Thursday, 5 February 2009

Bird flu

Egypt has just reported its third case of bird flu in humans this year, while China says that four people have died from the disease in 2009 – the latest a 31 year old woman in the Xinjiang Uygur region in the north-west of the country. China has also been accused of covering up an outbreak of the disease in poultry after more than 20 dead birds were washed up on beaches in Hong Kong. At least three have tested positive for the H5N1 bird flu virus.

The World Health Organisation reported 348 cases of the disease in humans up to January 2008 across 14 countries. Two hundred and sixteen of those infected had died. That represents a death rate of more than 60% - stoking fears that if the strain ever did manage to pass from human to human it could threaten us with a pandemic on the scale of that of 1918 in which perhaps 70 million died, including a quarter of a million in Britain (see A Disastrous History of the World and A Disastrous History of Britain).

So far, mercifully, there has been little evidence of transmission of H5N1 from human to human apart from isolated cases in Thailand and Vietnam.


  1. I have a question for you Mr. Disaster Historian. While we are all aware of the terrible deaths and casualties casued by the use of chemical weapons in World War I, World War II (use of Zyklon-B in the Holocaust) and later during the Iran-Iraq war, have there ever been any examples of biological weapons actually being used in modern warfare (post 1900)? I know that the Brits experimented with Anthrax during World War II, and that there are persistent rumours of the Soviets having used bio weapons in Afghanistan. But is there anything else? Ok, you have the Anthrax attacks in the US post 9/11, but what about anything in combat? Any light your torch can shine on this shady area would make fasincating reading!!

  2. The first ever use of biological weapons is often said to have been by Tartar forces besieging the city of Caffa, now Feodosia, on the Black Sea in 1346. The Black Death was surging through their ranks, and they had to call off the operation, but before they left, they catapulted infected dead bodies into the city. Tradition has it that the Genoese defenders then carried the plague to western Europe.
    In fact, earlier than 1000BC, the Hittites are supposed to have driven infected people into the lands of their enemies, and catapulting decomposing animal corpses or dung over the walls of a besieged city was a common tactic, used in the Hundred Years War, for example.
    The Japanese stockpiled tons of germ-filled foam during World War Two, and are alleged to have attacked China with ceramic bombs filled with fleas carrying bubonic plague. There were also claims that in 1948, Israeli Haganah terrorists put bacteria into the water supply of Acre and caused an outbreak of typhoid. Israel has always denied this.