Table of Contents:



I. Storm Gathering

1. 1918

2. Master of Metamorphosis

3. H5N1

4. Playing Chicken

5. Worse Than 1918?

6. When, Not If

II. When Animal Viruses Attack

1. The Third Age

2. Man Made

3. Livestock Revolution

4. Tracing the Flight Path

5. One Flu Over the Chicken's Nest

6. Coming Home to Roost

7. Guarding the Henhouse

III. Pandemic Preparedness

1. Cooping Up Bird Flu

2. Race Against Time

3. Tamiflu

IV. Surviving the Pandemic

1. Don't Wing It

2. Our Health in Our Hands

3. Be Prepared

V. Preventing Future Pandemics

1. Tinderbox

2. Reining in the Pale Horse


References 1-3,199

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Biosafety level 3

H5N1 is considered a Biosafety Level 3+ pathogen.2950 This means that in a laboratory setting, the virus is only to be handled in unique high-containment buildings specially engineered with air locks, controlled access corridors, and double-door entries. Access is limited to competent personnel with extensive training,2951 and showering is required upon every entry and exit.2952 Air flow is ducted unidirectional single-pass filtered exhaust only.2953 All floors, walls, and ceilings are waterproofed and sealed with continuous cove moldings.2954 All wall penetrations—electrical outlets, phone lines, and the like—are caulked, collared, or sealed to prevent any leaks.2955 Surfaces are disinfected on a daily basis.2956 Solid wastes are incinerated.2957 The industrial poultry industry, in contrast, may be breeding the same virus at essentially a biosafety level of zero.

The intensive global poultry industry is not only playing with fire with no way to put it out, it is fanning the flames. And firewalls to contain the virus don’t exist. “Unfortunately,” leading USDA poultry virologist Dennis Senne told an international gathering of bird flu scientists, “that level of biosecurity does not exist in U.S. poultry production and I doubt that it exists in other parts of the world.”2958

Further efforts can and should be made to educate poultry producers worldwide about the critical importance of biosecurity measures, but the industry is no longer only gambling with its own fate, but the fate of us all. Even after 17 million birds died as a result of the 1980s Pennsylvania outbreak, one poultry veterinarian wrote, “We must face the reality that the Egg Industry will not change its direction because of the threat of AI [avian influenza]. Industries in general change because of economic considerations.”2959 Given taxpayer subsidies for dealing with epidemic disease, the poultry industry may just factor outbreaks into the bottom line. The biosecurity measures that are practiced are better than nothing, but may not be enough to stake millions of lives upon for the sake of cheaper chicken. A pandemic of H5N1, or a comparable future bird flu, may have the capacity to spark the greatest human catastrophe of all time. It may be wiser to move away from intensive poultry production altogether or, at the very least, stop encouraging its movement into the developing world.

Massive commercial-scale poultry plants are increasingly appearing in Thailand, southern China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan,2960 Brazil, and India.2961 Though they may rival the size of those in Arkansas, they may lag even further behind in hygienic standards2962 and biosecurity.2963 As sloppy as U.S. biosecurity has been shown to be, warehousing live birds by the millions in countries that lack comparative surveillance and control combines the worst of both worlds—the intensive confinement of the west with the impoverished infrastructure of the east and global south. Exporting our intensive production model to the developing world is a recipe for disaster.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN notes that “there seems to be an acceleration of the human influenza problems over the last few decades, involving an increasing number of species, and this is expected to largely relate to intensification of the poultry (and possibly pig) production….”2964 The domestication of poultry in Asia dates back thousands of years. Live poultry markets have an extensive history in the region. What happened to bring about H5N1? At a November 2005 Council on Foreign Relations Conference on the Global Threat of Pandemic Influenza, the senior correspondent of NewsHour with Jim Lehrer asked that question to the “godfather of flu research,”2965 Robert Webster:
SUAREZ: Was there something qualitatively different about this last decade that made it possible for this disease to do something that it either hasn’t done before…a change in conditions that suddenly lit a match to the tinder?

WEBSTER: [F]arming practices have changed. Previously, we had backyard poultry. I grew up on a farm in New Zealand. We had a few backyard chickens and ducks. The next-door neighbor was so far away it didn’t matter. Now we put millions of chickens into a chicken factory next door to a pig factory, and this virus has the opportunity to get into one of these chicken factories and make billions and billions of these mutations continuously. And so what we’ve changed is the way we raise animals and our interaction with those animals. And so the virus is changing in those animals and now finding its way back out of those animals into the wild birds. That’s what’s changed.2966
In China, the FAO observes,
…a major and recent event is the very fast change in production structure. This shift in production structure, from mainly rural, to peri-urban intensive and industrial production to supply the urban demand, involves production units with different intensification level (from backyard poultry to industrial) settled in a common environment. This creates ideal conditions for virus emergence….2967
Finally, the millennia-old fuses have occasion to ignite. Professor Shortridge illustrates the emergence of H5N1 in a flow chart:2968

One in seven people in the world—some 900 million people—live on small farms in China where ducks and chickens and pigs are commonly found. As long as domestication continues in China and elsewhere, pandemics will presumably continue to intermittently arise.2969 But H5N1 is like no flu virus anyone has ever seen. World War I may have showed us what the virus could become if it caught millions in the trenches; H5N1 may show us what happens when it catches billions.

Drawing on his 37 years of experience within the industry, Ken Rudd concluded his trade publication article, “Poultry Reality Check Needed,” with these prophetic words:
Now is the time to decide. We can go on with business as usual, hoping for the best as we charge headlong toward lower costs. Or we can begin making the prudent moves needed to restore a balance between economics and long-range avian health. We can pay now or we can pay later. But it should be known and it must be said, one way or another we will pay.2970