A COLLEAGUE OF mine who writes a very well informed weekly column on Asia recently pointed out that the latest strain of bird flu seems to be particularly virulent. I hadn’t been paying too much attention to that part of the news, but when he told me that the fatality rate seems to be astronomically high, I started to take some notice.
When we had our discussion earlier this week, the number of infections hadn’t yet hit 30, but nine people had died. Today’s numbers are 46 infections with 11 fatalities, along with the first indications that the strain has moved out of Eastern China. Even if we ignore the very real possibility that the Chinese government is under-reporting the extent of the H7N9 outbreak, the one- in-four fatality rate that they have admitted to is extremely alarming.
At this stage, there’s been no sign that the disease has become easily transmissible between humans, but that’s got to be small consolation for anyone who gets infected from contact with poultry. If it does start moving between human hosts, then the effects will be profound.
There has been no mass culling of birds as yet, although live poultry markets are closed and pigeon racing has been banned. Basically, things will be left to settle down and assuming all goes well, things will be back to normal in months, but am I the only one who thinks we’re heading down a very slippery slope at a scary speed?
Pardon my alarmist ranting, fueled as it is by a deep-seated worry that we (humanity) can only get away with pushing the boundaries of nature for so long before we get slapped down, but time just has to be running out. Every so often a new strain of bird flu comes along, and we deal with it before going back to business as usual, but that’s how bog-standard human influenza used to work until H1N1 infected 500 million people and wiped out 3-5 percent of humanity back in 1918. H1N1 came back for a visit in 2009 and took out around 14,000-16,000 people, which doesn’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but imagine the horror if H7N9 started transmitting between humans and maintained the current 25 percent fatality rate. Over 600,000 people were infected in 2009 – picture 150,000 deaths…
Even if it never left China, the results would be catastrophic and the chances of it remaining localised are slim to nothing.
So what’s the point of this blog post? We can’t do a damn thing about a strain of flu getting a new lease of life and mutating into something nasty, but we’re actually supporting and encouraging the very environments that might well one day create the flu that does the real damage. Insanely crowded and unsanitary battery farms put animals in situations they were never meant to endure, and then distribute that meat far and wide for human consumption. These farms don’t have to be in the hinterlands of Eastern China either: a look in the doors at many a New Zealand poultry farm would be enough to revolt many buyers. But as long as meat and chicken “come from the supermarket”, then no one cares.
There’s got to be a better way, and of course there is, and it doesn’t even take much effort, but as long as people are too damn lazy and indifferent to make the right choice, to even bother to feed their kids less flesh (look up The China Study), then we’re going to keep heading down that increasingly slippery slope. Call me paranoid, call me a conspiracy theorist, hell call me whatever you like, but like most vegans, it’ll give me no satisfaction at all when the day comes that I get to say “I told you so”. ASHLEY KRAMER