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1:43pm on Wednesday, 22nd February, 2006:

Please Look After My Parrot


Ignorant pet-owners are handing their parrots and budgies over to bird sanctuaries because they're scared of catching bird flu from them. Those infected swans, they sneak into your house at night and sneeze through the bars of the cages...

Ignorant governments, on the other hand, are taking two different approaches. One is to vaccinate all poultry, so that although they catch bird flu you can't tell they've got it and they can still pass it to other birds. France and Holland are leading the way here. The other is to kill all birds in a flock where one infected bird is found, even though this won't stop migratory birds re-introducing the infection almost immediately. This is the UK's preferred option.

We can't eradicate bird flu. All we can do is delay it until we find out enough about this particular mutation that we'll have a fighting chance of coming up with a vaccine for humans should it jump species. Put large, domestic flocks of birds indoors, change the law temporarily so that those which had a "free range" or "organic" tag before can keep it if they satisfy the remainder of the necessary criteria, and if a flock still gets infected, OK, well the virus is going to kill them all anyway so cull some if you think this will save the rest but don't get your hopes up.

The main worry is not that bird flu will devastate our poultry industry; rather, it's that someone with human flu catches it and the resulting cocktail produces a strain that could kill people as easily as H5N1 kills birds. Laws to keep people who have flu away from birds are going to be more effective than laws to keep birds that have flu away from people. That's until some old bloke in China with a runny nose and high fever stoically goes to collect eggs from his out-of-sorts chickens, anyway.

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).