Bird flu is an infectious disease generally found in birds that is caused by several strain of influenza virus. It was first identified in Italy in 1878. All bird species are at risk, although some more than others. The natural hosts tend to be migratory waterfowl, such as wild ducks, who normally don’t get sick because of high resistance to infection. Domestic poultry is more susceptible because they don’t have resistance to the disease.

Bird flu is a nasty disease. It causes the capillaries to leak blood and the immune system to overreact by producing excessive amounts of white blood cells and fluid. Chickens that catch the disease swell and hemorrhage and often die as bloody heaps within hours after catching it. The disease can be just as destructive to mice, tigers and other mammals.

Bird Flu first appeared among humans in Hong Kong in 1997 and then was thought to have been eradicated. Then, in 2003, the virus reemerged, in Thailand. In the late 2003 and early 2004 there was an Asia-wide epidemic of H5N1 avian influenza (bird flu or avian flu), with the disease spreading to humans in Vietnam and Thailand. In 2005 the human form of the disease spread to Cambodia and Indonesia, killing people there. Later it spread around the world. By 2007 it had impoverished millions of poultry farmers, caused $20 billion economic damage, and spread to 50 countries including Nigeria, Britain, Afghanistan, Israel, Cameroon, Iraq, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam.

The mortality rate of bird flu as of 2012 was 59 percent among reported cases. Michael Specter wrote in The New Yorker: The true percentage is undoubtedly lower, since many cases go unreported. Even so, the Spanish-flu epidemic of 1918, which killed at least fifty million people, had a mortality rate of between two and three per cent. Influenza normally kills far fewer than one-tenth of one per cent of those infected. This makes H5N1 one of the deadliest microbes known to medical science. [Source: Michael Specter, The New Yorker, March 12, 2012]

Avian Flues

What was called bird flu was a kind of avian flu. Avian means: of, relating to, or derived from birds. All flus are believed to have originated with ducks or waterfowl. Many carry the virus without getting sick. Strains among wild ducks spread through feces shed in the water but don’t affect the ducks because they have a resistance to the disease. Infected birds migrate and bring the disease to new places. If they had been dead or seriously ill they couldn’t spread it. When the disease comes in contact chickens who have no resistance they became very sick.

Avian flues can spread rapidly at poultry farms because the birds have had little exposure and thus little resistance to the virus; they are packed closely together in farms and markets so the virus can be spread quickly from bird to bird; and the stress caused by the crowding and poultry farm life in general lowers their resistance.

Karen Kaplan wrote in the Los Angeles Times, H5N1, the virus behind the bird flu outbreaks, “has already made a complex evolutionary journey. Researchers have traced the ancestor of its H5 gene to a virus identified in geese in 1996. The N1 came from a teal duck carrying a harmless H6N1 strain. Both pieces, scientists believe, finally came together in a quail, which provided essential proteins from an H9N2 virus. [Source: Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2006]

Anjana Ahuja wrote in The Times: “H5N1 — or, to give its full name, HPAI A(H5N1) appears to latch on to receptors in the lower lung. This part of the body is relatively inaccessible — which may explain why, even though the virus is endemic in poultry, human infection is so rare. Human flu, in contrast, hooks on to receptors in the upper respiratory tract, meaning that coughs and sneezes disperse the virus easily. Scientists have warned that H5N1 could mutate and begin to favour receptors in the upper tract, which would raise the threat level. Each person that the virus infects acts as a reservoir in which H5N1 can replicate and mutate. What scientists fear most is that the virus maintains its lethality while acquiring the capability to jump from person to person. [Source: Anjana Ahuja, The Times, October 30, 2006]

Scientists have found that bird flu is very hard to catch. According to a study by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a virologist at the University of Tokyo and the University of Wisconsin, published in Nature in March 2006, tThe virus has trouble attaching to human cells in the nose, throat and upper airway, making infection unlikely. H5N1 infects only cells deep inside lungs in alveoli, tiny air sacs where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place. Victims transmit enough virus to their mouths for it to gain access to the lower lungs, a distance that is shorter in children than adults. Because it is so deep in the lungs, the virus is unlikely to be released by coughing or sneezing.

