Avian Flu


“This virus has done something new – it jumped from birds to humans”
– USA TODAY December 23, 1997

As of January 14, 1998, Hong Kong confirmed at least 17 people sick and 5 dead from a new form of Avian Influenza known as H5N1. Scientists say this flu has all the signs of a highly virulent strain that can pass from bird to bird, from bird to human, and from human to human.

Sick Chickens
Illustration by Nigel Burroughs

While avian flu virus can be found in wild birds, Diseases of Poultry notes the critical difference: "In contrast to domestic or confined birds, free-flying birds typically do not experience significant disease problems due to influenza virus."

The ecological cause of avian influenza and other contagious diseases is confinement and severe overcrowding of living creatures. Concentrated confinement of humans, birds, and other animals leads to contaminated air, build-up of feces and sewage, immune-system breakdown, bad sanitation, and disease. The poultry industry in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. is breeding infectious diseases like salmonella, campylobacter, and avian influenza. As microbiologist John Avens told a poultry meeting, "Infection of animals will occur more frequently and affect more individual animals as concentration of confinement increases."

As long as people demand billions of birds and other animals to be confined, slaughtered and consumed, infectious diseases will flourish, mutate, and jump species barriers. Disease organisms now link chickens, turkeys, fish, cattle, sheep, pigs, monkeys, and humans--"mad cow," salmonella, campylobacter, pfiesteria, listeria, avian flu, AIDS. . . .

In addition to the daily slaughterhouse slaughter, the mass extermination of birds who are infected, or possibly or potentially infected with the inevitable transmissible diseases of mass-confinement, goes on all the time around the world. For example, last year in Pennsylvania over a million chickens believed to have the Avian Flu virus H7N2 were "buried" within a 75-mile area of Lancaster County. In Italy, 40,000 hens linked to salmonella were killed on a battery farm in Giuliano--a tiny glimpse of the daily routine. ["I can't turn on the television without getting nauseated by the insensitivity of people, and now those millions of chickens from China slaughtered any old way. I saw one on TV tonight. Someone had hacked all its feathers off its neck and head but it was still alive, rocking back and forth."]

Mass consumption of chickens and pigs has spawned pfiesteria piscicida from the poultry and pig manure on the eastern United States seacoast. This "microscopic monster" (producing in humans "pain, narcosis, disorientation, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, memory loss, immune failure and personality changes") eats the menhaden fish that are fed to poultry as fish oil and fishmeal. (What happened to all those half- eaten writhing fish they showed on TV last summer?) The Potomac River is polluted with poultry feces and coliform bacteria from West Virginia, setting the Potomac River clean-up effort backward. More and more poop is being turned into feed pellets so there's a perpetual cycle of captive "food" animals eating and excreting their own excrement. Recycling may not always be a great idea. The Center for Science in the Public Interest reports: "Eggs have become the number one contributor to food poisoning outbreaks with hundreds of thousands of Americans getting sick or dying each year."

The only healthy sickness in all this is a severe attack of guilt and nightmares like those "post- poultry blues" reported in The Wall Street Journal February 3, 1998: "For Hong Kong's Chicken Killers, The Guilt Is Hard to Stomach."

“Truckloads of clucking Chinese chickens in orange plastic crates crossed into Hong Kong yesterday, ending a six-week ban imposed to contain a deadly ‘bird flu’ epidemic among Hong Kong's people.”

– The Washington Post, February 8, 1998