There is something so beautiful that can carry something else that is so ugly that hundreds of millions of people have died from it.
The birds. The flu.
In all its shapes and configurations, the flu has attacked humanity for as long as humanity has existed. The ancient Greeks wrote about the wreckage flu could inflict on people. Young men, in fact, their best warriors, could sniffle on a Monday and die that Sunday.
We saw this in 1918 with the Spanish Flu. Over 50 million people, many strong, young men, our own warriors, heading not for the glory of battle but for their eternal rest from a tortuous disease. There is no glory in coughing up your life.
According to Audubon magazine, wild birds, “mostly shore birds such as Red Knots, Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlins, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Sanderlings, HerrIng Gulls, and Laughing Gulls,” among others, bring something to us other than their beauty. According to a recent study some 60 percent of birds that wend their way to Delaware Bay in the United States have some form of the flu virus.
Indeed, these birds carry some 150 different strains of the flu. Luckily, for us, only a small percentage have been shown to affect people. Still, those yearly bouts of the flu that cause aches, pains, and death, have probably come from birds, often through beloved meats such as pork and chicken, as we’ll see.
In fact, there seems to be an ancient world business practice that spews various viruses; these are called “wet markets” and they can be found throughout China.
In filthy conditions, wild animals such as bats and various species of birds, and rodents and lizards and monkeys spend their days waiting to be sold for food and also crapping on each other’s heads and through the bars of each other’s cramped cages. A great birthing ground for viruses of many types.
The greatest host of the flu are chickens but not from the Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket. No, these are home grown in Asia and eaten with exotic creatures that might turn a Westerner’s stomach inside out.
With third-world nations hungering to join the first-world, their population’s hunger for chicken dinners has increased markedly. Such growth in the chicken-eating population is a symbol and a measure of a society’s cultural growth. And with that growth comes the growth of the chicken population in those countries.
There are several vectors for in-flu-encing people. Here’s one: the virus can go from wild bird to chickens and/or bats, to pigs and then to us. Most of you reading this probably remember the fears over “swine flu” and “bird flu” from some years ago. Well, COVID-19 probably took that route from the wet markets to the world’s human immune system with devastating results for humans.
How do we stop the spread of the flu?
The first step is for the governments of the countries where wet markets thrive to close them down or, at the very least, categorize what foods they are allowed to sell and the level of cleanliness needed for proprietors, their goods, and property.
Do I think these precautions will happen in my lifetime?
In fact, I think I am chirping on the wrong shore when it comes to such reforms.
[Squirrel alert: In a former column I wrote about feeding peanuts to squirrels who frequent my backyard. Stop! SSAS member Diana Ihmann got in touch with me and told me that squirrels have allergic reactions to peanuts. So, my wife the Beautiful AP, and I have stopped feeding our squirrels peanuts.]
Frank Scoblete’s web site is www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.