Bird Flu Numbers

As of March 2012 bird flu has killed 346 of the 587 people, near sixty percent of those it infected. It probably has infected many more people who didn’t know they were infected. As of March 2007, bird flu was known to have infected 277 people, killing 167 of them as well killing over 250 million birds.

Confirmed human bird flu cases by country as of 2007 according to the World Health Organization: 1) Vietnam (93 cases, 42 deaths); 2) Indonesia (81 cases, 63 deaths, with 6 cases and 5 deaths in 2007); 3) Thailand (25 cases, 17 deaths); 4) Egypt (22 cases, 13 deaths, with 4 cases and 3 deaths in 2007); 5) China (22 cases, 14 deaths); 6) Turkey (12 cases, 4 deaths); 7) Azerbaijan (8 cases, 5 deaths); 8) Cambodia (6 cases, 6 deaths); 9) Iraq (3 cases, 2 deaths); 10) Nigeria (1 case, 1 deaths, with 1 case and 1 deaths in 2007); 11) Djibouti (1 case, 0 deaths); 12) Laos (1 cases, 0 deaths, with 1 case in 2007).

As of August 2005, 12 people died and 17 cases were reported in Thailand; four died from four cases in Cambodia, at least one died in Indonesia and 50 died and 90 cases were reported in Vietnam and 200 million chickens and other birds had bee culled throughout Asia. Infected birds were found in Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Some of the dead of Thailand contacted the disease from fighting cocks whose owners regarded as too valuable to kill.

Bird Flu Symptoms

Symptoms of the disease vary but generally included influenza-like symptoms such as fever, coughing, sore throat and muscle aches as well as eye infections and eventually acute respiratory distress and pneumonia. Some people have no symptoms or are mildly sick. The contagious form strikes victims quickly and has a nearly 100 percent fatality rate. The virus can change from being a low-risk strain to a high risk one through genetic mutation in the body.

Anjana Ahuja wrote in The Times: “H5N1...ravages the lungs---X-rays show the black of the lungs replaced by a ghostly white cloud---to cause pneumonia. The virus can also spread elsewhere in the body, even to the brain, to cause multiple organ failure. [Source: Anjana Ahuja, The Times, October 30, 2006]

In February 2005, Reuters reported: The bird flu virus can produce a deadly encephalitis, diarrhoea and other symptoms that do not look like the classic respiratory disease, an international team of doctors said. They reported on the cases of a 9-year-old girl and her 4-year-old brother who died of encephalitis, a swelling of the brain case, in southern Vietnam one year ago. The children’s deaths were a mystery until the researchers went back and checked samples from the boy and found avian influenza virus.

"These cases suggest that the clinical spectrum of influenza H5N1 is wider than previously thought, and therefore they have important implications for the clinical and public health responses to avian influenza,” the researchers wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine. “The finding came in late 2004 after we tested several hundred samples,” Dr. Tran Tinh Hien, the deputy head of the Ho Chi Minh City Hospital for Tropical Diseases and one of the study’s authors, told Reuters. Hien noted that influenza viruses in general were known to cause encephalitis and can damage the respiratory, nervous and digestive systems as well as the heart, kidney and liver. “But we have not found encephalitis among the patients who died recently from bird flu in Vietnam,” Hien told Reuters.

Bird Flu Death

H5N1--the strain that causes bird flu in humans--is incredibly deadly. It has killed 60 percent of the people who have been known to have been infected by it. Bird flu causes the capillaries to leak blood and the immune system to overreact by producing excessive amounts of white blood cells and fluid. Human victims fight for their lives as the disease destroy their lungs and causes a massive inflammatory reaction. Healthy tissue dies and blood vessels leak, Many victims literally die of suffocation from the excessive fluid in their lungs. One victim was found with healthy lungs. He died in a coma after his brain became inflamed.

Professor Jeremy Farrar, director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in Vietnam, told the Times of London: “Avian influenza is a horrible disease, and people can deteriorate incredibly quickly. I remember one patient having breakfast and talking and by the next morning she was dead. Seeing fit healthy young people, and especially children, go from being very well to very sick and then dying in a short space of time, is always traumatic.” [Source: Anjana Ahuja, The Times, October 30, 2006]

Bird Flu, Humans and the Possibility of a Pandemic

How the bird flu is spread to humans is still not known. Most access is believed to be related to contact with sick or dying dead poultry. But scientists are not sure whether it is picked by touching the birds, or eating or inhaling dust contaminated with their feces. The disease is believed to have been spread to humans by contact with the dust of feces or saliva of sick birds. No one ever caught the disease from eating meat with the virus, which is killed if meat is cooked at 75 degrees C or higher for a minute.

