Bird Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
At last it’s here. For months the local tabloids have been screaming BIRD FLU REACHES EUROPE... BIRD FLU 300 MILES FROM BRITAIN... BIRD SEEN COUGHING IN CALAIS. Now it’s only a few miles as the asthmatic crow flies from where I’m typing this, and a few days ago we had the best headline of all:
But even better was the caption under that full-page picture of the blue meanie itself:
Blue terror: The H5N1 strain of the avian flu virus captured using an electron microscope.
DON’T PANIC... it’s only BLUE TERROR, IN BRITAIN, NOW.
I’ve been out and about over the weekend and must say that people seem to be following this advice scrupulously; they’re not panicking all over the place. No one looked terrified, or even blue (it being such a nice day and all). Perhaps they read another headline story from Friday, BIRD FLU: YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED. I didn’t, but I’m willing to hazard a few guesses:
Q: WILL I CATCH BIRD FLU? A: Are you a bird? Do you personally know any birds? Then it’s not very likely, is it. It’s not as if they’re catching the same train to work and sneezing on you.
Q: BUT I WORK WITH BIRDS. WILL I CATCH BIRD FLU? A: They’ll be off on sick leave, so I wouldn’t worry.
Q: I’M STILL WORRIED. SHOULD I PANIC? A: Didn’t you read the headline? What are you, chicken?
Q: CHICKEN! SHOULD I STILL EAT CHICKEN? A: Yes. The more birds you eat, the less there will be to catch flu. Think of those McNuggets as your part in the War on Blue Terror.
Q: THERE’S A DEAD SWAN FLOATING IN MY FISH POND. WHAT SHOULD I DO? A: All swans in Britain are the property of the Queen. Return it within 14 days for a full refund.
Q: I’M A PIGEON FANCIER—I’M BUGGERED, AREN’T I? A: Not half as much as those pigeons.
Q: ISN’T THE PRESENCE OR ABSENCE OF BIRD FLU IN BRITAIN LARGELY IRRELEVANT GIVEN THAT THE DISEASE THEORETICALLY COULD EVOLVE INTO HUMAN-TRANSMISSIBLE FORM ANYWHERE AND SPREAD AROUND THE WORLD IN DAYS, IN WHICH CASE WE’LL ALREADY HAVE CAUGHT IT BY THE TIME YOU TELL US NOT TO PANIC? A: Don’t panic.
Q: HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO MAKE AN INFORMED ASSESSMENT OF RISKS IN TODAY’S MEDIA ENVIRONMENT? A: Don’t panic. Blue terror. Don’t panic. Blind terror. Blind panic. Don’t tell her.