwide epidemic that could kill millions of people.
"It's the midnight hour. We have to get moving on it now, not next year, not after some study group in the White House bangs this thing around for another three months," said Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat.
Harkin, with the backing of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, wants the government to spend nearly $3.1 billion to stockpile enough doses of an anti-viral drug for half of the US population.
Harkin said there are only 2 million doses on hand now, enough for 1 percent of the population.
'We Ought to Wait'
Two anti-viral drugs have been shown to ease avian flu symptoms and maybe even prevent it. Switzerland's Roche Holding AG makes Tamiflu, known generically as oseltamivir, and GlaxoSmithKline makes Relenza, or zanamivir.
Under the Democrats' plan, other funds would be used to increase global surveillance for the disease, increase spending on a vaccine and help states and cities prepare for a large outbreak.
But Stevens said he feared a Senate floor fight over the $4 billion that would be attached to a fiscal 2006 funding bill for the Defense Department containing $50 billion in emergency money for the war in Iraq.
"To compare the money we have in this bill to fund them (US troops in Iraq) with funding a proposal to deal with virus ... that has not yet become a threat to human beings I think is wrong," Stevens said.
"We ought to wait for the scientists to tell us what needs to be done," Stevens added.
International organizations have urged the United States and other countries to be more aggressive against the avian flu outbreak.
A UN official on Thursday said a worldwide drive would be launched to combat a pandemic that could kill half of those infected.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, a surgeon, said he has called on Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt to complete a national preparedness plan.
It was unclear whether Frist would support Harkin's $4 billion proposal, which comes at a time when congressional Republicans are trying to cut domestic spending to help pay for hurricane relief.


WHO Tries to Play Down Expert Warning of 150 Million Deaths from Flu Pandemic
By Jeremy Laurance
The Independent UK
Saturday 01 October 2005

The World Health Organisation has moved to play down a cataclysmic warning by one of its own officials that a pandemic caused by the bird flu virus ravaging poultry flocks in the Far East could kill as many as 150 million people.
The prediction came from David Nabarro, a senior WHO expert on infectious diseases, who was appointed on Thursday as UN coordinator for avian and human influenza. He said the next pandemic could claim from five million up to 150 million lives.
Dr. Nabarro called on political leaders to take immediate action to halt a human pandemic, and said that the higher death figure could result if governments failed to act now.
A WHO spokesman at the agency's Geneva headquarters made a surprise appearance yesterday at the UN regular media briefing in an effort to put Dr. Nabarro's comments in context.
While he did not say the 150 million prediction was wrong, or even implausible, he said it was impossible to estimate how many could die. But he reiterated the WHO calculation that countries should prepare for 7.4 million deaths globally, arguing that was "the most reasoned position".
Scientists have made all sorts of predictions, ranging from fewer than two million to 360 million. Others have quoted 150 million. Last year, WHO's chief for the Asia-Pacific region predicted 100 million deaths, but until now that was the highest figure publicly mentioned by a WHO official.
Bird flu has been sweeping through poultry flocks and wild birds in Asia since 2003, killing millions, and has infected more than 100 humans, of whom more than 60 have died. This has proved that the strain of avian flu circulating in the Far East - H5N1 - is lethal to humans, with a death rate of more than 50 per cent.
The fear is that the virus may mutate so it becomes easily transmissible from human to human, triggering a lethal pandemic that would spread around the world.
Ordinary winter flu, which causes outbreaks in Britain and elsewhere each year, is one of the most infectious diseases known, and spreads rapidly among populations. If avian flu were to acquire the same level of infectivity, nothing would halt its spread around the globe.
In the UK, Sir Liam Donaldson, the Government's chief medical officer, said it was a "biological inevitability" that the next flu pandemic will cause serious harm to the health of people in Britain.
Tens of thousands of people will die in the pandemic which could strike as early as this winter or not for another decade, he warned. It was not a question of whether it would strike but when, Sir Liam said.
On BBC Radio 4, he said that contingency plans for the UK had not changed and were still based on 50,000 possible deaths. Asked if the UK was ready to face the threat, he said: "I don't think I would ever want to be as bold as to claim that."
He added: "It's inevitable that when the flu pandemic comes, and we don't know whether that will be next winter or even in five or 10 years' time, that it will have a very serious impact on the health of our country. That's a biological inevitability."
The UK has ordered 14.6 million doses of Tamiflu, an antiviral drug that cannot prevent avian flu but can lessen the symptoms, of which 900,000 doses have so far been delivered.
"Those won't eliminate the problem but for people who get it, it should reduce the severity of their attack and it should prevent many people from dying," Sir Liam said.
WHO officials say the only hope of halting the next pandemic would be to snuff it out at the start by detecting an outbreak early and treating the 20,000 people closest to the centre of the outbreak to prevent its spread.
The WHO is stockpiling three million doses of anti-viral drugs to be flown to any part of the world to be used in that eventuality.
