Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Local Media reporting of H5N1

The growing debate about H5N1 is now filtering down from the hallowed heights of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to the British mortals who spend their days watching the EastEnders soap opera on TV, read the Sun and invest in a very successful British fish and chip industry.

One localised media outlet ran the story of a mother appealing to the Experts... and Mystic Meg... to reassure her about the safety of her children from H5N1. There is nothing better than to throw a frightened single mother together with a couple of toddlers and a baby to get a good newspaper selling story about H5N1. The story was complete with photos and the single mother looked hopelessly bewildered and vulnerable. Enter British Expert and Mystic Meg to save the day and round off a good local story.

Another local media outlet had another approach. In a smelly, untidy looking backwater of Suffolk is a town called Haverhill. It is a town that the planners forgot about, or more importantly bypassed, in favour of more important towns like Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge. Haverhill is a town with a serious inferiority complex and likes to feel sorry for itself. Haverhill is one of those sad little towns that likes to complain about anything, hates people stupid enough to help it, but loves those who makes a mess of things in the town, because it means there is more to complain about.

Tucked away amongst the two streets that the good folk of Haverhill calls a town centre is a little office of hardworking reporters. The reporters of the local weekly newspaper, the Haverhill Echo, work very hard to put the town on the map, and sell newspapers. Nothing will get in the way of a good story that can be talked up a bit. For instance a Friday night fight between two drunks is reported as a fullscale street riot or a little bump between two vehicles may be described as bloody carnage on the roads. If heaven forbid the Haverhill Echo editor disappears whilst on holiday one wonders if an alien abduction story could not be sneaked in somewhere.

The Haverhill Echo hates to be left out on important national issues. If an event is good enough for the nation then it is good enough for Haverhill, especially if the Haverhill Echo can sell newspapers.

Through Haverhill trickles a little river of about a few inches high and the size slightly wider than the shopping trollies that gather there on a regular basis at frequent intervals along the route. The river is helped on its way with regular outflows of sewage and chemicals from the many little pipes that flow out of the many businesses that the Haverhill Echo promotes with nice red stickers with "HavPride" on them. It is a river that no self respecting duck would be seen dead in let aone from bird flu.

Still this did not stop Haverhill Echo reporting on an H5N1 scare with a big headline "SWAN IN BIRD FLU SCARE". The scare happened in a village called Great Abington where a swan was found dead. Great Abington is a village miles away from Haverhill and has as much in common with Haverhill as Buckingham Palace has with a mud hut in Outer Mongolia. To get the local angle the Haverhill reporters wheel out the Haverhill hero from a village just on the edge of Haverhill in Sturmer. Our hero finds a dead swan in a far more majestic and "real" river in Great Abington and reports the incident to the Government Experts/Mystic Meg. The Haverhill Echo reporters move into gear now. This is a huge crisis and it is "a major alert" as the Haverhill Echo reporters put it. 100 people worldwide are reported as dead from H5N1 and the "lethal strain" was reported to have hit Hungry (Writer note: Hungry is not part of Haverhill and the town residents who can be easily confused hopefully will become aware of this soon). The dead swan was "rushed" to a lab for tests, where less than panic stricken Experts in between watching EastEnders tested the swan, and with some impressive turns of speed, that Experts occasionally can achieve, announced 5 days later that their test for H5N1 was negative on the swan. Mystic Meg was on the case with a quote in the Haverhill Echo that the Experts knew all along that H5N1 in the swan was "very unlikely". Experts were on hand to "reassure" frightened Haverhill residents with that warm knowing smile frightened people come to trust that all was safe and secure.

The Haverhill Echo photographer must have been off with flu as no photos, complete with a frightened vulnerable single mother with a couple of anxious children, were added to the story by our enterprising local reporters. Nonetheless local Haverhill residents are watching their little shopping trolly filled stream with fearful expressions for any sign of a dead swan, duck or Big Bird from Sesame Street, and have a telephone number to call in the event of such an event occuring.

Government Experts

Governments around the world as part of their war effort are sending out their educated experts to tell the media, the uneducated masses and each other to inform and educate about H5N1. Propaganda is an ancient form of mass control that is useful to keep the panic stricken public hordes from deserting whole industries in droves and clearing chemists, fuel suppliers and food shops in a basic need to survive. All credit to the propaganda machine as so far this is working. The common people are still feeling happy and safe that all is normal and they are in safe hands. Meanwhile...

