COLUMN: Bird flu pandemic won’t pan out

Jen Steer

Hide the women and children. Start working on a personal fallout shelter. Destroy all chicken fingers. Beware folks, because the real weapon of mass destruction could be heading our way. Yes, that’s right, the virus named after poultry, the infamous bird flu, is spreading.

Of all ways to die, being killed by the avian influenza has to be on my list of “top 100 things that I wouldn’t want to cause my death.” Bird flu is up there, right next to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (that’s mad cow disease in case you were wondering) and being attacked by black squirrels.

When the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, outbreak began in 2003, the government spent money on testing to develop a vaccine. The tests will be finished sometime next year for an ailment that never turned into the “global pandemic” everyone was expecting. The Associated Press reported on Dec. 4 the bird flu has passed up SARS and is the No. 1 most feared death threat on the global level. But will the hype behind the bird flu amount to anything?

By using words like “pandemic” to describe bird flu, it is just provoking unnecessary panic. More than half of Americans probably don’t know what the word pandemic means. It just sounds scary.

In 2004, there was an outbreak of the “BF,” but nobody in the United States cared and the government did little more than raise an eyebrow at the disease that was popping up throughout Asia. At that time, the debate was over whether or not it could jump the species barrier. Of course, now, we know that the bird flu can be found in cats, humans and, well, birds. So far, it hasn’t spread from person to person.

The bird flu excitement has even got to the point that The Washington Post‘s Web site features a special report complete with a scary picture of a chicken. The link is intended to help people “track the latest developments in the spread of the deadly H5N1 virus.” The only thing the coverage of the virus is doing for me, is making me deathly afraid of live chickens. If I didn’t know any better I would assume from the coverage that the birds had actually plotted this whole situation out themselves.

The New York Times on Dec. 2 explained that many chickens and ducks in China are being inoculated to stop the spread of the disease. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want the virus to wipe out the entire human race or anything, but I just don’t think that scientists should be trying to give shots to thousands of chickens. That just does not make any sense. Vaccinating 14.2 billion domestic birds seems a little ridiculous to me.

So people need to just settle down about bird flu because there are other things that are rare that could kill us. For example, being struck by lightning or being electrocuted by sticking a fork in a toaster. There are a lot better things that we could be paying attention to, such as how protesters of Gabon’s election will be shot. Maybe it’s just me, but that is a much worse way to go.

Jen Steer is a sophomore broadcast news major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].