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Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching

On Thursday, I went to Stand-up NY (kind of an unlikely venue) for a lecture by Dr. Michael Greger, for a presentation based on his new book, Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching.

The talk was both fascinating and terrifying. Did you know, for example, that all human infectious diseases are thought to have originated from animals—the flu from sheep, colds from horses—and that infectious diseases did not exist before humans started to domesticate animals? (In populations that hunt and eat wild animals, there are no such diseases.) Hence, a virus of our own hatching.

Some facts from the book:

“In 1918, half the world became infected and 25% of all Americans fell ill. Unlike the regular seasonal flu, which tends to kill only the elderly and infirm, the flu virus of 1918 killed those in the prime of life. Public health specialists at the time noted that most influenza victims were those who ‘had been in the best of physical condition and freest from previous disease.’

…The 1918 influenza pandemic killed more people in a single year than the bubonic plague (‘black death’) in the Middle Ages killed in a century. The 1918 virus killed more people in 25 weeks than AIDS has killed in 25 years. According to one academic reviewer, this ‘single, brief epidemic generated more fatalities, more suffering, and more demographic change in the United States than all the wars of the Twentieth Century.’ ”

The problem is, bird flu is going to be worse. And according to Dr. Greger and other experts, it’s a matter of when, not if:

“Because it’s happened before. Because an influenza pandemic in 1918 became the deadliest plague in human history, killing up to 100 million people around the world. Because the 1918 flu virus was likely a bird flu virus. Because that virus made more than a quarter of all Americans ill and killed more people in 25 weeks than AIDS has killed in 25 years—yet in 1918, the case mortality rate was less than 5%. H5N1, on the other hand, has officially killed half of its human victims.”

Thankfully, Dr. Greger didn’t hurl the ugly truth at us without also telling us what we could do to try to protect ourselves. You can find information on general preparedness here, as well as a checklist of supplies to have on hand.

Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching is due out later this month, but you can order it online now (the cost is $30, but all proceeds go to charity, though which one[s] Dr. Greger didn’t say). You can also download the book for free, and start stocking up on food, water, and medicine now.

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