I’m just going to say it:
Human outbreaks of avian flu are inevitable. Ten years ago, it was a remote possibility that preppers talked about on discussion forums. Now it’s just a matter of time. It’s going to happen sooner rather than later.
According to a piece in Fortune, “The world is facing an unprecedented pandemic of avian flu among caged and wild bird populations.” This pandemic has been going on for more than a year now. The public is just now starting to pay attention, because of egg prices. Soon, that’s going to be the least of anyone’s problems. The director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy Institute says the poultry industry won’t be able to “sustain itself… if we continue to see annual surges.” They’re not messing around. They’re talking about the collapse of the poultry industry, and human-to-human transmission.
Here’s a short list of mammals infected so far:
Avian flu infected a girl recently. It also caused an outbreak at a mink farm. Scientists describe it as “incredibly concerning,” because it’s the first time that avian flu has spread so widely and so clearly in a mammal population. Virologists are calling it: “This is a clear mechanism for an H5 pandemic to start.”
Pandemic is a tricky word.
It’s become heavily politicized.
We should’ve declared a pandemic over monkeypox, but nobody in charge wanted to go to the trouble. The U.S. government bungled their response, dragging their feet on tests and vaccines, just like they did back in 2020. We got lucky. The communities who were most at risk stepped up. They did exactly what they needed to do. They didn’t listen to the CDC’s wishful thinking. They took precautions and got vaccinated. Unfortunately, the public always learns the wrong lessons from these stories. The real lesson was that when you take a threat seriously and respond, then you neutralize the threat. The public came away thinking there was nothing to be worried about, which is the most reckless misreading possible.
Some of us live by Murphy’s Law, now more than ever.
We accept the reality that if something can happen, it will. That’s how the world works. It’s how physics works. It’s how chemistry and biology work. The universe doesn’t play nice. It doesn’t listen to our prayers at night. It’s not waiting for us to send positive vibrations out into the cosmos so it can manifest our deepest desires. Optimism doesn’t cure diseases.
The universe never promised we’d only live through one pandemic every generation. Covid was a warm up. As scientists have told us for years, we’re living through the beginning stages of the pandemicene.
Here’s the blunt take:
We’ve been managing to keep some very, very nasty diseases at bay for decades now. We’re talking about avian flu, Ebola, MERS, and more. We’re talking about bacteria and fungi, on top of all kinds of viruses trapped in ice and permafrost. Climate change is giving these pathogens a major advantage. It’s changing animal behavior, and it’s pushing them closer to people. There’s thousands of germs just waiting for a chance to get inside us humans.
As we’ve seen, these diseases are now spreading beyond their endemic zones. The outbreaks are getting worse. That’s exactly what’s happening with avian flu. The public has only just now started paying attention, but the current strain has been decimating birds for at least a year now. If one person with Covid now infects up to 12 people, one bird can infect up to 100 other birds.
That’s avian flu’s R-naught, in birds.
The CDC and other health institutions will continue to assure everyone that avian flu isn’t that contagious. It’s their go-to response now. According to an article in Science, “avian H5N1 influenza viruses can acquire the capacity for airborne transmission between mammals without recombination in an intermediate host and therefore constitute a risk for human pandemic influenza.”
Avian flu can become airborne in mammals.
Over the last few years, we’ve become aware that a lot of viruses actually ride the air, even ones we thought could only infect us via contaminated surfaces. We should be assuming that most viruses are airborne.
This isn’t some distant threat.
It’s at our doorstep, in a very literal way.
Even where I live, hunters are stumbling across hundreds of dead birds at a time. They’re talking about how eerie it feels.
The minimizers will say it’s still unlikely for avian flu to cause an outbreak in humans. They really don’t get the point.
Let’s spell it out:
The point is that avian flu is gaining a foothold in mammals. It’s finding reservoirs outside the bird population. It’s incredibly contagious. It has the potential to become airborne. Before it starts spreading in humans, it’s probably going to become endemic in smaller mammals. Imagine how hard it’s going to be to stop avian flu when you’re not just staying away from birds, but now you have to worry about cats, dogs, rats, deer, squirrels, possums, raccoons, and anything else with four legs harboring the virus. That’s when things get bad.
This is why the world’s governments need to be proactive. We need to be rolling out an avian flu vaccine right now. We need to be spreading awareness about how to spot symptoms in birds and other animals, and what to do if we come across a wild animal that’s been infected. We actually have a vaccine for H5N1 called Audenz. We need to start ramping up production now. There’s only one reason not to do that. You could call it the Davos Approach. The rich will get access to Audenz. Everyone else will be told we don’t need it. This seems to be how public health works now, whether it’s access to Paxlovid or clean air.
Of course, this approach is an enormous mistake. The rich think they can survive on their own. They’re in for a real shock when the production class is so sick (or dead) that nobody can make their air purifiers anymore.
Bird flu is not something to wait around on.
We can’t just give it another name this time and hope it goes away.
The CDC is asleep at the wheel. The surgeon general is tweeting about gratitude and hosting podcasts. The president is talking about how optimistic he is about the future. The people in charge are doing absolutely nothing to prepare for avian flu, even as it works overtime to surround us.
Our public health institutions have adopted a laissez-faire attitude toward disease. They’re just going to let them do what they’ll do. They’re becoming more like the kinds of agencies that George Orwell wrote about. They no longer protect us from illness. They manage our perceptions of them.
They don’t stop pandemics.
They facilitate them.
This is what it means to live by Murphy’s Law:
My advice is to accept the cold truth, and get a plan. Start learning about air ventilation and circulation. Learn how to make a good air purifier. Get into a habit of stocking up on N95 masks and disinfectant.
Stop feeding birds.
Wear protection when cleaning up bird droppings. Keep your pets inside. Start reading up about avian flu. I’ve started putting together a reading list on raindrop. I’ll be adding a lot of sources this week.
Check your shoes before you come inside.
Just because our institutions are giving up, that doesn’t mean we have to do the same. Everyone needs to get it through their heads. Viruses don’t feel pandemic fatigue. They don’t know anything about the law of attraction. They don’t put their thoughts out into the universe and hope for the best.
They mutate. They adapt. They evolve.
So should we.
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A couple of observations: It seems like the pattern of pandemic response is highly privatised. Not that there is no response at all, but that, as Naomi Klein wrote years ago in The Shock Doctrine, crises are seen by the wealthy as opportunities. This is why we disinvest in public health but fund the research of pharmaceutical companies who can then make super-profits of vaccines that they developed with public money and publicly enforced patents. It's why so many corporations profited so handsomely off the pandemic, and even now corporate egg producers profit off of avian flu. This is the pattern we can expect with every future crisis until and unless we overhaul our predatory political and economic system.
The other observation is that it seems necessary for those of us who are preparing and who strive to be COVID-safe to organize and build (virtual or real) communities. I was so elated and grateful to discover the existence of the COVIDMeetups network when I joined this substack! Individual and family lifestyle changes are relatively easy, but these are the kinds of crises that only adaptive communities can possibly survive.
Thanks again for these essays!
Thank you for your writing and research. I thought about you this morning as I witnessed the dumbass parent across the courtyard giving his 3-year-old bread to feed the birds on the patio. (a violation of the rules in this complex - but who follows the rules anymore?) The birds were touching the kid's hands. Perhaps I should make a copy of your article and tape it to their door...