Are Floating Pigs Behind Shanghai’s Avian Flu?

At Bloomberg, Adam Minter reports suspicions of a link between newly reported bird flu deaths in Shanghai and the thousands of dead pigs recently found in the city’s water supply:

“Wash your hands, and cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing,” was the advice published in the Oriental Morning Post, Shanghai’s most popular newspaper (and repeated in others). “And avoid eating or contact with dead and diseased livestock.”

That last directive might be a little tricky to fulfill. Since early March, Shanghai’s waterways have been clogged by dead pigs — officially at least 11,000 of them but likely a lot more. Many of those pigs have found their way into tributaries that feed directly into the municipal water supply. […]

For Shanghai, a town whose cuisine is largely built on pork, this news would be unsettling under any circumstance. But in light of a bird flu that even Communist Party newspapers are implying could be caused by contact with dead and diseased livestock, it’s reason for panic. And, sure enough, Chinese social media were quickly filled with speculation on whether the month-long dead pork tide had played any role in this emerging strain of flu. Adding to the sense of unease was the late- arriving information that the younger of Shanghai’s two bird flu victims was a 27-year-old pork trader.

Xinhua reports, however, that no bird flu was found in 34 samples from the river pigs (via a Foreign Policy photo gallery on ‘China’s Love Affair With Pork‘). The timing of the flu deaths also points away from a direct link. While the plague of pigs began to appear about a week into March, the two men are both reported to have contracted the disease in late February. One died on February 27th; the other, on March 4th. As Human Rights Watch’s Phelim Kine pointed out on Twitter, the delayed news of the fatalities raises its own questions about what lessons the authorities learned from the SARS outbreak whose tenth anniversary has just passed.


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