media poop re wild birds and h5n1 poultry flu

With Times of London just publishing some nonsense re wild birds and H5N1, it's perhaps time to post re some of the chief poop the media has published on the topic. Time Asia made impressive bid for most stupid prose, in January 2004, with supposed possibility that

Since huge amounts of virus are shed in bird feces, such an epidemic among migratory birds would mean death raining down from the sky in the form of H5N1 virus.


Appears in On">,9171,501040126-579024,00.htm... High Alert, in which the writer notes that:

In November and December of 2002, there were numerous migratory-waterfowl deaths due to H5N1 in Hong Kong's Penfold and Kowloon parks. Mysteriously, when further screenings of migratory birds were conducted immediately after, no H5N1 was detected.

- without doing bit of thinking and concluding that maybe wild birds weren't responsible. Duh!

Thanks to Charliesbirdblog - on bird flu for noting re this quote, from an article by Nicholas Zamiska in the Wall Street Journal on August 8th 2005:

The worst-case scenario is that these birds -- which can travel thousands of miles, from Scandinavia to Senegal, for instance -- will become the epidemiologic equivalent of intercontinental ballistic missiles, capable of eluding even the strictest quarantine measures on the ground.

article is online at Ornithology meets epidemiology - and to be fair, next paragraph does say:

Still, other experts question how central a role migratory birds play in the global spread of disease, and some worry that rare species may be slaughtered unnecessarily. They point to the ground transport of domestic poultry as the most likely means of spreading the virus.

but my oh my: intercontinental ballistic missiles!!!

Staying with military parallels, Helen Branswell weighed in with a fine contribution:

The vast new geographical expansion of the dangerous H5N1 virus has avian influenza experts worried a bird version of the Stealth Bomber may be at play.


Nature - yes, the hugely respected scientific journal - not too hot when did two news items on 27 October, one focusing on likelihood of H5N1 being carried by birds migrating to Africa (hahaha), and other on some research into migrants and flu spread. Did say:

after recent outbreaks of the H5N1 strain in wild birds in Romania, Turkey and Greece, experts have little doubt that it was carried by birds migrating from Siberia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, where H5N1 outbreaks occurred earlier in the year.

- without noting are others who doubt this, and evidence for Turkey is especially flimsy [plus, turned out it wasn't bird flu in Greece] But worst of all I think, the lead photo - captioned "Migratory birds could expand the geographical spread of the avian flu virus as far as Africa this year." - shows snow geese (an American species)! :woohoo: The Times (of London) just adding to the pile of poop - which is way bigger than I indicate here, with two contributions in one day.

Many millions of migratory birds and wildfowl carry the disease, and some species of duck are able to carry the virus without showing symptoms.

Everything you need to know about bird flu

There's no evidence whatsoever to substantiate this, re H5N1. Then, article notes:

Birds pass on the virus through their droppings, feathers, saliva and breath

- through their saliva and breath, eh? Ever seen ducks or other wild birds French kissing, or sneezing? Or swapping feathers? Bah! also a scary hype piece, by book author and the Observer's medical editor Jo Revill:

First, there is a risk that H5N1 will arrive here in birds soon, because all kinds of waterfowl migrate from the east into the UK over the winter months.

So, dear Jo, do these birds actually carry H5N1? No is the answer, so be a good girl, and put on the dunce's hat to join the other writers here.

This is from her new book, Bird flu: it's on its way]. Well, perhaps Jo should also read thread here re evolutionary biology. Because if natural selection still works h5n1 is indeed a scary prospect - if you're a chicken that is. Otherwise, seems where there's hysteria there's money, for some.

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from email to conservation/h5n1 forum:

[quote]In last days fears and allegations against wild birds piled up in Bulgarian media.

First in central national newspaper a professor from the Academy of
Sceiences (graduate from russian academy)announced how the Russian scientist have confirmed that the Common Pochard Aythya ferina spead the virus from SE Asia through Siberia to Novorosiisk (Russia) and now is carrying it towards Bulgaria.

Second in Saturday in the same newspaper another scientis (though not an ornitologis but parisotologist this time) made a map conviniently showing main migration routes in Bulgaria with vicinity of large wetlands making the allegation that these are the sites where the Ai will appear first in Bulgaria.

