How We Tempt Fate With Avian Flu

Covid-19 had its roots in deforestation and displacement of bat populations. It reached humanity via the live food markets of Southern China. Both these factors are entirely preventable yet we are still at the stage where the WHO is merely urging bans on live food markets. The causes of the pandemic remain essentially un-addressed.

The WHO (and indeed the world community) says nothing to the food industry and its legion consumers who cause viruses to evolve and multiply in animals kept in poor factory farm conditions. It says nothing of how for animal feed and commodities we cause deforestation and displace wildlife, increasing the chances of domestic and wild populations infecting and transmitting disease between eachother.

Let’s take the example of bird flu. H5N1 was first identified in a goose in China in 1996. It was first identified as having infected a human in Hong Kong in 1997.

While the virus spreads easily between birds and humans it is thankfully quite difficult for one human to transmit it to another. Worldwide we’re talking less than a thousand deaths from this virus over the last 20yrs. So why should we worry about it?

Because it has a 60% death rate among humans for one thing. The coronavirus that has caused so much death and misery the last couple of years has a death rate of a mere 3.4%.

And the conditions that evolved H5N1 have not changed – only worsened:

  • An increase of 76% in the population of domestic poultry in the developing world during the 1990s – many many sick animals in close confinement – this population continues to rise. Hence we are primed to evolve a new variant of this virus that is able to transmit more readily among humans. Or perhaps to create another virus entirely.
  • The human perpetrated destruction of wetlands that birds traditionally use as habitat has disrupted their migratory patterns significantly. This has caused them to interact more with the domestic population of birds (ironically, only those lucky enough to see the outside get infected)
  • The trade in live animals (either for breeding/raising for meat or to take elsewhere for the slaughter) is moving animals around the world at a terrifying rate. The spread of any infection is hugely accelerated by the practise of treating animal life as a ‘just in time’ component part of an end product to sell.

If H5N1 and similar bird flu variants were a danger to take seriously before the covid pandemic then now, doing something to halt their evolution and proliferation them must be a priority.

We’ve seen what a comparitively harmless coronavirus can do when it takes hold in a human population. We caused that ourselves.

Let us change our consumption patterns and living conditions of poultry, our attitude to wildlife habitats and our rules aroung transporting live animals to stop avian flu evolving and spreading.

Maybe we can halt the progress of man-made bird flu before it also turns into a pandemic that we need expensive vaccines and destructive lockdowns to manage.

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