The pandemic started quietly. In the spring of 2017 A few hundred dead chickens appeared in markets in Hong Kong and a few other cities in China. Public health officials in China were slow to respond. They did not want to panic the public about an avian flu outbreak. Nor were they eager to take the steps necessary to contain such an outbreak—the killing hundreds of thousands of chickens and poultry with devastating economic consequences. While the delay went on a few cases began to occur on Canadian and American poultry farms. Department of Agriculture experts traced the outbreak to waterfowl migrating from Northern flyways, probably from Asia. Inquiries were made about avian flu outbreaks in Asian nations. Then the unthinkable happened. Humans in Hong Kong began to get sick. Very sick. Some died. Those who died were in their twenties.
The avian flu virus had mutated. H7N9m had transformed into an agent that not only could infect humans but did so with a transmissibility and lethality that had not been seen since the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918.
Then the first American died. A young man back from a business trip to Hong Kong. The media, already primed for hysterical coverage following the severe Zika outbreak in the Southern United States in the summer and fall of 2016, went into full panic-dispensing mode. ‘Experts’ began to appear on the cable channels who suggested that the outbreak was the result of irresponsible genetic research in China. Still others suggested that it was the bioterror work of North Korean scientists. One or two pointed toward ISIS arguing that they had grown desperate in the face of the massive air war that the new administration had launched. Still others saw the hand of right or left wing domestic terrorists. And an accident at an American lab was put into the boiling cauldron of speculation and conspiracy.