China reports a fresh outbreak of bird flu in the north, and it sounds serious.

In Asia, crucible of the virus, China’s official Xinhua news agency said 2,600 birds in the northern grasslands had died of the disease. It did not give details on when the birds were found, and sought to reassure the public that the outbreak was contained.

Move along, nothing to see here. There is no SARS in Beijing.

UPDATE: The WHO reports that China has culled 91,100 birds in Inner Mongolia in a bid to prevent the H5N1 virus from spreading. Elsewhere in Asia, Taiwan reports its first bird-flu case, Thailand records its first human bird-flu death in over a year and Indonesia is being accused of both a cover-up and gross neglect of its bird-flu epidemic.

The Discussion: 19 Comments

And although the birds were found dead, and they were almost certainly migratory birds that can spread the virus where they see fit, the situation is also “under control” if you read the official line.

I feel much safer now.

October 19, 2005 @ 11:07 pm | Comment

As I understand it, most of the SARS deaths in Taiwan were due to the WHO’s remedy, an immunosuppressant that shut down SARS in its tracks and then killed patients by leaving them vulnerable to relatively harmless opportunistic infections like staph. If memory serves, Taiwan’s original death toll of above 70 or so in the late Spring was reduced to 37 in Sept. of that year, after a final WHO review of the deaths was performed. The 1917 killer flu was so lethal probably due to poor public sanitation globally and the unusually high concentration of sick and healthy people kept together during the ‘War to end all Wars’. And, keep in mind that the media seems in the habit of selecting a bug to hype every year. Great stuff for boosting sagging revenues during slow news cycles…

October 20, 2005 @ 12:23 am | Comment

And, keep in mind that the media seems in the habit of selecting a bug to hype every year. Great stuff for boosting sagging revenues during slow news cycles…

This is anything but a slow news cycle, with iraq, Plamegate, two new Supreme Couryt openings, Afghanistan, terrorism, the economy, Katrina, Rita, Wilma, tsunami, earthquakes…. The noise is coming from the medical community, not the media.

Anyway, I haven’t heard of any other bug in recent years except for SARS and bird flu. What other bugs are you referring to?

October 20, 2005 @ 12:31 am | Comment

i didn’t believe there is no bird flu in china, i think the birds have to stop at china before bringing flu to russia, even felt sort of fear of what’s extent of the bird flu spreaded in china. now, feel a little safer than before at least we can know and do something.

October 20, 2005 @ 1:16 am | Comment

we are all going to die. prepare to meet thy maker. didnt i say recently that the end is nigh?

October 20, 2005 @ 2:34 am | Comment

Richard: You’re right about the news cycle. I had SARS on my mind and was rewinding my rationale of the day for all the hype that surrounded it. SARS, as a mass mortality threat, seemed dead in the water right from the start. It took months to pass through high population density China. The whole thing smelled bad to me.

And there appears to me, anyway, to be a cycle whereby each year a new apoplexy is thrown out for public consumption. Ambitious medics start chasing fame and prize money at this point, while ambitious reporters chase their own. I’m not on the inside so this too is just idle speculation on my part.

Anyway, in former years there’s been legionnaires disease, ebola, mad cow, and others. Since I haven’t lived in North America for near 20 years I’m sure I’ve missed many a scare. Do Lime disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever count…haha… And I’m still waiting for the killer bees to hit. They’ll arrive right after global cooling (which changed into global warming around 1991 or so) freezes/scorches us to death…

October 20, 2005 @ 4:07 am | Comment

At the risk of beating a dead horse, here’s a quote from an article on the Y2K flu that I just cherry-picked from the online British Medical Journal. I ain’t pretending this article proves anything with regard to the present bug being thrust upon us. But…

–The Guardian (8 January, 2000) whiffed the [flu] hysteria and argued that the government’s reforms should be given more time: “Crises in the National Health Service have become as much part of the post-Christmas New Year season as the moulting Christmas tree and the left-over turkey soup. We are currently being bombarded with NHS disaster stories . . . All this is grist to the mill for various interested parties, keen to prove a point.” —

For more, go here:

October 20, 2005 @ 4:38 am | Comment

The key difference is that none of the diseases that were hyped in the past had pandemic capabilities, and none were “marketed” that way by the media, only as scary terrible things that they over-dramatized. Bird flu really does seem different in that it closely resembles the Spanish flu of 1917, also started by birds. Killer bees was a great example of media hype; bird flu is – apparently – in a different category. We’ll all know soon enough, I’m afraid. While I expect it, too, has been overdramatized, the threat seems pretty real.