There is no human vaccine for bird flu. Human bird flu patients are treated with antivirals. The primary treatment, an expensive anti-viral called Tamiflu, appears to only be effective if it is given within one or two days of the onset of symptoms. Tamiflu is also given as a kind of vaccine.

The Center for Disease Control has called bird flu a “ticking time bomb” especially if human-to-human transmission begins to take place. Bird flu can spread through the air as well as in feces. If there is human pandemic some estimate that 180 million to 360 million would die. Modern transportation and travel make the spread of such a disease easy and containing it once it starts impossible. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the potential for H5N1 to fuel a human influenza pandemic “is serious and has increased” ; that once a pandemic is under way it is “considered unstoppable”; that the best way to prevent one is to eliminate H5N1 in birds but that this is seen as “increasingly doubtful”.

A worrisome situation can arise among human if a human is carrying an avian flu also carries a normal human flu that is transferred easily from person to person. If the two viruses exchange genetic material, there is the possibility that a hybrid virus could be created that could be as deadly as H5N1 and infect humans as easily as a common human flu. Some fighting cock owners treat their injured birds by sucking the bird’s blood. The practice is quite dangerous with bird flu present. Boiling feshly-killed chickens helps remove feathers but doesn’t kill bird flu Authorities are also worried about migratory workers from the countryside bringing bird flu to the cities.

Michael Specter wrote in The New Yorker: “To ignite a pandemic, even the most lethal virus would need to meet three conditions: it would have to be one that humans hadn't confronted before, so that they lacked antibodies; it would have to kill them; and it would have to spread easily--through a cough, for instance, or a handshake. Bird flu meets the first two criteria but not the third. Virologists regard cyclical pandemics as inevitable; as with earthquakes, though, it is impossible to predict when they will occur. Flu viruses mutate rapidly, but over time they tend to weaken, and researchers hoped that this would be the case with H5N1. [Source: Michael Specter, The New Yorker, March 12, 2012]

Anjana Ahuja wrote in The Times: Human influenza is takes around three days to make people ill, thus giving them ample time to infect others. Very roughly, if a person carrying H5N1 went on to infect two or more people, it would be virtually impossible to contain a pandemic. Mathematical simulations by Professor Neil Ferguson, at Imperial College, London, shows that if each flu case infects an average of 1.8 people or fewer, a combination of containment strategies and pre-vaccination offers hope. Ferguson has predicted that a pandemic could cost up to 200 million lives. [Source: Anjana Ahuja, The Times, October 30, 2006]

Bird Flu and Different Species of Animals

In H5N1 is believed to have developed first in quails. The H5 came from a goose. the N1 came from a quail. A third component also came from a quail. Ducks or waterfowl can pass the disease onto pigs, horses, whales, seals, chickens and turkeys but there is no evidence that they can pass on to humans. It was once thought the avian flu could only make the species leap to humans through pigs because pigs were the only animal known that could catch both human and avian flues. The 1997 Hong Kong outbreak was the first evidence of a bird-to-human flu infection,

Bird flu made the leapt to species other than humans. In Thailand, 29 tigers and two house cats died after being infected with the disease from eating raw chickens or chicken bones. Another 40 tigers were culled. Later around 140 tigers died ay Sri Racha Tiger Zoo near Pattaya, Thailand after they had eaten chickens infected with bird flu. A report that a dog had come down with the disease was unfounded. In China there were reports of finches dropping dead from the sky (no link was found to bird flu however). In Vietnam, pigs tested positive for the disease. This was especially worrisome because in the past flu have made the species leap from pigs to humans and showed that disease could evolve in other animals.

Experiments in the laboratory by Chinese-based scientists showed how bird flu can change and acquire characteristics that would made lethal to mice. It was reasoned the same thing could make it lethal to humans. Some scientists say people should not worry too much because bird flu has evolved to be transmitted among birds and is still difficult for humans to catch. It s unlikely that World War I conditions would occur again and allow a birds specific virus evolve into a human killer.

