Friday, October 21, 2005

Birdbrains in a flap over flu

The media in a simmering panic, the government is cautious, but the rest Poland retains its commonsense.

If the press is to be believed, the apocalypse is coming, not on four horseback, but on the wings of migratory birds.

After a few were discovered with the virus in Romania, and then more in Ukraine, would Poland be next?

Attention has focused on the flatlands around the Szczecin area in the northwest of the country. This is where the birds flying in from the east stop off for a breather, before going on to warmer areas in the south.

The World Health Organization has estimated that between two and a half and 7 million humans could die from a pandemic of avian future.

The Polish government has responded by banning poultry imports from Turkey and Romania. Pigeon racing has been banned. Owners of chickens have been advised to keep their flock indoors.

Poland has two million farms, half of those are family-sized, subsistence patches of land – and many keep chickens.

So, with all this media coverage and dire warnings from the authorities of impending doom, you would expect Poles to be keeping a close eye out for sniffling chickens, and carrying out witch hunts against people who sneeze in public.

But no, they aren’t. This subject might be at the top of media agendas and anxious government meetings, and there has been a slight fall in sales of chicken, but the nation remains decidedly underwhelmed about the whole subject.

Poles just shrug their shoulders: What is the point in getting worked up about something that doesn’t yet exist?

Meanwhile, Hungarian researchers have completed preliminary work on a vaccine that could protect both humans and animals. The Prime Minister of Hungary, Jenoe Racz, announced Wednesday that antibodies to the virus have appeared in his blood following his inoculation several weeks ago.

That kind of positive attitude is exactly what we need – not the panic that is building in the west.

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