Pandemic could create serious and sustained food shortages, expert warns
Helen Branswell
Canadian Press
June 20, 2005

(CP) - An influenza pandemic would dramatically disrupt the processing and distribution of food supplies across the world, emptying grocery store shelves and creating crippling shortages for months, an expert warned Thursday.
Dr. Michael Osterholm suggested policy makers must start intensive planning to figure out how to ensure food supplies for their populations during a time when international travel may be grounded or severely cut back, when workers are too sick to process or deliver food and when people will be too fearful of disease to gather in restaurants.
Food and other essential goods like drugs and surgical masks will be available at best in limited supplies, Osterholm cautioned in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, which devoted a number of articles to the threat of pandemic influenza.
He saved his most flatly worded warning, however, for a news conference organized by the Council on Foreign Relations, which publishes the respected journal. In an interview from Washington following the briefing, he repeated his blunt message of how dire things would be if a pandemic starts in the short term.
"We're pretty much screwed right now if it happens tonight," said Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Osterholm said the "just-in-time" delivery model by which modern corporations operate means food distribution networks don't have warehouses brimming with months worth of inventory.
Most grocery store chains have only several days worth of their most popular commodities in warehouses, he explained, with perhaps 30 days worth of stock for less popular items.
He pointed to the short-term shortages that occur when winter storms threaten communities, then suggested people envisage the possibility of those shortages dragging on for somewhere between 18 months and three years as the expected successive waves of pandemic flu buffet the world.
"I think we'll have a very limited food supply," he said in the interview.
"As soon as you shut down both the global travel and trade . . . and (add to it) the very real potential to shut down over-land travel within a country, there are very few areas that will be hit as quickly as will be food, given the perishable nature of it."
Osterholm has been one of the most vocal proponents of the urgent need to prepare for a flu pandemic that could sicken at least a third of the world's population and kill many millions. However, he is not alone in fearing the world may be facing a pandemic, widely viewed as the single most disruptive and deadly infectious disease event known to humankind.
The lingering outbreak of the H5N1 avian flu strain that has decimated poultry stocks in wide swathes of Southeast Asia has influenza experts the world over losing sleep over the possibility the highly virulent virus will mutate or evolve to the point where it can spread to and among humans, starting a pandemic.
According to the official World Health Organization tally, at least 103 people have been infected with H5N1 influenza since December 2003 in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia. That count doesn't include a farm worker in Indonesia who was recently confirmed to have been infected with - and recovered from - H5N1.
It also doesn't include six new cases which came to light this week in media reports from Vietnam. While Vietnamese authorities haven't notified WHO of the cases, the agency said in a statement Thursday the reports "appear to be accurate."
Official and unofficial tallies put the human death toll at 54 since December 2003.
Laurie Garrett, a fellow at the council, noted the unprecedented potential of a pandemic to wreak economic and political havoc.
"Frankly no models of social response to such a pandemic have managed to factor in fully the potential effect on human productivity," Garrett, a Pulitzer-prize winning former journalist and author of The Coming Plague, said in an article in the journal.
"It is therefore impossible to reckon accurately the potential global economic impact."
Osterholm said it is incumbent on governments to start identifying essential basic commodities and figuring out supply and delivery for a time when long-distance truckers may balk at travelling to affected communities and armed forces personnel may be too sick to fill in the gaps.
© The Canadian Press 2005
Bird flu: we're all going to die
By Charles Arthur
Published Thursday 2nd June 2005 11:25 GMT

The theme of the person awaking from a deep sleep or coma to find a world utterly changed is a popular one in science fiction. From John Wyndham's book The Day of The Triffids through The Omega Man to the recent film 28 Days Later, the trope of the man arising from his hospital bed to find that nothing is as it was has become well-worn.
That's fine - as long as it remains just a story. But if - when - a flu pandemic comes, and millions of people die around the world over a period of months, the reality will be one of two alternatives. It's either going to be like those films, with videoconferencing suddenly all the rage, local farm produce making a big profit, empty supermarket shelves (you have to ship the oil, and distribute the fuel, but can the Armed Forces really do all that?), tumbleweed blowing in the streets, a medieval attitude to anyone not from "around here".
Or else governments will impose a police state that will make all the ID cards and airport checks look like a tea party. You'd not be allowed to move anywhere without showing off a vaccination certificate. (Sure, you'd get those on the black market, and they'd cost more than £300, but would you really want them? If you're not vaccinated would you really want to travel among people who might be carriers?) Or it might be both at once.
One more thing. You might well be one of those millions who die in such a pandemic. If you travel to work on public transport; if colleagues in your company travel by air to Asia; if you're travelling abroad through a busy airport. You'll probably touch someone or share air with someone who's infected. The premise of Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys will become reality.
You may think this is overblown. But discussion of the possibility of a flu pandemic has fallen out of the news. And as the security consultant Bruce Schneier says:
"One of the things I routinely tell people is that if it's in the news, don't worry about it. By definition, 'news' means that it hardly ever happens. If a risk is in the news, then it's probably not worth worrying about. When something is no longer reported - automobile deaths, domestic violence - when it's so common that it's not news, then you should start worrying."
