"Oh my goodness, are we all gonna die?"

A bird flu pandemic panic has got the news agencies’ satellites buzzing these days. Makes me happy the’re up “there” rather than down here. 🙂

Anyway, there is one guy saying “Poppycock! Ain’t gonna happen!”. Too bad he doesn’t have a bunch of letters after his name, he might be taken more seriously. Mr Michael Fumento has been making some pointed comments, meant to make those of us who can do so, think more clearly and logically. Unfortunately, the reporter interviewing him today on CNN’s “American Morning” show completely missed his point and had to cut him off for lack of time. That prompted me to write (but of course!) the following letter to CNN. I hope whoever reads it will at least think for themselves.

About the avian flu, I’m very disappointed that your reporter completely missed [Mr. Fumento’s] point, though I recognize he wasn’t expressing himself very well, he seemed stressed out with the effort of fighting a contradicting perception from so-called experts who should know better.

My point is this. When people get sick, they don’t always get visibly sick, or sick enough to warrant a visit to the doctor. There may be people out there who have been infected but will neither get sick nor die from the disease. Should these people be added into the infection calculations, the rate would plummet, probably pretty spectacularly.

In any infection scenario, there seems to always be a number who remain unaffected, often about 1 in 3. In this case, none of those people are being counted because they aren’t headed for the doctor. Why should they? They’re not showing symptoms, or heavy enough symptoms to stop their day-to-day lives.

That’s 30% of infected people, which translates to less than 40% infection rate. Infection doesn’t mean death, either. If 40% of people could get infected (which isn’t true, because the avian flu is a direct-contact infection, unlike the much more frightening airborne types), what percentage of those would die directly from the disease? A little research would probably show a relatively small death-rate.

Think about it. This disease has showed up across the world on all the Northern hemisphere continents. Since those are the most densely populated areas of the planet, and keeping in mind the sheer number of people living in China and India alone, a pandemic would suggest we already should have thousands of deaths.

This simply hasn’t happened. Therefore, with a little forethought and even rudimentary precautions, a true epidemic is highly unlikely, and there is no need to panic. Just be careful.

Simple, really.

Now I know no one wants to be caught acting like the people of Oakley Oaks in the Chicken Little story, disbelieving something that proved to be true; but does that mean we ought to become Chicken Little himself? I thought this was the age of knowledge and science. The scientific method actually requires that we remain calm and examine all the data, rather than drawing erroneous conclusions based on incomplete and unprovable data. Let’s ask ourselves a few important questions to start us off:

  • Does the possibility exist for humans to become infected with the avian flu? Of course, that’s already an established fact.
  • Can death be a result of such an infection? Absolutely, also proven.
  • Does most everyone who becomes infected die? NO! This is not the ebola virus, or the Black Plague. It’s a version of the flu, and so far as I can tell all those who died were, first and foremost, people who dealt directly with infected birds: farmers, people who raised poultry, that sort of thing.

When’s the last time you hand fed a bird? Do you do it every day? Do you deal with their droppings? If the last two are true, you’ll want to be as careful as you can. Otherwise, take symptoms seriously, but don’t panic! Even if you get the flu, you’re not necessarily going to die!

You want proof? Ok, take a look at the CDC‘s FAQs page about the bird flu. About 1/3 of the way down the page, we find this:

How does bird flu spread?

Infected birds shed flu virus in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. Susceptible birds become infected when they have contact with contaminated excretions or surfaces that are contaminated with excretions. It is believed that most cases of bird flu infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces. The spread of avian influenza viruses from one ill person to another has been reported very rarely, and transmission has not been observed to continue beyond one person*.

* The underline is mine. It’s an important phrase to understand. This is not the Ebola virus, or the plague, or any number of other highly infectious, highly contagious diseases. The key here is research and observation, combined with intelligent self-protection.

Don’t panic.

Keep a close eye on flu symptoms that resemble more serious lung conditions, such as pneumonia. That is deadly, not because you got the flu (of any variety), but because you need to be able to breathe normally! Lung infections kill in large part because… well, you can’t breathe! So by all means, be careful and be aware.

Just… don’t panic.

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