These allegations then were fueled by the death of some 70 to 100 Coots
(Fulica atra) along major wetlands in North Bulgaria - Shabla and Durankulak Lakes and Burgas wetlands complex. Though the vets said that thers is no confirmation of AI presence in the birds all daed bodies were buried in the ground by authorities and the municipality declared that Durankulak and Shabla lakes are plague zones of death. So the blame has been announced and now our voice is not very well heard among those as journalist are looking for senssations while we try to say the facts and truth.[/quote]

Just come across woeful article, [url=]Unless we act now, bird flu may win[/url], by Laurie Garrett - 'a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Coming Plague." ' - in International Herald Tribune.

Lays blame for spreading H5N1 firmly on wild birds; yet even though it's a long article (opinion piece), gives little or no real evidence for this, and has some startling twists of logic. For instance:
"The Lake Qinghai moment was the tipping point in the bird flu pandemic. The virus mutated, evidently becoming more contagious and deadly to a broader range of bird species, some of which continued their northern migration to central Siberia."
- so, a more deadly virus, somehow leaving wild birds healthy enough to continue migrations. And never mind the timings don't fit etc etc - yet again, the blame-the-birds scenario somehow doesn't need details regarding migratory species, routes, timings etc. [heck, those details may prove inconvenient]

earlier says:
"We now understand that influenza is naturally an aquatic migratory bird virus that is carried by ducks, geese and a small list of other waterfowl. Influenza infection is usually harmless to these world travelers, but can kill other types of birds, such as chickens, domestic ducks and swans."
- well, yes, but this means wild influenza; not H5N1 poultry flu. Had Ms Garrett had brain cells operating when she wrote this piece, she might have noticed that H5N1 is highly lethal to these "world travelers".

"For at least a decade H5N1 has circulated among a small pool of migrating birds, mostly inside China, and occasionally broken out in other animals and people."
- merely an assertion, not borne out by scientific evidence.

Asserts re outbreaks spreading to Europe, Nigeria:
" Anybody tracking the birds could have seen it coming."
- and might that same "anybody" have forecast H5N1 being widespread in migratory waterbirds to east of the Caspian Sea, where instead it's, err, been absent throughout autumn/winter so far?

" It is in the realm of reasonable probability that H5N1 will reach the United States this summer or early autumn."
- by migratory birds, travelling via Greenland/Iceland, this is.
And, how about the probability of it being in migratory waterbirds in Hong Kong, say? Alas, Ms Garrett sees no need to concern herself with trivia such as facts that don't fit her story. Instead, she is even asserting migrants could carry H5N1 along "any, or all, of the four primary north/south flyways that span the Americas, from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego."

Ms G suggests we should heed warnings of science, and put poultry indoors. Such as, one assumes, the French turkey farmer, who just had indoors flock ravaged by H5N1.

Hilariously, after playing such a role in the witchhunt against wild birds, Garrett then suggests:
"One of the best untapped resources in this epic battle against influenza is bird-watchers, who are among the most fanatic hobbyists in the world. The major bird-watching organizations and safari clubs ought to work with the World Health Organization and OIE, the World Organization for Animal Health, to set up Web-based notification sites, where birders could report sightings of groups of dead birds, and the movements of key migrating species."
- just shows that she clearly didn't bother with doing any research for her article. No need I guess, since she has a Pulitzer, and poses nicely on her website (a while ago, I posted re H5N1 and wild birds on her forum; no reply, and clearly of no use at all).

"Ornithologists and climate experts should immediately sit down with pandemic planners and virologists, creating lists of known H5N1 carriers and plotting their most likely global movements. As the birds appear in new regions of the world, birders and professional wildlife surveillance personnel should issue alerts, which should be swiftly confirmed and form the basis of government response."
- the known wild carriers seem to be pretty much the six ducks with two genotypes from Poyang Lake.
Otherwise, are indeed birds carrying - or that were carrying - H5N1, especially across frozen parts of eastern Europe. But it appears they are dying: killed by starvation, and by a disease created in man's poultry farms. Premature to say that the virus won't die away from most places as the birds die (cf Mongolia, say).

Meanwhile, not mentioned by Garrett, trade in poultry and poultry products - including smuggling - continues.
What a truly woeful article. :sick: