So, the lethal strain of bird flu has been confirmed today in Scotland in a dead Mute Swan (the native British species - I think this is one).
I remember the lurking thoughts of the virus at the back of my mind when I took this picture in Windsor Great Park some months ago, drawn to the common but always appealing beauty of a whole flock of them. A new and deeper fear replacing vague memories of being warned as a child that swans, if disturbed, might peck me.
Most immediately, I feel for the farmers who fear a re-run of the terrible experience of the most recent Foot-and-Mouth epidemic and the way it was dealt with here: the chaotic slaughter, the countryside filled with stinking piles of corpses and smoking pyres, the livelihoods lost overnight, the government seen as enemy not safety net, the ministry so reviled it had to change its name.
Despite the blanket media coverage over many months, I find I have little idea, really, of the level of risk. Perception of risk - the degree to which we are taught to fear crime and strangers, for example - is so commonly, so massively distorted.
I read the comments from my friends Pica and Dale with ever-so-slight indignation, thinking: well, I know that, I didn't mean I don't know that, I do read the more thoughtful newspapers, what I don't know is... then I realised I'd fallen into the trap of what I was criticising. Risk means WE DON'T KNOW. The "knowledge society" deals very badly with not knowing and would rather catastrophise than admit to uncertainty.
There is certainly MASSIVE risk to wildlife (especially birds) with this epidemic. Threatened populations are going to be hit hard. Whether it will translate into the terrible global pandemic for humans remains to be seen...
So far for human beings the risk, unless you handle birds a lot, is practically nil. The worry is that it will mutate to a form easily passed directly from human to human. If it did that, and kept its, what -- 50% mortality rate? -- it would certainly rank up there with the 1918 flu. I don't think anyone has a really convincing way to evaluate the risk of that mutation. The virus as it is now though presents a risk so low it's not worth bothering about -- somewhere below the the risk of being struck by lightning and above the risk of being struck by a meteorite.
The clear and present danger, as Pica says, is to species that are already having a hard time.
Not worth worrying about, no matter what it does. If the virus remains restricted to birds, it won't affect us; and if it does make the "species jump" it will kill so many of us so quickly that you would have better things to worry about than the flu, like who would run the power stations or deliver food to the shops or gather up the corpses.
I tend to the theory that it will mutate to become less harmful: a parasite that kills too many of its hosts will itself become extinct. H5N1 is too virulent (sorry) to last.
this alarms me. i love birds. i don't want even one to die from a sickness like this. birds traveling from place to place so easily heightens the risk of transmission.
i feed them in huge numbers each day. how dangerous is it to encourage them into our homeland...where we spend our time gardening near the feeders, baths, and birdhouses we keep? no one knows if this will eventually be a curse to our health should the problem become more significant.
the photograph is beautiful. btw, i was pecked by one a few years ago - for simply "looking intently" toward the baby as i walked!