"Zombie" pigeons in Russia = apocalypse! According to this Al Jazeera video, some unspecified group of Russian locals believe that these diseased pigeons signal the end of times. Bummer it was scheduled for the 23rd of August and it’s 20 minutes too late where I am. The actual disease affecting these pigeons is Newcastle Disease. Jezebel is reporting that it’s transmittable to humans, which is great news for people who enjoy baseless public fear. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry reports that while Newcastle can affect humans, this is rare.

Interestingly, the National Cancer Institute reports on a series of studies where Newcastle Disease is being studied as a treatment of cancer because the virus infects the host’s cells and then it uses these to replicate itself. This behaviour is similar to the way cancers work. Clinical trials show mixed results.

My interest in this story is more on the moral panic. I enjoy a great zombie virus story. Or two. Or three. This story however makes no attempt to move past the tongue-in-cheek reference to zombies to actually inform people about this fascinating disease. Avian flu spread a lot of fear and misunderstanding. In Australia, the media framed avian flu debates by evoking the Spanish Influenza Epidemic which contributed to over inflated discussions of risk and threat. Similarly in the UK while the media may not have been wholly responsible for replicating poor public health discussions about avian flu, the media amplified a “rhetoric of fear and blame…”. Media reports of swine flu in the UK also lacked social responsibility for alarmist headlines and poor scientific engagement.

The general public do not always know where to look for scientific information when a new public health story breaks. They are likely to seek out reputable sources, which includes Al Jazeera. In this case, they’ve dropped the ball. 

Teeny tiny, itsy bitsy, teeney weeney chameleons!
Wired writes:

The four new species belong to the genus Brookesia, also known as the leaf chameleons, which live in remote rainforests in northern Madagascar. The genus is already known to contain some very small species, with members typically resembling juvenile versions of larger species.As small as these guys are, a super-tiny dwarf gecko found in the British Virgin Islands might be just a tad more wee.

Images: Glaw, F., et al., PLoS ONE via Wired.
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Teeny tiny, itsy bitsy, teeney weeney chameleons!

Wired writes:

The four new species belong to the genus Brookesia, also known as the leaf chameleons, which live in remote rainforests in northern Madagascar. The genus is already known to contain some very small species, with members typically resembling juvenile versions of larger species.

As small as these guys are, a super-tiny dwarf gecko found in the British Virgin Islands might be just a tad more wee.

Images: Glaw, F., et al., PLoS ONE via Wired.

  • Source: Wired