H5N1 has been discovered in the snouts of pigs but not in their blood stream. Pigs can pick up the virus by sniffing the ground and have it present in their snouts without actually contacting the disease, which has to get into the blood stream to be infective. In Vietnam pigs were found with H5N1 in their snouts but not in their blood. It would be a worrisome trend if a strain of H5N1 developed that could be transmitted from pig to pig because pigs are mammals and are genetically similar to humans .

Animal and Human Victims of Bird Flu

Birds spread the virus via saliva, nasal secretions and feces. Most cases of infection in humans results from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces. Chickens usually die within 24 hours of being infected.

Chickens that catch the disease swell and hemorrhage and often die as bloody heaps within hours after catching it. The manage of a state-owned farm in Laos that lost a quarter of its 2,000 chickens in five days in January 2004, told the New York Times: “they bled from the nose and the backs of their heads turned purple and then black, and then they died. The disease can be just as destructive to mice, tigers and other mammals.

Many of the victims of bird flu were children. This is thought to have been because they were often in contact with chickens, ducks and other fowl and play in areas used by farm animals. Another reason is that victims transmit enough virus to their mouths for it to gain access to the lower lungs, a distance that is shorter in children than adults.

See Symptoms

Human-to-Human Transmissions of Bird Flu

In November and December 2007 there was a case of human-to- human transmission of bird flu in the eastern province of Jiangxi Province in China involving a 52-year-old father and his 24-year-old son. The two were diagnosed with bird flu within a week of each other. Ths son picked up the virus from poultry while the father had no known contact with the virus except from his son. The son died. He was the 17th reported death from the disease in China.The father who was diagnosed at an early stage of the disease, survived.

The strains of H5N1 found in the father and son were almost identical. The father was treated with antivirals and plasm from a woman who had been vaccinated against H5N1 in a clinical trial, which suggests this method or similar methods may be useful in treating the disease,. The Chinese government was unusually forthcoming with data from the cases, which give the international researchers useful information to fight bird flu.

Reporting from Jandi Meriah, Indonesia, Alan Sipress wrote in the Washington Post, Dowes Ginting, a wiry 32-year-old, had watched disease burn through his family over the previous two weeks, killing six and sickening two others, including himself. International health experts grew increasingly concerned when laboratory tests confirmed they were sickened by bird flu, the largest cluster of the disease ever recorded. [Source: Alan Sipress, Washington Post, August 30, 2006]

“Health investigators have concluded that the eight-person cluster in Sumatra began with Ginting's older sister, who fell ill in late April. They suspect she was infected with bird flu from live chickens sold in a market where she peddled oranges, limes and chili peppers, or from contaminated poultry droppings in manure used in her garden. She died and was buried before any samples were taken to confirm bird flu.

Bird Flu Survivor in Vietnam

Reporting from Saigon, Anjana Ahuja wrote in the Times of London, “Hn Diem Hong Nguyen, 11, and her 14-year-old brother Druong Suan live, like so many Vietnamese city-dwellers, in a two-bedroom apartment in a narrow, crowded alley with their parents and extended family. The living room...opens on to the alley. The living room doubles up as a bedroom for Hn’s aunt. In December 2003 this pretty, slightly built schoolgirl was fighting for her life in the city’s Hospital for Tropical Diseases (HTD). She caught H5N1 from a duckling that she bought outside her school. It seemed an innocuous addition to the family’s domestic menagerie: a monkey, a dog, birds and fish.[Source: Anjana Ahuja, The Times, October 30, 2006]

“Hn says: “I bought the duckling as a pet. It was so small and cute and I loved it. I fed it rice and vegetables three times a day, just as my mother feeds me, and when I came home from school, I played with it and hugged it. After a week it got sick and died. I decided to bury it at the end of the alley outside my house and went off alone with a dinner spoon. I felt sad but I didn’t cry. About three days later a neighbour asked me to dig it up because it smelt. So I dug it up and went with two friends to bury it in a nearby cemetery. I had wrapped the duck’s legs in paper, so that I didn’t have to touch it. After burying it, I came home and washed my hands without soap.”

