Recently the bird flu has been all the rage, making appearances in such diverse locals as Vietnam, the Ukraine, and a quarantined parrot in England. And, of course, China; specifically Anhui (isn’t that kind of close to Shanghai?). People are scared, and the only known possible vaccine, Tammiflu, has become rarer than a virgin in a hair salon. What is one to do?
Nothing. Yes, nothing. You have no reason to be afraid. Concerned, possibly, but not afraid. Save the paranoia for the schizophrenics and the worry for the housing speculators. There is no serious cause for alarm. While the H5N1 has been deadly, it is pretty much for the birds.
There are several factors to consider with this paranoia pandemic.
First, it has not jumped to humans. In the last two years there have been only 121 documented cases of infection, 91 in Vietnam. Furthermore, there has not been a single case of human-to-human transmission; the known cases were the result of working with poultry or eating undercooked chicken. Even if these numbers are severely underreported, it is still a small percentage of people in the world who are infected.
Two, if it bleeds, it leads. Doctors and researchers need work. If people, or predictions, are healthy, there is less work for them to do. This applies to the bird flu. If you are a health researcher, and you know you wish you were, you are not going to make much money predicting that a disease is at best a minor threat, with a long shot of jumping to humans. However, if you hype this possibility, you have a better chance of selling your services as a health advisor to combat the disease. It is very similar to the Y2K scare a few years ago. Your computers may freak out so pay us to reprogram them. Your health may be in danger so you need my help in fighting the disease.
Three, there is no escape. Should the disease mutate to a form with human-to-human transmission, we have no idea what direction it will evolve. That is something akin to worrying that your 2-year-old son will grow up to be a serial killer; possible, but not likely — and Dahmer’s dad couldn’t do anything to stop him anyway. Even if it turns out to be deadly to humans, you must remember: we don’t know that any known vaccine would help protect you; the borders will be closed instantly; most countries would quarantine you (with possibly infected persons) on a plane until they figured out what to do with you; your name is not on the embassies list of VIPs to be helicoptered to a tropical island getaway in emergency.
There is little need to worry. If you are reading this you most likely do not farm chickens, lick raw chicken wounds, or have the means to fight your way to a safe country should emergency strike. If you run home now, like those who evacuated during the SARS crisis, you may end up looking foolish and missing all the bargains at Xiang Yang Market if the foreigners stay away.