Headless Chickens

Before we all start running around like headless chickens on news this week of the first human fatalities of avian influenza in Bali, and possible more infections, it’s worth bearing in mind that in terms of prevalence, bird flu does not even register on the health radar.

Not only in Bali, but across the country, which has recorded the highest number of bird flu fatalities worldwide.

It’s also worth noting that the regrettable Bali deaths occurred in an isolated village on the west coast of the island, where, like in so many rural parts of Indonesia, people live side by side with their fowl, and other farm animals.

In recent years, Southeast Asia has been wracked by one health “crisis” after another, leaving such key pars of countries’ economies as tourism in tatters. In all cases, the hype – largely media-generated (see:
SARS) – was just that: a hysterical overreaction to a health threat that had about as much punch as the common cold.

We do not wish to dismiss the World Health Organization’s fears that the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus could mutate so that it is easily transmissible and therefore possibly trigger a global pandemic that could wipe out millions.

But as of now, with government teams fanning out to warn villagers of the inherent dangers of living with animals, there is little threat. Other diseases – dengue fever, malaria and others endemic to this region – require vastly more attention, and resources. They may not make for better news stories, but that is where the focus must be.

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