“The next day, Hn developed a fever. Her mother Chau recalls: “After two days, the fever hadn’t come down, so we took her to a paediatric hospital. The doctor admitted her immediately. Within five days her fever had worsened and she needed oxygen to breathe. I cried a lot. I was so afraid that she would die. Doctors isolated her and told me that her lungs were getting worse every day. They sent a blood sample to the Pasteur Institute (in Ho Chi Minh City).

“One morning they told me that it was bird flu and that afternoon she was transferred to the HTD. I was scared because I’d read in a newspaper of bird flu in the north and the person died. The doctors told me that my daughter was the first bird flu case in the south, and that I should pray. I prayed every day before bed and we went to church every day. I think God heard my prayers---that’s why my daughter survived.” Hn’s father recalls seeing around 15 other cases of bird flu during his daughter’s recuperation; most died within three days of arrival.

“He remembers that his daughter was given Tamiflu an hour after reaching the HTD. By this time she was unconscious, only one third of one lung was functioning, and her immune system had almost shut down (recent research suggests that this shutdown may have saved her life as H5N1 appears to trigger a potentially lethal “immune storm”). Her father adds: “We had to wait 24 hours to see if Tamiflu worked. I stayed with her the whole time and stopped working. Then we saw her fever had come down---we were so happy that it was working. She had half a Tamiflu pill a day and was fed intravenously.

“She stayed in hospital for a month and three days. Ten days before she came home the doctors said that there was no virus in her body and that she’d survive. We just thanked God. I hugged the doctors. We thought we were luckiest people alive.” One of Hn’s most vivid memories was that her father bought her a pair of pink slippers to help her to walk again---she’d been bedridden for so long. “I couldn’t walk because I was so weak. ...The family will never keep pets again (the city has banned the keeping of domestic poultry). “We wouldn’t dare,” says Chau. “It is too scary.”

“Hn’s recovery has come at a financial cost in a country where healthcare is not free (except for children under 6) and the average income is £320. Her parents estimate their medical costs at about $4,000 (£2,140), half of which covered drugs and hospital care. The other half went on medical transportation plus other expenses, such as a large donation to the local church which held a special ceremony to pray for Hn, and gifts to doctors. Hn’s illness coincided with the Tet, or Vietnamese New Year, during which it is customary to give to others. As our meeting draws to a close, Hn smiles serenely and reaches for her mother’s hand---and pledges to pay her parents back with proceeds from the catwalk.

Nearly Dying from Bird Flu

Anjana Ahuja wrote in the Times of London: Oanh Duong Thi Kieu Duong, 27, is tall and slim...A tailor, Oanh rents a single room in Ho Chi Minh City, returning once a month to her husband and eight-year-old daughter, who live in a one-room hut in a province 170km (105 miles) away. Oanh’s husband is a poor farmer. Oanh told the Times: “It was December 2004 and we had about 50 chickens in the house. I saw that some of them were ill and dying. I buried the small ones and kept the biggest one to cook and eat. I cleaned and plucked it but, because I had a headache, I left it for my husband to cook when he came from work. [Source: Anjana Ahuja, The Times, October 30, 2006]

“That afternoon I started feeling dizzy. The next morning I felt so bad that I went to the local health centre. I felt as if my head would explode. They gave me tablets. I wrapped myself in a blanket and went to my sister’s house so she could perform a treatment, “rubbing wind”, on me, which involves taking a coin and rubbing it on the head, to get the poisoned wind, or bad chi, out of my body. It didn’t make me better so my brother came over and took me to a provincial hospital on the back of his motorbike. I could barely hold on for the hour-long journey. A doctor diagnosed a respiratory infection and I told my brother to buy all the medicines he prescribed. I took them all in one go.

“I still didn’t feel better so I contacted my cousin, who works as a doctor there. She admitted me and X-rayed my chest. They asked if I’d eaten chicken. I said yes, even though I hadn’t. I lied because I was scared, the pain was so horrible. All the doctors went to get masks. As soon as I saw the masks, I thought that I was dying. I asked the doctor if I was going to be OK and she said that she didn’t know. I heard the doctors tell my husband it was bird flu---it was first time I’d heard of it.” “Oanh was transferred to the HTD in Ho Chi Minh City, where she stayed for ten days. “All I remember is that I didn’t know the faces of the doctors who treated me, and that when I had a high fever I was unconscious. I remember thinking that, because I was isolated and wearing a mask, if I died, nobody would hear my last words. I didn’t know if I would be around to be a mother to my daughter. I prayed every day. My family came to say goodbye to me. My poor daughter could not eat---someone gave her money to buy breakfast and instead she saved it for me.”

