Carvings May 15, 2022

In the news

Bird flu: should we worry?

Bird flu, otherwise known as avian influenza, has a lot of infectious diseases specialists on alert. When it arose in China several years ago it spread rapidly among domestic flocks and caused several human deaths.

You’ll probably be hearing a lot about this form of influenza for two reasons. Although the total number of persons, mostly poultry workers, who have died from the disease is fewer than five hundred, it does have a mortality rate of about 50 percent. The other reason is that it is now present in most states, although the particular strain prevalent here is different from Chinese strains that have caused deaths among humans. There has been only one case reported to date in a human in this country, a Colorado poultry worker whose single symptom was slight fatigue and who was identified only because he was working with an infected flock and received periodic testing. It should also be noted that the guy was a soon-to-be-released prison inmate learning a new trade whose personal protective equipment was inadequate. I doubt that he was as meticulous in his technique as the average infection control technician.

Although there is no threat at the moment, we know from the COVID pandemic that things can turn on a dime and that influenza viruses are notorious for their ability to mutate and to exchange genetic material between strains. Still, I consider the risk to be extremely small and that you should not succumb to the hype that such issues are prone to receive from incautious journalists and wackos on the Internet.

I have two reason for being optimistic. First, the poultry industry is on high alert, a stance that has prevented outbreaks in other parts of the world. In addition the CDC is in a supersensitive state because of its COVID missteps and I expect that they will stay on top of this virus.

A second reason for optimism is that the vaccine industry has made enormous advances as a result of the 2019 pandemic. What was touted as warp speed in the production of several coronavirus vaccines will seem like a snail’s pace if they have to ramp up for avian influenza.

Although rife with disappointments in the past there is furious work going on in hundreds of facilities around the world to find effective antiviral agents. That will eventually have profound positive consequences in the fight against viral diseases such as mosquito-borne encephalitis for which there is no treatment.


Your mother was right! Eating slowly is better for you but not for the reasons I heard when I was a kid: “Don’t eat so fast! You’ll choke on your food.” “It’ll make you sick.”  Well, that second part was right but the sickness would take years, even decades to develop. “Sick” means “obese”, not what Mom had in mind.

            When we eat fast we eat more. That’s because it takes about 15 or 20 minutes for our hard-wired appetite-control mechanism to let us know that we’ve eaten enough. It was once thought that this was a simple mechanism brought into play by a hormone called cholecystokinin that was released when the stomach was full. We should have known! Nothing is really that simple in matters of biology. Scientists now know that there are several mechanisms, some regulated by hormone-like chemicals that control appetite.

            Some of this came to light after lots of people had a portion of the stomach removed to lose weight. They didn’t get as hungry as they should have when portion sizes were limited to something about the size of a golf ball. The part of the stomach that had been removed contained cells that produced one of the hunger-causing hormones, so they just didn’t feel like eating more.

            The bottom line: follow Mom’s advice and eat slowly. You’ll end up eating less, especially if your meals consist largely of fiber-rich vegetables.

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