Friday, September 14, 2007

Bird Flu Pandemic? Fear Pandemic More Like...

Michael Fumento, of the American Spectator, takes a myth-busting look at the likelihood of the H5N1 virus poultry epidemics turning into the kind of pandemic that we've been repeatedly warned could kill between 20 million up to 1 billion humans across the planet :
New scientific discoveries keep eating away at the prophecy that "bird flu," avian influenza type H5N1, will become readily transmissible from human to human and unleash a disastrous pandemic.
Fumento starts off by citing the apocalyptic pandemic warnings that we've discussed on the site over the past two years :
* "Flu Pandemic Could Kill 150 Million, U.N. Warns." (Actually, a single UN official offered a range of "5 million to 150 million," but the media aren't too keen on ranges.)

* Laurie Garrett, former Newsday reporter, now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Paul Ehrlich of pandemics...speaks of H5N1 as a "tidal wave over humanity."

* University of Minnesota School of Public Health professor Michael Osterholm estimated 180-360 million deaths worldwide simply by extrapolating the estimated death toll from the Spanish flu of 1918-19 to today's world population.

* But the winner is Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, who claimed on ABC News's Primetime, "We could have a billion people dying worldwide."
Those were the kinds of mega-death predictions and fear campaigning that led to governments across the world committing tens of billions of dollars to stock-piling relatively unproven 'antidotes' to bird flu infection, like Tamiflu.

While Fumento claims that "lefty" blogs amplified those dire predictions, and increased The Fear, he fails to mention that it was the massive corporate media entities like CNN, the New York Times and Fox News that really pumped up The Fear.

Fumento also fails to mention that few have personally profited more from global Tamiflu sales than former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who pocketed more than $5 million in cash from selling the stock he had snapped up in an American research company a few years before 'Bird Flu Pandemic Will Kill Millions And Millions' headlines started filling newspapers in 2004 and 2005. President Bush was also a key player in promoting the 'reality' of a coming bird flu pandemic in the last quarter of 2005.

Anyway, back to Fumento's comprehensive, clarifying story :
...Evidence continually mounts that while there may well be another flu pandemic of some sort, there's virtually no chance it will be H5N1. Recently reported research from David Finkelstein and his colleagues at St. Jude Hartwell Center in Memphis, Tennessee, is just the latest nail in the chicken coop.

The researchers analyzed almost 10,000 avian H5N1 sequences and almost 14,000 human sequences, including those of seven dead Indonesians who apparently caught the virus from another human. They looked for specific amino acids either more likely to appear in human flu virus proteins or in avian virus proteins. Reporting their results in the journal Virology, they found no sequence that even approached the mutations in the flu viruses that caused the three pandemics of the 20th century, including Spanish Flu.

In all, they identified 32 clear-cut changes in influenza viruses that differentiated a human H5N1 strain from that in birds, yet none of the viral samples from humans had more than two of those changes. "We think they need to get to 13 [mutations] to be truly dangerous," Finkelstein
told Reuters. He characterized his finding as "reassuring."
Fumento then reminds readers of "one of the least known facts about H5N1, even though it's documented by the World Health Organization (WHO)" :
The viral strain's discovery in poultry dates back not to 1997, as we're constantly told, but rather to 1959, when it was identified in Scottish chickens.

....humans have been exposed to this thing for half a century with no evidence it's become the least bit more contagious to them. Small increases in the counted numbers of human cases over the last four years are probably nothing more than an artifact of better reporting. Better disease reporting, by the way, is generally regarded as good news.

One of the reasons why we started this blog two years ago was to report on the science and research that disputes the claims of a "not if but when" global bird flu pandemic. It took the Fumento piece to remind us just how few of those stories and reports there has actually been in the media over the past 24 months (outside of subscription only medical publications).

It is a strange depiction of the mainstream media then to highlight the fact that news stories reporting that a bird flu pandemic may be wholly unlikely are actually quite hard to find, online at least.

Whereas, reports from any scientist who wants to ramp up the projected death toll from a bird flu pandemic (any takers for more than one billion?) gets onto the wire services and into hundreds of newspapers around the world within hours.

Maybe the old newspaper catch-cry of "If It Bleeds, It Leads" should now be "If It Sneezes, It Leads".

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