Bloomberg News's Attempted Backlash on Avian Flu

January 01, 2007  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  Weblog

"Bird flu infected fewer humans in the second half of the year, prompting experts to point to a new enemy in the fight against a possible pandemic: complacency." So begins an end-of-year Bloomberg News article by By Jason Gale and John Lauerman. But most of the article shows why there is, indeed, no great cause for worry. ["Complacency," of course, has a negative connotation suggesting there is a real threat.] Indeed, the very next line explains, "The lethal H5N1 strain of avian influenza was reported in people every two days in the first half [of the year]. Since July, the number of cases has slowed to about one a week and scientists say the virus hasn't yet found a way to easily infect humans."

Actually, I have never read an article or quote by anyone saying this is a reason to worry less. Indeed, the article provides a good quote from my December 25 Weekly Standard piece about the lack of mutation being a good sign and it provides another good quote from Peter Palese, chair of Mount Sinai School of Medicine's department of microbiology in New York. "The virus hasn't really gone in a major way into humans. That is a very important fact, which makes it doubtful that H5N1 is really the next pandemic strain," he states.

I specifically wrote that the number of infected humans has gone up slightly from 2005 to 2006, but that's probably the result of better surveillance and in any case irrelevant. What really matters is whether it becomes readily transmissible between humans, not how many humans catch it from birds.

Indeed, it's that very increase (both cases and deaths) that pandemic panic-mongering websites have used against me, indicating that they didn't actually read the article, didn't have the intelligence to understand the article, or didn't have the honesty to relay to readers what was in the article. For example, Daily Kos reprinted a World Health Organization (WHO) graph showing human avian flu cases by month since 2003 shown on both a cumulative line chart and a bar graph with each bar representing one month. All the bars show is that avian flu cases, like human flu cases, are seasonal. But the line graph may look scary because it shows more human cases this past year than the previous year and the previous year before that. In fact, as I pointed out, it's only a slight increase from last year to this and - once again - it's not bird-to-human cases that we should worry about.

But if you are worried about them, here are some interesting statistics from the WHO year-end statistics. Cases from 2003 to 2004 increased about 1100 percent; from 2004 to 2005 they increased about 100 percent; but from 2005 to 2006 they increased less than 18 percent. In other words, by the alarmists' own fake standards the increase in cases among humans would appear to be reassuring based on the limited number of years of data available. Further, as I pointed out in my article, "Far more people die of tuberculosis in an hour than all those known to have died from H5N1."

Ultimately, no matter how you look at it, the pandemic panic-mongers don't have a chicken leg to stand on.