October 20, 2005 @ 4:38 am | Comment

Yep, and more about the Spanish Flu of 1918 – which this virus resembles very closely in its chemical structure and its origins etc:

Biff suggested that the 1918 flu’s magnitude was due to poor sanitation and crowding. Well, I wasn’t there (I’m not THAT old, yet),
but – although this is anecdotal – my grandmother was orphaned and something like one fourth of my (then living) American relatives were wiped out in that epidemic, in an especially hard hit major city. (Some of you who know me more personally, know which city I mean.)

So it’s literally a family legend. And of course it left scars on the family for a long time – even two generations later, the effects were still being felt.

(Well, simply imagine the effect on a young girl, of suddenly being orphaned, and going through all of that fear. She passes it on to her children – and other effects get passed on – so now imagine that multiplied by a few million, and you’ll get a sense of just HOW MUCH this bird flu can f— up the world for a long time to come….)

Anyway, about this notion of “santitation” and “overcrowding”:
Anecdotally I can tell you that my family were NOT among the overcrowded masses in 1918. They had the luxury of retreating from the masses while the epidemic went on. But they still got wiped out, around one fourth of them in a matter of days.

I was born two generations later and I’ve inherited my great-uncle’s gold/diamond ring – which he left to his brother when he died at age 23. To me, 87 years later, that ring STILL reminds me of what it signified to THAT generation: It was a reminder of how much we lost in 1918, and a signal never to lose hope. Seriously, that’s what the ring means, it’s my inherited message from 1918: Never lose hope even when the Apocalypse seems to be coming.

THAT is what this bird flu is, potentially. And it’s no more hype than it was in 1918. And its effects will be felt for 100 years or more.

That’s what some officials are screwing around with while they try to save face.

October 20, 2005 @ 5:11 am | Comment

Biff, as I said, we’ll see. And please always use tiny url with those huge links.

October 20, 2005 @ 5:19 am | Comment

Hm, a few more things about how the effects of a pandemic can last for generations. I mentioned how the 1918 flu still has some residue in my family today. But the effects of the Black Death (1340s) lasted even longer:

Well most of you know, that the Plague killed between 30 and 50 percent of Europe between 1346 and 1350. So, the effects have lasted longer. Two things come to mind:

1. The Western custom of saying “God bless you” when someone sneezes, started then.

2. Dunno if any kids still do this, but as recently as the 20th century, as a child I danced and sang:

“Ring around a rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
One, two, three, and we all fall down”

That’s from the Black Death. Children have been singing it for 650 years. “Ring around a rosie” is the black ring in the armpit, the symptom of Bubonic Plague. “A pocket full of posies” refers to the satchets of flowers people would carry, in the vain belief that the good smell would protect them from the plague. “We all fall down”: We drop dead.

And those are just the more obvious legacies of the Black Death, still going on after 650 years.

October 20, 2005 @ 5:30 am | Comment

Well I’m in one of my pedantic moods today, so, a few more examples of how pandemics changed the world:

After the Black Death destroyed almost half of Europe, Western Europe was convulsed by two sudden, new problems: There were only half as many peasants and workers to go around, so they began to demand higher wages and more prestige and more rights – AND, when the Plague disrupted the Hundred Years War, many of the career soldiers were unemployed, so they went rampaging around as “free companies”, ie, bandits who went around pillaging and extorting.

(Cf, today’s new phenomenon of American mercenaries. Where do you think they will “find work” if an epidemic disrupts the wars in Iraq, and disrupts civil society in America as well? We are now going through a change of Ages, similar in many ways to the change between the Medieval and Modern Ages between 1300 and 1500. And history tends to show, that whenever an Age ends, it ends with recapitulations of the conditions which started it….)

