I spy… H5N8 x2 = ?

In New Scientist, 26 Nov. 2016

A big thank you to Moby for sharing!

In Hebrew, there is a fitting colloquial expression: para para (in direct translation: cow cow) meaning to take one step at a time. (The origin of this phrase is unclear). As the entire article is problematic, it will be interesting to take each clause para para:

” It’s here, just in time to threaten your festive dinner”.

The first clause in the article frames the issue of the Bird Flu as a temporary, pesky nuisance that ruins your holiday meal. The cost to human lives (so far, from H5N1 alone, 450 died (Barr and Wong, 2016, p. 162) let alone to birds and animals does not enter the polemic. Note how we need cultural background knowledge to make the link between dinner and the birds (turkeys in the British culture). Stibbe, using Fairclough’s notion of ‘gap filling’ (1989: 85 in Stibbe, 2012, p.39) points out that readers have to interpret the meaning based on cultural knowledge. The article, therefore, presents eating turkeys as natural.

Framing, according to Entman (1993), “…is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described.”

Frames, according to Gamson and Modigliani (1989), are interpretive packages. Competing interpretive packages might be available in culture with respect to a certain issue (e.g. nuclear power).

“H5N8 bird flu first appeared in 2014, but this year’s strain seems more deadly. Migrating birds have already carried it to the Middle East and Europe.”

But first, some context:

The first known transmission of the strand H5N1 to a human occurred in Hong Kong in 1997. Since then millions of birds have been culled. According to Ian Barr and Frank Wong (2016, p.162) in the latest issue of Microbiology Today, avian influenza has little impact on poultry and wild birds but new strands of viruses emerged, first as HPAI  20 years ago (in farmed geese in Guandong, China) that further mutated (or through genetic reassortment = when two viruses infect the same cell and embed their genes in future cells, or both) into H5N1. HPAI spread all across China and Asia resulting in a panzootic, an epidemic in animals that continues to this day. Transmission is through contact between infected birds. The H5 viruses expanded to include other strands: H5N2, H5N8 outbreaks in chickens and turkeys in North America, and H5N6 in China infecting both humans and birds from 2014-2016 leading to the viruses being referred to as H5Nx. An epidemic? H5N6 only infected 14 people since 2014.

In contrast, H7N9, first detected in 2013 in Southern China totaled 319 deaths as a result of contact with infected birds at live bird markets. This continued endemic circulation in live bird markets poses a risk to public health.

Could this lead to a pandemic? According to Barr and Wong (ibid), there has been “little increase in the number of human cases, even with ongoing poultry outbreaks and human exposure”(2016, p. 164). Sadly, although there have been few human secondary infections, Barr and Wong’s conclusion is to create new vaccines rather than eliminate the problem from the source.

“Dozens of poultry farms in Denmark, Switzerland and Germany are now infected, and last week, 9000 turkeys were killed on an infected farm in Hungary”.

The lexical choice of killed is an interesting one. The turkeys were intended for meat consumption and would have been slaughtered “anyway”. Does killed convey a heavier moral ethic as it was a purposeless death? In our world values, purpose is a driving force behind economy, simply living is not enough. Henry David Thoreau wrote so elegantly in Walden, that when a  a man goes for a walk in the woods, it is an idle, waste of time. But when a man goes out into the woods to cut some trees, it is industrious and purposeful.

“While humans have so far escaped infection, the WHO says the “risk cannot be excluded”.

The final quote exemplifies once again the denial of social agency of animals. Furthermore, living at the mercy of scientific reductionism, we are further entrenched in the classification and categorisation of disease. The lack of a holistic and wholistic view means that the problem cannot be addressed at its root.



Barr, I. and Wong, F. (2016). Avian Influenza. Why the concern? Microbiology Today, 43:4, pp. 162-164.

Entman, R. M. (1993). Framing: Towards clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43(4):51–58.

Gamson, W. A. and Modigliani, A. (1989). Media discourse and public opinion on nuclear power: A constructionist approach. American Journal of Sociology, 95(1):1–37.


The author is willing to remove any content that may infringe on copyrights



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