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Bird flu weirdness

What is it about the Avian flu that seems to inspire all sorts of wild craziness? Yes, the avian flu has the potential to be a big problem in humans (but is not one yet–so far its main lethal affect has been in birds). Yes, if it ever acquired the ability to be transmitted from person to person, rather than only from bird to human, it could cause a pandemic as nasty as the 1918 influenza pandemic, but, as far as can be determined, it has not acquired such an ability yet. Nonetheless, the avian flu inspires a lot more kookiness than more likely threats, such as the return or emergence of a more virulent strain of your run-of-the-mill flu. As evidence, I present here a trio of bird flu-inspired stories that just leave me shaking my head.

First up, never let it be said that anyone ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American (or, it would appear, the Asian) public. Indeed, this story suggests that our Asian friends are every bit as gullible in some areas as any altie:

LG Electronics, the world’s leading air conditioner maker, said on Thursday that it will start selling air conditioners that prevent avian influenza with a special filter coated with a substance extracted from a fermented kimchi. The new air conditioners target Southeast Asian countries affected by bird flu and will be marketed this year.

The new products, nicknamed “Anti-A.I. Aircon,” have a filter covered with an anti-bacterial substance extracted from kimchi, South Korea’s spicy fermented cabbage dish, the company said in a press conference.

“A special filter is coated with a substance called leuconostoc citreum, which is derived from kimchi. After tests, the filter was found to block viruses that causes bird flu,” said Seo Seok-jang, chief of the company’s air conditioner research lab, during the conference held at Grand Hyatt Hotel in central Seoul.

Hmmm. Let’s see. They coat a filter with an “antibacterial substance” and claim it will protect the users of its air conditioner from the bird flu. It turns out that LG is exploiting a common belief in Asia that kimchi can cure the bird flu, combined with a single study looking at 13 chickens infected with the bird flu. These chickens were given kimchi, and apparently 11 recovered. Somehow LG has extrapolated this single small study that hasn’t been replicated yet, to conclude that Kimchi would protect against bird flu if air conditioning filters were coated with it. Either that, or LG just wants to exploit Kimchi craze that this study has apparently spawned. Given that Kimchi is a rather pungent cabbage, one can only hope that they found a way to remove the odor.

Next, it would appear that the Utne has gone totally woo with this article, entitled Diluting a Disease: Could Homeopathy Stop the Avian Flu? I actually used to like Utne, but it’s gotten just too flaky for me to take anymore, and this ridiculously credulous article is just one more indication of how bad Utne has gotten. I was going to write a takedown of this one, but I found that Abel Pharmboy had already beaten me to the debunking, in the process coming up with one of the best sarcastic takedowns of homeopathy I’ve seen in a long time:

But nowhere in the article is mention of what specific homeopathic remedies would be used against avian flu. Why wouldn’t one make a 30C dilution of the H5N1 bug if that were how homeopathy really worked?

In fact, why not just drink regular tap water as your homeopathic remedy??? Think about it: the molecules of water we drink today could have been the urine of Alexander the Great or the industrial effluent of Monsanto. Today’s water has had diluted in it over thousands and millions of years almost every infectious organism, toxic metal or organic substance (natural or synthetic). Hence, it should be a remedy for every illness created by every solute every dissolved amongst its molecules.

Let’s say that I am willing to admit that homeopathy might work, albeit through some unknown physical mechanism that I cannot explain. What would follow is that drinking tap water should have every potential remedy in it that I could ever want, to cure everything from multiple chemical sensitivities and mercury-induced autism all the way to the diseases I might incur from eating anything from gold mine tailings to my own feces.

Oh, I forgot..drinking tap water would not create revenue for homeopathic practitioners.

As so eloquently stated by the late Gilda Radner’s character, Roseanne Roseannadanna, “Never mind.”

Heh. Never mind, indeed. Damn. I wish I’d thought of that description of homeopathy.

