Purple Dragon Newsletter - September 2001


5 February 2004


Once Again the Sky Is Falling

"Oh no, don't go!" said Henny Penny. "The sky is falling there!"
(a story for children with a message for adults)

Mother rang from California in the middle of the night. "I'm terribly worried about you," she said. "The headline in this morning's newspaper is 'Millions Expected to Die from Bird Flu.' Do you want me to send you a ticket home?"

Poor mom. Her eyes are not what they used to be and she reads only the headlines. What the story went on to say is that millions of chickens are expected to die in Thailand. In fact, the number of birds dispatched into the next life has reached over ten million in Thailand already. At this rate there will not be a single chicken left in Southeast Asia by this time next month. Even the local Kentucky Fried outlets are removing the "C" from their signs.

One thing we learned from SARS is that the the many otherwise-rational people often react to news media sensationalism with unnecessary hysteria. Before you panic about a trip to Southeast Asia, turn off your TV and read a few facts compiled from information provided, in part, by the World Health Organization:

  • Avian influenza (a.k.a. "bird flu") was first discovered over 100 years ago. It is an infectious disease of birds caused by the type A influenza virus. Most species of birds, although not all, can be infected and become ill. Avian flu does not normally infect other animals (that's you, darling).

  • The strain of flu currently in the news can be transmitted to humans through feces ("poop," "crap," "doodoo") and through excretions and other bodily fluids of sick fowl. Of the handful of people who have died in Southeast Asia, all had contact with live chickens. In at least one case, the sick chicken was eaten by the person who slaughtered it.

  • The virus does not survive high temperatures. Eating well-cooked chicken is not considered dangerous. Many politicians around Asia are posing for news cameras eating a crispy fried leg, so it must be safe. Eating no chicken at all is probably safer.

  • Type A influenza viruses are quickly and easily diagnosed in humans and antiviral drugs are effective in the event of a correct diagnosis. Sadly, rural peasants do not often have the same access to quality health care as Westerners.

  • Viruses constantly change and new diseases are "born" all the time. This would be a bad time to pick up a copy of The Coming Plague. It's a miracle we are all still alive.

Sadly, this outbreak has cost many poor farmers in Southeast Asia their entire livelihoods. The greatest danger to the rest of us is that Chicken Flu will mutate into a new strain of SLOPS.

In light of the current outbreak we have implemented several emergency rules to safeguard our guests. Effective immediately, any guest found slaughtering fowl of any kind will receive a reprimand and must clean up after himself. If guests insist on traveling with a chicken or inviting one to their room they must see to it that the bird deposits its feces on a newspaper. That's what newspapers are for.