The memories make Oanh cry. But the drama did not end after going home. She discovered she had been pregnant throughout her illness. Six months into the pregnancy, a scan showed the foetus had an abnormally swollen belly. She was advised to abort to avoid the foetus dying inside her and causing a fatal infection. She agreed. She believes that the many medicines she took---which saved her life---cost her the baby. Sadly, Oanh suffered another miscarriage earlier this year.

“Professor Jeremy Farrar says that the effects of an aggressive course of anti-flu medication on developing foetuses remains unknown but, given the deadliness of bird flu, the mother must be the priority. Oanh is grateful to be alive: “If it wasn’t for my cousin, I’d be dead. I saw so many people come here and die of bird flu. And I survived because of my faith and because I am the youngest in my family (she has 11 siblings). I needed to survive so that I could mourn my parents when they die.” She no longer eats poultry or eggs or keeps chickens. She has run up 4 million dong (£132) in debts, and has sold a piece of farmland to pay her medical bills. Her hopes for the future? “I hope that I can pay all my debts and have a second child.”

Key Factors Behind Bird Flu Outbreaks

Will Dunham of Reuters wrote: “In Ducks, people and rice paddies are the primary forces driving outbreaks of avian influenza in Thailand and Vietnam, and the number of chickens is less pivotal, scientists with U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization experts who looked at three waves of H5N1 bird flu in Thailand and Vietnam in 2004 and 2005, said. They used computer modeling to study how various factors were involved in the spread of the virus, including the numbers of ducks, geese and chickens, human population size, rice cultivation and local geography. [Source: Will Dunham, Reuters, March 27, 2008]

“Even though Thailand and Vietnam addressed the outbreaks in different ways, the researchers found that the numbers of ducks and people, and the extent of rice cultivation were the most important contributing factors underpinning the outbreaks. "This provides better insight on where and when the H5N1 risk is highest, so it's possible to better pinpoint where to look for the virus or where to expect flare-up of disease and also when to expect it," Jan Slingenbergh, senior veterinary officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization, said in a telephone interview. "It helps to better target the interventions," he added. Monitoring duck populations for the H5N1 virus and tracking rice farming by satellite are the optimal ways to predict an outbreak's distribution, the researchers said. They added that their model also can be extended to Laos and Cambodia, where there are similar land use patterns.

“Avian influenza has been closely linked to chickens in the past, but the study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found the number of chickens to be less important as a predictor. "In the past in Vietnam, there have been major (bird) vaccination exercises countrywide, which is an enormous effort in terms of logistics and time and effort and staff requirements," Slingenbergh said. "And there is fatigue, also, among the farmers and veterinarians. And if it's now possible to better time and localize the efforts, that is a major efficiency achievement." The researchers said there are close ties between duck grazing patterns and rice cropping intensity. They said ducks feed mainly on leftover rice grains in harvested paddy fields, so free-ranging ducks may go to many different sites following rice harvest patterns.

Backyard Chickens, Live Markets and Panic Over Bird Flu

Alan Sipress wrote in the Washington Post: Markets in several countries, including Vietnam and Cambodia, have long sold live chickens and ducks, but health experts now warn that the virus can be spread by sick birds to other poultry and to people who buy and sell them, especially if they do not wear protective gear. At Phnom Penh's cavernous Orussey Market, for instance, live chickens and ducks are hawked on muddy floors, where they are crammed together, legs bound. In the warren of aisles, peddlers with bare hands butcher, pluck and wash them. [Source:Alan Sipress, Washington Post, April 14, 2005]

“Millions of villagers across the region, meanwhile, raise chickens in their back yards and even inside their homes. When the birds fall sick, villagers are more likely to eat them than dispose of their bodies, U.N. agriculture officials say. Often, the home-raised birds are fighting cocks. In Thailand alone, estimates put their number in the millions.