Lastly, unfortunately, it would appear that Islamic anti-Semites have gotten into the act as well. In a rambling article that claims that the avian flu was developed as a “race bomb” to be used against Arabs and designed to target “Arab genes”:

“The question that arises today is whether the virus chosen by the Zionists for their ‘Israeli race bomb’ is the avian flu virus. Some might hasten to object by saying: ‘But this virus first appeared, in 2003, only in east and southeast Asia, and spread to Asia Minor [i.e., Turkey] only in 2006!’ This is a correct observation, but it does not rule out [the possibility that Israel first spread the virus] in that remote region out of several motivations, including [the following]:”

“The AIDS Virus was Developed to Serve as a ‘Race Bomb’ Against the Blacks”

“1. [Israel wished to] test the effects of the virus on the special genes of the yellow Asian race, which is highly specialized. In addition, the yellow race – especially in China and Vietnam – is a rising power [which threatens] the exclusive American hegemony over the world. We cannot refrain from mentioning that the AIDS virus was developed to serve as a ‘race bomb’ against the blacks, though after its release, it also [infected] white people, albeit in smaller numbers.

“2. Indonesian society constitutes a particularly suitable environment for testing the [avian flu] virus on [various] races, including [people] of Arab descent. This is because most Indonesians are of Arab or Yemenite descent, or have mixed blood through intermarriage with Arabs.

“3. The virus may have been released in this remote part of Asia in order to obscure the truth by shifting the world’s attention to that distant region… and in order to make its transmission through birds seem like a natural phenomenon.

“But the [manner in which] the virus spread directly from east to west Asia (i.e., to Asia Minor) raises many questions. Firstly, birds do not migrate from east to west Asia, but from the northern [regions] of the world to the southern [regions]. If we assume that the disease spread horizontally because birds in each region came into contact with one another, we would expect to see the disease appear in China, Tibet, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Iran and the Caucasus before it appears in Turkey. These are wide and extensive regions, so how could the disease skip [over them] like that?

“Therefore, we are led to the inescapable [conclusion] that there must have been a northern point of origin from which the virus spread, or in which it was planted, at a time which corresponded with the southbound migration of the birds. This point of origin may have been on the northern [shore] of the Black Sea or in east Turkey…

“The suspicion regarding a link between the avian flu and Israel’s ‘race bomb’ is compounded by a report from the Palestinian Authority, regarding 85,000 good chickens that were buried [by Israel] in fields in the West Bank, and by the fact that the Palestinian Authority was not allowed to take samples from these chickens for testing. [Another telling fact] is what happened later – the case of a young Arab from one of the villages around Jerusalem [who caught the disease]. This means that the disease appeared in a new location, this time in the West Bank, simultaneously with the discovery of a new case in northern Iraq.”

I think the ludicrousness of this paranoid conspiracy-mongering speaks for itself. The rebuttal should be the same as the one I gave in various discussion forums when The Sunday Times printed a ridiculous story claiming that Israel was developing a biological weapon targeted to “Arab genes”:

Anyone with a basic knowledge of molecular biology, genetics, or virology could tell you why. First off, there are no genes that are 100% specific to any one race that could be targeted with such a construct. Attempts to do so would inevitably also attack other races and could not be specific. Next, even if such genes existed, it is highly unlikely that they would be sufficiently distinct for such an organism to target, or, more importantly, that they would be located in the cell or in a biochemical pathway that would allow their use to target an organisml. Third, many Jews in Israel are so closely related genetically to Arabs, that it is difficult to imagine that they would be suicidal enough to try to target “Arab genes” (for want of a better term) with such an organism. That would surely result in the infection of a large percentage of the Israeli population as well. Finally, virology and molecular biology are not sufficiently advanced to target genes precisely enough to construct such an organism EVEN IF one could find a gene that is specific to Arabs AND is amenable to use in this fashion, either by virtue of its location on the cell surface or in an appropriate biochemical pathway. Such targeting is theoretically possible, but lack of sufficient specificity (remember, even a 0.1% infection rate in people not carrying the targeted gene would have devastating consequences) and actual viral engineering issues make it incredibly unlikely.

Not that that little problem would stop the Jews, according to this article:

“Tampering with Arab genes [without affecting] the white race is very difficult. But the Zionists are capable of attempting this [risky] adventure if [they have] a preventive treatment or a [cure for the disease]. Recall that the assassination of Yasser Arafat was carried out by means of biological weapons. The attempt on the life of the fighter [Hamas leader] Khaled Mash’al [likewise] involved a biological [agent] which [is countered by] a secret antidote that only the Zionists possess.”

The craziness and paranoia about the bird flu continues apace, whether it be to make money pedding unproven (and unlikely to be effective) filters, to promote quackery such as homeopathy, or to fuel the paranoid and anti-Semitism of Arab nations. It’s truly a multipurpose microbe.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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