The number of human cases of avian flu dropped rather than rose from just 115 cases in 2006 to an even less significant 86 in 2007. The fanatical headlines warning of a pandemic that was on the verge of killing hundreds of millions have all but disappeared. Often “bird flu” deaths were sensationalized by the media before it was even confirmed that the victims died of avian flu, some of which turned out to be based on inconclusive evidence. Just a mere suggestion was all the mainstream media needed to run with a hyped up story. But was there really ever that big of a threat to begin with?
Back in 1976 the U.S. acted out a similar “made-for-TV” movie-like saga, by devising a vaccine program for a supposed impending swine-flu, which was basically the avian flu threat of the day. Around 5 million people were vaccinated. The poorly contrived program for swine flu resulted in hundreds of Guillain Barre Syndrome paralysis victims and deaths from the vaccine, all for the unlikely flu pandemic that never did materialize.
According to Dr. Paul A. Offit, a vaccine specialist at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, “H5 viruses have been around for 100 years and never caused a pandemic and probably never will.”
Even so, according to a recent New York Times article, scientists and governments should be congratulating themselves for averting a threat that may not have even existed in the first place. Somehow by stockpiling millions of dollars worth of dangerous Tamiflu vaccines we’ve scared the bird flu away. The article also congratulated the arguably needless culling hundreds of millions of healthy birds, many of which belonged to poor people who were never fairly compensated, and for the US pouring tax money into poorly handled “preparation” efforts. However, most experts concede that the often questionable preparation efforts pursued are not even close to being enough to avert a real pandemic should the virus ever truly become highly contagious. The preparation efforts didn’t save the world from a pandemic. The pandemic just never happened.
Interestingly, Donald Rumsfield, who helped drum up the fear of bird flu to a fever pitch, stood to benefit the most financially. At $100 per dose, the U.S. used taxpayer’s dollars to purchase some 20 million doses of the highly questionable Tamiflu, directly lined the pockets of then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who, oh my goodness, happened to be the president of Gilead Sciences when they created the drug. Now couldn’t that be, at the very least, a conflict of interest?
It’s not that people shouldn’t be prepared, or that scientists shouldn’t pay attention to the development of new diseases. However, the real picture of the avian bird flu scare, isn’t complete without including the possible greed and political corruption that underlined the saga.
A few experts are sticking to their guns that preparations against bird flu must go one. However, for the most part, experts are conceding that the overhyped possibilities were highly marginal to begin with. It’s not that there is no possible risk at all, but rather that the risk is so overblown that it’s bizarre that we have hyperfocused on this particular threat, while largely ignoring many other real and significant health threats around the world.
Posted by Rebecca Sato.
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