Six people are dead from the H7N9 strain of avian flu. The number of infected has grown to to 14. A new scare just hit Hong Kong. The United States has begun early research for a vaccine. And now China has slaughtered 20,000 chickens, ducks, geese, and pigeons — and shut down its live poultry markets — to try and cut off the health risk at the source. So: Is it time to panic yet?
Well, not exactly.
We’re not doctors, obviously, but the people at the World Health Organization said on Friday that they still haven’t found proof of “sustained human-to-human transmission” of [H7N9], reports Reuters. That’s the key difference between this latest scare going from a relatively isolated virus incident into full-fledged Contagion panic. In Hollywood terms, we’re about at the stage where the pig has left the farm but not yet arrived at the table with Gwyneth Paltrow. And while [H7N9] isn’t thought to be quite horror-movie bad, we might be at the point where Kate Winslet is about to get called in: The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta is already working to develop a vaccine, CNN reports, although U.S. and Chinese scientists still haven’t exactly accounted for how humans developed the virus.
In order to stem the tide, China has culled tens of thousands of birds along with a poultry-market shutdown. And while 20,000 animals might seem a lot of stock, well, Mexico had bird flu fears of their own last year and killed 8 million chickens in August as a precaution. So, that’s another good takeaway — provided you are not a duck, goose, or chicken hanging out in Shanghai.
I’d rather see “proof” that there isn’t “sustained human-to-human transmission.” Because absence of proof does not mean absence of transmission, which presumably why the CDC is going all Kate Winslet and thinking about a vaccine.
Again, whether this plays out as feared or not, get used to this sort of scare. We’ll see it again and again because our livestock practices are nicely set up to create it. Is meat really worth it?