As Bird Flu Reaches Turkey, Media Already Blames Bush
You knew it was bound to happen… ‘Bird Flu in Turkey’s turkeys’!
Turkey’s agriculture minister confirmed the country’s first cases of bird flu on Saturday and ordered the destruction of all birds in the village where it was detected to prevent the disease from spreading, the Anatolia news agency said.
Military police have also set up roadblocks at the village near Balikesir in western Turkey, 250 miles from Istanbul. The officers checked vehicles to make certain no birds were going in or out.
The birds belonged to a turkey farmer, CNN-Turk reported, saying that 2,000 birds died. Anatolia did not cite a number, but said animals on the farm that did not die of the disease were destroyed.
Bird Flu reaches Europe
Scientists in Bucharest discovered flu antibodies in three domestic ducks found dead in a remote village late last month, the government said.
The exact strain is to be determined by a lab in the UK in the next few days.
According to an unconfirmed report, three more cases of bird flu have since been found and a cull has begun.
The first three cases were found in the village of Ceamurlia de Jos, Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur said.
Hurricane Katrina may be just the tip of the iceberg, however. If a severe outbreak of Asian bird flu hits the U.S., Bush’s presidency could be severely damaged or even ruined.
What is the disease and how is it spread? Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, is caused by the H5N1 virus native to wild water birds. Migratory ducks, geese and herons carry the influenza, and as they migrate they may pass the virus on to domesticated birds such as chickens. H5N1 virus has already devastated bird flocks throughout Asia. What is more, in the last six years the virus has mutated and can now infect and kill humans; as of September 58 people have died.
In the worse case scenario, in which the authorities are unable to produce an effective vaccine fast enough and the virus withstands anti-flu drugs, avian flu could kill up to 16 million people. In the event of an outbreak, some countries might seek to impose ineffectual quarantines or close borders and airports. In that event, trade and travel would be disrupted; stock markets would be dealt a severe blow. With record high levels of worker absenteeism, economic productivity would be dealt a severe blow. What is more, direct medical costs could top $166 billion in the U.S, not including the costs of vaccination.
Following the anthrax scare, Congress approved $3.7 billion to strengthen America’s public health infrastructure. Two years later, Bush increased funding to the Center For Disease Control’s flu program by a whopping 242 percent. Even so, however, such an increase was miniscule: by 2004, the program only amounted to $41.6 million. Bush has also increased flu funding to the National Institute of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, but in total spending has amounted to just $67 million. Bush has spent $80 million stockpiling Tamiflu and other influenza drugs, but currently we only have about 2 million vaccine doses.
In the event of an actual outbreak, there would no doubt be a rush to point fingers and assign blame. In the high stakes game of Asian bird flu, the Republicans stand to lose. For years, the GOP has clashed with the WHO over such issues as the use of abortion in impoverished areas of the Third World. As the home to the world’s larges tobacco company, Philip Morris, the United States has consistently stood in the way of the WHO on the fight against tobacco use. What is more, the U.S. has opposed the movement to make economic anti-HIV drugs available to Third World nations, and rejects findings by the WHO and FAO demonstrating the clear links between chronic disease and diets that are rich in fat and sugar.
More recently, the Republican controlled Congress has been involved in an acrimonious war with the United Nations. In June, the House voted 221 to 184 on H.R. 2745 to cut dues by half to that body if certain reforms are not undertaken. The bill states that the U.S. shall cut off the funds by 2008 unless the Secretary of State certifies that the UN is carrying out operational changes, including stringent budget controls, detailed financial disclosures and creation of an independent oversight office. Finally, the legislation seeks to create a new UN Chief Operating Office. A similar bill is now pending in the Senate. Currently, the United States supplies 22% of the United Nations’ annual $2 billion budget. As such, a U.S. cut off could prove devastating. The legislation, coupled with President Bush’s appointment of right wing hawk John Bolton as UN envoy seems to signal the Republican desire to kill off the world body.
In the event of an outbreak of Asian bird flu, however, the U.S. will have to coordinate with the United Nations and the WHO. One may easily imagine the calls of public indignation, excoriating the Republicans for their vendetta against the UN and previous unwillingness to collaborate with international bodies concerning important health issues. Certainly, Hurricane Katrina has given the Democrats an opening if they are willing to take shrewd advantage of it. They might claim that the Republicans have no better prepared us for an outbreak of Asian bird flu than the arrival of hurricanes in the Gulf. If there is enough noise on the Hill, perhaps the media too will see the urgency in drawing attention to this vital threat before it strikes.
The US State Department held an international conference this week on bird flu. Here is a statement from the conference describing some of the work that has already begun in dealing with this potential crisis.
The Owners Manual also sees flu politics in motion.