Doctor Clips Wings Of Bird-Flu Hysteria

There’s no denying that the bird flu is very bad for birds,” begins a recent column by New York Newsday‘s Ellis Henican. Over 150 million birds have been killed as a precaution, not because they actually had bird flu. But what does the bird flu mean to humans?

To find out, Henican interviewed Dr. Steven Garner, a physician who for several years ran the John F. Kennedy Airport’s Medical Center, which sees 40,000 patients annually. Situated at one of the nation’s busiest airports, the Medical Center is on the front lines of the nation’s defense against contagions a traveler might bring along. When he interviewed Dr. Garner, Henican quickly discovered that the bird flu flap has been overblown:

“I have people worried they’re gonna get the bird flu from the Thanksgiving turkey. Impossible.” All of them, Dr. Garner said, really need to take a deep breath and calm down. “This whole thing is being wildly overhyped,” he said.

Highlighting the absence of a threat doesn’t attract nearly as much attention as a propaganda-laden animal rights protest, or a headline that screams “Bird Flu Pandemic May Have Worldwide Cost of $800 Billion.” But it does have the virtue of letting you enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner in peace (assuming you’ve also gotten your guests to sign our lawsuit waiver, of course).

Sadly, truth is in shorter supply than Tamiflu this holiday season, as indicated by our poll which showed that 47 percent of Americans mistakenly think you can get bird flu from eating poultry. And speaking of truth, Dr. Garner, now chairman of radiology at New York Methodist Hospital, put a number on how much we should be worried:

There aren’t many things in medicine you can say ‘zero’ about … But there is a zero chance you will get the bird flu in the United States right now.

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