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A poll taken last week by the Center for Consumer Freedom suggests that nearly half of Americans believe that H5N1, better known to the public as Avian Influenza or Bird Flu, can be contacted by eating infected chicken. Actually, Bird Flu is not a food-borne illness; so far the only people who have contracted it live or work (in Asia) with live chickens. Apart from my cousin CooKoo the Clown who juggles them (here in the States), I do not personally know of anyone who works or lives with chickens. Few of us do. So why the uproar?

People who are scared will do anything, including give away money (in this case to the tune of 7.1 billion dollars), sacrifice personal liberties (can you say martial law?), and even believe what they see on Fox News. The government has seized upon another easily-sensationalized threat to act as something shiny and divert the media and thereby the public away from more pressing concerns, while simultaneously providing an excuse to pump billions of dollars into Big Pharma.

Of course it’s always wise to err on the side of caution, and this newest virus in Asia is absolutely something which should be monitored closely and if at all possible contained. But assessments show that, for the time being, contracting Bird Flu in the United States is less likely than being struck by lightning. The same was true with Ebola, Mad Cow disease, West Nile virus, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Many media outlets quote experts as believing that it’s not a matter of if, but when. These experts should be scrutinized for their possible material gain in proliferation of such fears. Many of them work for pharmaceutical companies or in immunization research and stand to benefit from a worldwide fear epidemic. The science being put forward is arguably overly cautious. As most people are aware, the big concern is if the current strain of Avian Influenza mutates in the right way, it will become communicable between people and then become a pandemic.

Such a scenario first requires that this new Bird Flu develop like the strain that caused the flu pandemic of 1918, and second that it spreads in the same way. But this new strain of Avian Influenza is considered by many to be a human-generated problem directly consequent of the cramped and unsanitary breeding conditions in Asian poultry farms.

Though genetically similar, it is not the same: The 1918 virus had “novel surface proteins” which are not being observed in the new strain. Furthermore, no one is certain just what specific change in genetic structure is required to make the virus transmittable between humans, so claims that the virus is “only one step away” from infecting humans are pure speculation.

As to the spread of such a virus, consider where the world was in 1918, namely World War I. The flu attacked exhausted, hygienically neglected soldiers in their damp, over-crowded trenches. Not what we see today. Also, modern technology allows doctors to diagnose and isolate flu patients more effectively.

Yet Bill Frist is pushing for legislation by Thanksgiving that would fund preparation for a “possible world-wide outbreak of Bird Flu or some other influenza strain.” Frist is a shady bastard anyway, and the language is absurdly vague... “possible”.... “or some other...” Too bad there’s no vaccination against stupidity. Actually, there’s no vaccination against the Bird Flu either, at least not the specific strain currently panicking the nation. So how is it that the United States has ordered $162.5 million worth of vaccine to be made and stockpiled against the Asian Bird Flu?

The vaccine currently available against H5N1 Avian Influenza is experimental. Chew on that for a moment, and the wash it down with this: S. 1873, a bill introduced in mid-October to the Senate, funds rapid development of drugs and vaccines by creating a new agency (Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency or BARDA) which will “act quickly to fund high-risk high-payoff research that might not pass peer review” (emphasis mine). This agency is a concern to scientists for the peer review factor and because it will apparently be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act—meaning that its work will be done in secret.

Additionally, S. 1873 shields manufacturers from liability, even if their rushed-to-market-non-peer-reviewed, experimental products turn out to be lethal. All they have to do now is force everybody to take it (which they can do) and it will be as if we had all joined the military.

So, to recap: if this bill and its House counterpart are passed, the entire nation can be forcibly injected with an experimental vaccine which has been developed in secret, and if it makes us sick, we can’t do a damn thing about it. Of course, a government order for 300 million doses of secret vaccine would be a huge payday for shareholders in whichever company develops it, for instance Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Chairman of Tamiflu patent-holder Gilead. Rumsfeld owns about $5 million in Gilead stock, not quite as much as former Secretary of State George Schulz, who still sits on the board. What a coincidence!

The Bird Flu, which conveniently hijacked headlines in the wake of Scooter Libby’s indictment and hurricane Katrina, smells like yet another well-timed alarmist media distraction. But instead of taking any kind of reasonable action to possible demonstrate that he’d learned anything from the awful mismanagement of the response to those catastrophes, president Bush has chosen instead to paint a worst-case scenario picture. He conjured up terrifying images of quarantine as implemented by the military.

 Perhaps the administration has discovered that we are immune (no pun intended) to the color-coded terror-alert system so they adopted a new invisible but ever-present enemy to keep us in a state of perpetual fear. Or maybe this is just graft on a massive scale.

Like the Terrorist Threat Level, fear of Avian Influenza is little more than fatigue-inducing fear mongering. There is nothing the average citizen can do to prevent the Bird Flu, beyond of course duct-taping your windows and storing plenty of bottled water, the prescribed defense against all threats to life and limb here in America. Once the Bird Flu passes, Halliburton will come rebuild your house. Meanwhile, however, there is plenty that our government and numerous international health organizations could do. The World Health Organization (WHO) has discussed containment, and estimates it would take less than one billion dollars over three years for such preventative measures. Yet here we are, about to spend over seven billion, and basically hand it over to Big Pharma.

Shame on the government for using a real worldwide concern to further their own agenda, and shame on the media for choosing sensationalism over information. The ugly fact is that if there were a pandemic, we would be utterly unprepared for it. The government’s proposed “Bird Flu legislation” fails to address critical health needs or realistic preventative measures. The “plan” in the case of a pandemic—being forced through congress at a rate guaranteeing few citizens will ever even hear of it until after it’s passed, let alone get a chance to respond—is woefully inadequate in regards to protection of its citizens while simultaneously encouraging profiteering.

Sounds hauntingly familiar, only in this case it’s drug companies making the big bucks instead if oil companies, and it’s the entire nation getting fucked, not just New Orleans.









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