What I love about British Government experts is their ability to see into the future. I think that Mystic Meg has been employed with her crystal ball to help things along a bit. Give the Government their due this strategy is working. The British Public are feeling warm and safe in the hands of the British Government experts ... and Mystic Meg.

The Experts and Mystic Meg have prepared us for the worst. They say that when H5N1 comes knocking on Britain's door that it will be staying, like an unwanted family relative, for about 5 years. The Experts and Meg also give some figures on the number of deaths if a pandemic would happen. These figures change like the British weather depending on how the Government or the Expert feels at the time. It is my belief that if the Expert had a bad night's sleep the night before then the statistic for deaths may go up a little, or the Expert just out of a bit of mischief may add a few zero's on the end of the figure. The good news is that the British Public have a memory that runs to about the length of time between two episodes of the British soap opera EastEnders. The Experts will always finish off by reasuring the trusting British public that all is well, and nothing horrible will ever happen, and even if it did then they have a secret weapon ready to magically resolve all problems. An Expert with some authority has also said that an H5N1 pandemic will never happen. Nobody has consulted with H5N1 on what the virus thinks of all these sage predictions by our Government's great minds, which is rather rude because H5N1 has rather different ideas.

I am wondering if I would rather trust a bookmaker with my money or a British Government expert and Mystic Meg over H5N1 predictions. Now what was that bookmakers web site address again?

H5N1 kills a cat

H5N1 took time out recently from infecting birds and decided to jump on a new species - cats. The location of the death of the feline is an H5N1 hotspot that is the Baltic island of Ruegen, Germany. Lots of birds have been dying of H5N1 for the last month or so at Ruegen so H5N1 has been enjoying itself. Until recently the German cat was also enjoying itself, no doubt not believeing its luck when food fell practically into the cat's paws. Unfortunately for the cat his last meal was an H5N1 bird, the cat fell ill and then died. The dead cat was found by German officials at Ruegen and tested for H5N1, which was confirmed.

The world media then carried the story of the deceased feline in shock and horror. The shocked media woke the world up that H5N1 had jumped species to cats. The cat-loving community of the world then went into panic. News reporters are a little slow on the uptake sometimes. This news of the deceased German cat is not a big surprise. Cats and dogs have been dying in large numbers anywhere an outbreak of H5N1 happens. Cat and dog deaths just have not been reported in the media often or followed up by experts until now. Since the 2003 outbreak tigers, civit cats and other felines have been recorded as dying of H5N1. Lab experiments have shown that infected cats not only die from H5N1 but they also spread it to each other. Cat infection by H5N1 is not a new thing.

The Ruegen cat is a martyr to bringing to the world attention that H5N1 infects cats as well as birds. The unlucky feline ran out of 9 lives perhaps due to many days of happy feasting at Ruegen. One more victory to H5N1.

Introductions on H5N1

H5N1 known as bird flu has been causing havoc around the world for the last few years. It is a disease of birds and it has an impressive mortality rate. For humans H5N1 is affecting the food industries associated with poultry but H5N1 is also seen as a potential human killer. For instance half of humans infected by H5N1 die from the disease.

This is one impressive disease that is causing alarm and dismay amongst humans on a daily basis. An interesting war has been raging between humans and a little virus for several years. H5N1 was a virus of the 1990's that briefly appeared then vanished again until 2003 when it appeared in East Asia. During 2003 and 2004 most of the world dismissed H5N1 as an East Asian problem and failed to address it when H5N1 was mostly confined to Vietnam and Cambodia.

Little help came and Vietnam lost the battle. During 2005 H5N1 invaded other countries. China, Russia and many other asian countries. H5N1 moved west and north and by Feb 2006 was in Europe, India, most of the Middle East and Africa.

One thinks that in the new global village everyone would be working together against this threat. Umm you would be wrong! Everyone is doing their own thing, keeping secret about the scale of their problems for economic, security, political or other selfish reasons. Teamwork is an alien concept to the global village. Not that the virus cares as it is happily establishing itself in every nation of the world and killing at least half of everything it comes into contact with.

H5N1 is very interesting to me as it is history in the making. H5N1 has the hallmarks of something with potential to do a big dent in human population numbers around the world. This is my record of a war. H5N1 v's mankind. H5N1 is winning.