It took around 150 years for Western Europe to shake all of the shit out of its systems, after the Black Death. Yes the Renaissance was already in progress – almost imperceptibly – in the mid 1300s – but the 1400s was one of the shittiest, most anarchic centuries in Western history.

The cusp – in England at least – between the ages was around 1485.
Battle of Bosworth of course, and the beginning of the Tudors (started by that Welsh bastard, the war criminal Henry VII) – but also, Thomas Malory’s “Morte D’Arthur” was published then (on one of the first printing presses) – as an apocalyptic cry for remembrance of what remained of an age which was obviously dead by that time.

Then of course, three generations later, 100 years later we had Shakespeare and everything he represented. Shakespeare, too, was a direct consequence of the Black Death. But it took over 200 years for Europe and England to shake out all of the shit which the Black Death stirred up.

That’s what we have to look forward to – for at least a few generations –
a chaotic interregnum between Ages – and I think this will be so regardless of how bad the bird flu is.
But the bird flu will make it even more difficult, for a while. And at any rate, we can look back to the 1300s and 1400s both for warnings, and for hope for the long term.

Actually, I see year 2005 as more analogous to around 1480 or so, rather than 1350 – regardless of bird flu. Because, I consider the Second World War to have been our time’s analogue of the Black Death. (And today things move more quickly, so now it’s more like 1480. Also, the printing press started in the late 1400s, and analogously we have started the internet now. So today is not 1350, it’s 1480 or so.)

Final line of Malory’s “Morte D’Arthur” of 1485: “Hic jacet Arcturus, Rex Quondam et Rex Futurus.” “Here lies Arthur, the Once and Future King.” Almost 500 years later, the West remembered and revivified Arthur in the stage musical “Camelot”
So I am confident that what SEEMS to be apocalyptic in our time, is just another passage from a dying age to a new one, and a new Renaissance.

But we’re in the dark phase of this transition right now.

October 20, 2005 @ 6:21 am | Comment

I have to admit to a great ignorance of the particular conditions of 1917-1918 but, other than WWI providing ripe conditions for the generation of a nasty flu via wounded, undernourished, and otherwise immune-system compromised soldiers and logistics people by the million year after year, in the olde days horses were a common flu vector that no longer exists. I’m referring to family/race/work horses, most of which have since been replaced by cars and whatnot. Horse-turds in the street and the clouds of flies that they bred in cities were a great disease producing combo then. It also used to be the case that when flu hit your horses, you knew the human version of the flu was in the mail and going to arrive in about two weeks. Today, there’s also far fewer avians (i.e. birds) around to serve as flu vectors. The overcrowding of avian barracoons is part of the environment that’ s generating the present flu I would guess. Ergo, perhaps, the poultry people dying. Taiwan’s sort of an oasis from it all given that most of the birds have been eaten. I don’t know the last time I saw a seagull in Taiwan… haha…

Plus nowadays we’ve got medical teams, quarantine procedures, advanced communications technology, etc, etc… The bad old days is done and gone. When SARS was here, the first medical death when the Hoping Hospital was quarantined was some poor medic inside the building who killed himself rather than endure the suspense of whether he would come down with the bug. Most of the medical staff emerged alive in the end. Many of the rest quit their jobs…

October 20, 2005 @ 7:27 am | Comment


You suggested horses as major carriers of the 1918 flu epidemic.


In 1918, my American relatives had cars. And they lived in an area where other people, as prosperous as they, had cars. In their neighborhood, in America in 1918, nobody used horses anymore if they could afford otherwise. (They DID use trains a lot.)

Well some of them DID have horses, but the kind of horses which never got close to the city horses.
Spic and span horses, far away from the crowded city, get the idea?

And yet the flu still wiped out one fourth of them in 1918. And other families in that area had the same stories to tell. There was not much of a class divide. Viruses don’t give a damn what neighborhood you live in, or how clean you are. All it takes is one contact with a friend who maybe went into the city two days ago, and a whole family can be ruined, and anyone who comes close to them for just a few moments.

