Sat, Mar 10, 2012 - Page 8 News List

[ LETTER ]

Virus scaremongering

Oh dear me. Another scare story splashed all over the news when there is really not much going on. This time it is the innocuous H5N2 virus which has become, in the eyes of the media, the latest doomsday bug.

To sum up what happened: Some chickens became sick, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was notified, ran all the required tests and acted accordingly. Based on the available scientific evidence, they killed all the infected chickens, quarantined the surrounding area and, once the virus was found to be highly pathogenic among chickens (not humans), it alerted the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), as protocol demands. So far, so good.

Now enter the media, who blew this up as if it was the end of the world. And to make matters worse, they unearth some “scientists” who jump onto this scaremongering bandwagon (“Any avian flu outbreak poses grave health risks,” March 7, page 8).

The authors of this opinion piece write that “officials at the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine chose to delay relaying information” about the outbreak.

As far as the reports go, the officials did what they had to do: Kill the chickens and report the outbreak to the OIE once the virus strain was determined to be infectious to chickens. Are they supposed to alert the entire world every time a few chickens start coughing?

The authors then say the H5N2 virus could be as dangerous to humans as the H5N1 virus, which can be transmitted from birds to humans (a few hundred cases around the world over the past decade; a comparatively low risk overall). This is comparing apples with oranges. There is absolutely no evidence that the H5N2 virus, unlike the H5N1 virus, has caused any bird flu in humans, so all the authors are relying on is conjecture and supposition and what they are doing amounts to scaremongering and attention-seeking. They are trying to brew up a storm in a teacup and they do not even have a cup.

Finally, the authors write that migratory and wild birds are the likely source of the infection, again without evidence. Viruses circulate between wild and domestic birds, but it is more often infections from the poultry industry than from wild birds which cause outbreaks, at least for the H5N1 virus (see pages 19,368 to 19,373 of the the 2006 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA).

Go check Google, Wikipedia and other relevant Web sites (CDC, WHO). Nowhere is there a single case of severe human disease or death associated with the H5N2 virus. Of course, this virus could evolve and then cross over to humans, as any virus could. Therefore, vigilance and monitoring is always required.

However, until that mutation occurs, I suggest the media shine the light on how many people die because of bad and poisoned food, lack of exercise, human flu virus, unsafe sex, irresponsible driving or air pollution. There you will find one scary story after another.

Flora Faun

Taipei

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