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"It is only a matter of time before an avian flu virus – most likely H5N1 – acquires the ability to be transmitted from human to human, sparking the outbreak of human pandemic influenza." So declared Dr. Lee Jong-wook, director-general of the World Health Organization.
Terrifying statement. False statement.
It is the best-kept secret of the pandemic panic purveyors that H5N1 hasn’t just been around since its Hong Kong appearance in 1997 but actually was discovered in Scottish chickens in 1959. It’s therefore been mutating and making contact with humans for 47 years. If it hasn’t become transmissible between humans in all that time, it almost certainly won’t.
Despite what you’ve been told, H5N1 isn’t even slowly mutating in the direction of becoming pandemic. There are no evolutionary pressures upon it to either become more efficiently transmitted from bird-to-man or man-to-man. Rather, as one mutation draws the virus closer to human transmissibility, another is as likely to draw it farther away.
Certainly an avian flu pandemic won’t let media hysteria dictate its appearance and therefore be upon us before effective vaccines become widely available in a couple of years. If "a matter of time" means several years from now, we’ll be quite prepared, thank you.
But aren’t we "overdue" for a pandemic, with H5N1 the likeliest cause? Google "avian flu," "pandemic," and "overdue," and you’ll get more than 35,000 hits. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, insists we’re "overdue," explaining that there were three pandemics in the 20th century, the last one 38 years ago.
Yet the time between the second and third pandemics was only 11 years. There’s no cycle. As risk-communication expert Peter Sandman of Rutgers University says, the "overdue pandemic" is mere superstition.
None of which should discourage such sensible measures as mass poultry vaccinations, killing infected flocks and teaching Asian farmers to have as little contact with their birds and bird droppings as possible. These steps can reduce or even eliminate the few human cases now occurring and cut the chance of pandemic from nearly zero to zero.
But there is no gain in spreading an epidemic of hysteria. The false fears we sow today we shall reap in the future as public complacency when a monster is truly at the door.