And I think, Biff, maybe you don’t know the difference between bacteria and virus. Bacteria, yes, sanitary conditions make a big impact on bacteria. But viruses, no.
Just a moment of contact is all you need, even from far away.

October 20, 2005 @ 7:48 am | Comment

Well, what makes the developement so frightening to me is the information policy of the Chinese government, which seas the bird flu as a state secret.

It was mentioned above that the flu pandemic of 1918 was so desatrous because of poor sanatation and the living conditions. These might have been factors but one major factor why it could spread so easily was, that the governments of the countries then still at war supressed informations about the disease, starting with the American government as the first outbreaks where in America (as I learned the cesorship was the harshest in whole American history during the 1. WW ).
They did this out of the concern not to waeken the fightintg moral of the people. The doctors at that time knew quite well what should be the right measures but out of political reasons they couldn’t do their job , doesn’ that sound familiar.
It is called Spanish flu because the only country where the press reported about it was Spain, which was not at war.
Listen to this inteview with John Barry, autor of “The Great Influenza”: http://tinyurl.com/ccw5t

October 20, 2005 @ 8:29 am | Comment

The number of horses was in decline but they were far from gone in 1917 and 1918. And the response of one’s immune system to insults (the medical term) is directly correlated to the number of insults it faces at any one time, whether bacterial or viral. When polio was still making the rounds, for every hundred people that had contact with the virus, only ten had any symptoms. Of those ten who had symptoms, only one suffered lasting impairment. In other words, only 1% of the population suffered long term harm. Contact with a virus does not necessarily mean you come down with any illness. And thank goodness for that…

The following comes from a webpage titled “The Draft Horse in America” (i.e. I don’t have a clue where to insert the url in this comment page… haha…)

— By the turn of the century, at least half of the 13,500,000 horses in the United States carried between 10% and 50% draft horse blood. More than 3 million of these were in use in non-farm capacities by 1910. With the continued growth of heavy industry, and increased European immigration, American cities were experiencing unprecedented growth. New interest in public health, rising real estate values, and improvements in electric and gasoline powered alternatives to horse power combined to mark the rapid decline of the horse’s significance in the city.

Within a decade, the horse was replaced in public transportation by motorized taxies, electric streetcars, and subways.

When the American Expeditionary Force entered the war in 1917, they took with them an additional 182,000 horses, Of these, over 60,000 were killed, and many thousands were wounded. Only 200 returned to America after the war. From 1914 to 1918, British veterinary hospitals in France treated 2,564,549 horses and mules for war inflicted injuries. —

October 20, 2005 @ 10:26 am | Comment

One thing that I am seeing here is the argument that “sanitation and treatment are better now, so it won’t be as bad as in 1918.” Don’t forget that in many poor countries, (much of China included) sanitation still has not improved that much since 1918. AND there is a lot more travel between areas then there was in 1918. The point is, this flu could kill far more people. But the poor countries would bear a bigger burden.

And from what I have heard about the bug in question, having good sanitation can help prevent the spread of the disease (as it prevents the spread of the common cold, for instance), but if someone sneezes on you, you still have a good probability of getting sick.

October 20, 2005 @ 10:51 am | Comment

I found a sign that China is being more forthcoming about… pointing the finger at others:

“Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu told the State Council that President HJT and Premier WJB had ordered stepped-up vigilance against the spread of bird flu.

“At present, some countries have serious outbreaks of avian influenza and since autumn and winter is the peak season for bird flu in China, the situation is grim and our task is heavy,” Mr Hui said.

In Shanghai, authorities began checking the temperatures and sterilising the footwear of travellers arriving by land, sea and air.

Xinhua said the city would destroy meat, poultry, eggs and related foods from infected countries.”

Haha, yeah china, watch out for those other countries, “they” might “give you” bird flu!

October 20, 2005 @ 7:53 pm | Comment

I also enjoyed watching Phoenix TV last night when they discussed bird flu in Taiwan. They were quick to point out that “bird flu was in Taiwan” but then somehow forgot to say where the smuggled birds had come from. I almost popped a blood vessel watching it.

October 20, 2005 @ 8:10 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.