The other day, in a tiny Lave tribal village, we asked whether the people knew about bird flu.
“Oh yes,” a woman who runs the village restaurant told us. “All of our chickens died last month. It happens every year.”
“Really?!?” we asked. “What have you done with the dead birds?”
“We ate them.”
So there you go. This little exchange was, of course, interesting on all sorts of levels. We learned from our guide, Mr. Big, that many villages in southern Laos experience something similar on an annual basis. One day, suddenly, all the chickens are dead. Mr. Big isn’t sure it’s bird flu, but it could be. Whatever the cause, many Laotians have come to expect the routine demise of their birds. What else would they do, but eat them? They can’t let so much meat go to waste! Mr. Big, however, recalled one year when so many chickens had died they couldn’d possibly eat them all. The grounds were littered with dead birds, and people grew sick from the flies and rodents that fed upon the carnage.
Our conversation raised another issue as well: My mother recently asked me whether it’s possible to catch bird flu by eating contaminated chickens; she didn’t know, based on the coverage she had read and heard in the United States. The answer is no. Properly cooked poultry and eggs are safe to eat. That fact is widely known and repeated in Asia (at least in urban areas). Here in Thailand, it’s hard to gauge the American media’s coverage of bird flu on the whole. But there do seem to be many misconceptions and perhaps a bit of inflated fear. I told my mother that most human cases of bird flu have occurred in children who played with dead chickens and people who handled sick or dead birds. You can read more about the particulars on the CDC website.