Alan Sipress wrote in the Washington Post: “In Europe, where the virus was confirmed in wild birds across the continent this year, the consumption of chicken and eggs immediately tumbled. The discovery of a single dead swan infected with bird flu in Scotland this month sent Britain into a tizzy. The British media went on a war footing and callers flooded animal health hotlines with suspected sightings of sick birds, a likely preview of the American response should migratory fowl carry the disease to the West Coast as predicted. [Source:Alan Sipress, Washington Post, April 30, 2005]

“Panic has also swept Egypt, where people responded by turning off their tap water after television stations broadcast news that infected carcasses were being dumped by farmers into the Nile River. In India, a farmers group reported this month that seven peasants had committed suicide after the disease destroyed their livelihoods.

Bird Flu, Cockfighting and Duck Blood Soup

Alan Sipress wrote in the Washington Post: Cockfighting, popular in many parts of Southeast Asia, is suspected of spreading the highly lethal bird flu virus from poultry to humans through contact with blood, feces and droplets of fluid. It is one of several cultural practices, including the eating of raw duck blood and the raising of chickens in back yards, that are threatening to help spark a global pandemic that the World Health Organization warns could kill tens of millions of people. [Source:Alan Sipress, Washington Post, April 14, 2005]

“Vietnamese have traditionally eaten a dish called tiet canh vit, prepared from duck blood, stomach and intestines, to mark the anniversary of a death in the family and other special occasions. Health investigators suspect that as many as five people from two families near Hanoi contracted bird flu this year after dining on this pudding.

“According to WHO and local news reports, infected fighting cocks may have caused at least eight confirmed human cases of avian influenza in Thailand and Vietnam since the beginning of 2004. In September, the virus killed an 18-year-old Thai man who raised fighting cocks outside Bangkok. Thai health officials said he had the habit of sucking mucus and blood from the beaks of his injured roosters and sometimes even slept with his birds. Earlier last year, a 13-year-old boy who frequented cockfights in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City and often held the birds before the bouts also succumbed to the disease.

“It is this proximity to the blood and breath of the frenetic fighters that can make cockfighting so hazardous to humans. But the intimacy of the owners and trainers with their birds also poses a profound danger. Between the 20-minute rounds, the owners scrubbed the blood off their birds with bare hands, wringing out the rags on the ground. Then, with ordinary thread, they stitched the wounds around their eyes and fed them painkillers. Sometimes, Phapart recounted as he watched the hurried surgery, the injuries are so severe that owners relieve the swelling by sucking out the blood by mouth.”

Efforts to Contain Bird Flu by Controlling Cockfighting

Alan Sipress wrote in the Washington Post: “Some owners hid their roosters when Thai officials ordered the mass culling of poultry to contain the bird flu epidemic. Others have smuggled cocks across provincial lines, potentially spreading the disease. Officials in Malaysia blamed the outbreak in the north of their country in September on fighting cocks illegally transported from Thailand. [Source:Alan Sipress, Washington Post, April 14, 2005]

“Thai officials have imposed a system of fighting cock passports that requires owners to get a veterinarian's stamp before taking their birds into another district. Though Phapart said he obeyed these rules, he acknowledged that many villagers did not... Phapart dismissed the government's worries about bird flu as overblown and its proposals as unworkable. "The decision-makers analyze the situation just on paper," he said, growing agitated. "Their feet aren't on the ground. They don't really know how we treat the cocks and don't really share our feelings." He urged that the owners of fighting cocks be left to police themselves because, in his view, they have the most to lose if the virus spreads among the birds. "We care more for the fighting cocks than the health officers do," he argued.

“Last summer, roosters on Phapart's family farm in Chiang Mai province developed flu symptoms. Instead of informing the government, he said, he slaughtered all 600 and burned their bodies. For good measure, he gave away 10 others he was keeping in bamboo cages behind his house for fear they might catch the virus. He has already restocked. The new birds are still young, he said, cradling one in his arms, but he likes their looks. They may even grow to be champions like his beloved rooster Lucky, who died undefeated and whose framed photograph hangs in Phapart's living room. Phapart leaned forward intently and vowed, "They'll never be able to stop us from doing cockfighting."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2012

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