The risks posed by an outbreak of flu passed from chickens in the Far East, in coutries such as Vietnam and Thailand, burst into the news in February. But now they've passed out of the news. Since then we've had more important things, like the Crazy Frog ringtone, to concern us.
Time to worry. And the scientists are. In fact, they're edgier than I've seen them since the BSE outbreak was in its earliest days and people were wondering if it might pass to humans. Quite a few scientists stopped eating beef at that point. Oh, you didn't know?
Now, their reaction is to write papers and watch what's happening, very closely. If you read the scientific journals (we do, so you don't have to) the articles are piling up. Last week the journal Nature pulled together an entire online resource on the threat of avian flu.
That's the trouble with scientists. They get an idea into their heads - CFCs and ozone, carbon dioxide emissions and the greenhouse effect, the transmission of BSE to other species such as humans - and they worry away at it until they determine what the answer and the mechanism is.
Here's what's they're worrying about now. The First World War killed seven million people. But the strain of flu that followed it - incubated, experts reckon, in pigs that were kept near the front lines to help feed the troops - killed up to 100 million, helped by the movement of troops returning home from the war.
Pandemics come around, on average, about every 70 years or so. There were small ones in 1957 and 1968/9, when "Hong Kong flu" - strain H1N1 - spread around the world, and one million died. That was tiny by pandemic standards. The scientists reckon we're overdue for an infectious, fatal strain of flu, one which can pass from human to human by the usual methods - sneezing or contact.
There's already a deadly strain of flu around - "chicken flu", better known to the scientists by the strain of flu virus that causes it: H5N1. But it only passes from chickens to humans, not from from person to person. If it could do that, it would have the potential to turn pandemic.
But maybe it already can. There have already been a couple of cases of deaths from H5N1 where the only logical pathway is human-to-human. The UK government announced in February that it will buy in thousands of doses of Tamiflu as part of the UK Influenza Pandemic Contingency Plan (PDF, 160kB).
Too bad - the latest results (reported by New Scientist; limited-time free access) suggest that Tamiflu isn't effective against H5N1. And anyway, New Scientist reports, the UK's order for 14.6 million five-day courses of Tamiflu treatment will take its patent owners Roche two years to fulfil. The company is still trying to develop ways to synthesise it from scratch.
The consequences of a really big, fatal flu epidemic on modern society are hard to imagine, partly because they're so enormous. Air passengers would be the first vector of infection, followed by the people who travelled with them in the train or Underground train or coach from the airport, followed by the family and friends of those people. Give it a few days and people would be falling ill, then over the next weeks dying.
If the strain is new and unexpected, there wouldn't be time to produce enough vaccine to treat it. According to a New England Journal of Medicine article by Dr Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis - who is also director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy - titled "Preparing for the Next Pandemic", the 1950s-era methods of producing vaccines means we would need (ironically enough) one chicken egg per person to produce the vaccine, plus six months to culture it.
"The global economy would come to a halt, and since we could not expect appropriate vaccines to be available for many months and we have very limited stockpiles of antiviral drugs, we would be facing a 1918-like scenario," notes Dr Osterholm, who calculates that given current technology, we could vaccinate about 500 million people, tops - about 14 per cent of the world population.
Of course, most of those will be in the developed world. But are you sure you'd be one? Are you in the Armed Forces? Do you or your business count as an essential service? If you're not involved with the electricity, water, fuel distribution, phone or gas industries, then probably not. "And owing to our global 'just-in-time delivery' economy, we would have no surge capacity for health care, food supplies, and many other products and services," Dr Osterholm adds.
Let's have some more numbers from Dr Osterholm, just to encourage you. He writes: "It is sobering to realize that in 1968, when the most recent influenza pandemic occurred, the virus emerged in a China that had a human population of 790 million, a pig population of 5.2 million, and a poultry population of 12.3 million; today, these populations number 1.3 billion, 508 million, and 13 billion, respectively. Similar changes have occurred in the human and animal populations of other Asian countries, creating an incredible mixing vessel for viruses. Given this reality, as well as the exponential growth in foreign travel during the past 50 years, we must accept that a pandemic is coming - although whether it will be caused by H5N1 or by another novel strain remains to be seen."
All this has been noted by virologists and disease experts around the world. But what can we do? For one thing, listen to what they're saying, and put some pressure on the politicians who are ignoring this threat, in the hope it will go away. Climate change may be a greater threat than terrorism, but a flu pandemic is a more immediate threat than either.
Or, as Canada's deputy chief public health officer, Dr Paul Gully, put it to the Toronto Star: "Frankly the crisis could for all we know have started last night in some village in Southeast Asia. We don't have any time to waste and even if we did have some time, the kinds of things we need to do will take years. Right now, the best we can do is try to survive it. We need a Manhattan Project yesterday."
Let's hope they got started. Now, where's the number of that forger for my vaccination certificate? ®