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The Parrot Flu

by The Publisher
June 17, 2009

The Parrot Flu

Submitted by Agent Graf

It is about the Parrot Flu (déjà vu, anyone?) panic-demic of 1930. In the 1930 “Bird Flu” scare, the official estimate of victims was 169 ill with 33 dying in a nation of 122.8 Million (1930 census).

Submitted by Agent Graf

This article is from the June 1, 2009 New Yorker Magazine. It’s interesting and reads quickly but I’ll summarize the key points of it. 

It is about the Parrot Flu (déjà vu anyone?) panic-demic of 1930. In the 1930 “Bird Flu” scare the official estimate of victims was 169 ill with 33 dying in a nation of 122.8 Million (1930 census). The victims all had close contact with parrots imported in 1929 from South America. Parrot Flu was psittacosis, a disease known to science for 40 years at the time. 

Scientists realized that inciting hysteria over a disease (that did not infect anyone who had no contact with parrots) was the surest way to obtain government funding for research. Newspapers and magazines incited hysteria to sell more copies. Manufacturers of sanitary products saw the opportunity that advertising their products during an “epidemic” provided. The story of the “epidemic” took on a life of its own and quickly outgrew the outbreak itself. 

Sound familiar? History is repeating itself. 

In May 1930 Congress awarded more funding to the basement laboratory where psittacosis was being studied and re-named it the National Institute of Health. 

The article helps us develop a sane approach to Swine Flu aka Novel H1N1 despite the amount of hysteria that public health agencies and media outlets are spreading. The World Health Organization has just declared a world-wide “epidemic” even as flu activity is decreasing here and in Mexico where the outbreak started. 

Maybe I should go along with the panic and hope it results in more funding for public health but it seems dishonest. People have enough stress in their lives without the government trying to scare them with new Disasters Du Jour. 

You should still wash your hands and cover your mouth when you cough though. 

-Agent Graf


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