There is a new epidemic sweeping the country. It is highly contagious, there is no vaccine and the condition may be life-long. There is possibly no cure. It strikes like lightning, and affects men, women and children of all ages. Symptoms start with mild emotional upset and rapidly progress to outright lunatic tendencies along with a need to nurture, fret-over and spoil rotten. Essential tasks like going to work or cooking dinner get put off in favour of vet visits or coop cleaning, and in extreme cases, waiting for couriered mealworm deliveries to arrive. If this sounds like you, be afraid. You have probably been infected with the latest variant of avian flu, or influHENza. Known as the HeN1 strain, your prospects are indeed beak.
It is not known exactly where the current outbreak has its roots, but scientists believe that a small group of allotment holders in the UK may have been cross infected with an older, pure breed strain of the virus from the Netherlands, resulting in a mutation containing elements of both. The fear now is that this new strain – HeN1- may combine some of the more extreme UK symptoms (hen-cuddling, blow-drying and poo- fixation) with the ease of spread of the original Dutch strain (from indiscriminate attendance at poultry shows) resulting in a global outbreak, or “Frying” Pan-demic (Free Range Yearnings Increasingly Global).
So what should you look for? Initial symptoms usually consist of a tendency to linger on photos of hens posing in Country Life magazine and to tune into any programmes featuring Jimmy Docherty, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall or Jamie Oliver. This initial phase is quite benign, with no major symptoms and patients at this point are not infectious to others.
The disease then quickly progresses to include further symptoms such as checking out the most beautiful chickens, using internet search engines. A shortlist list of desirable breeds may be drawn up; this is often the first clinical sign of disease. This stage quickly accelerates with the patient making their first visit to an actual poultry centre, where the infection becomes embedded and which may result in the purchase of hen-related items, such as a beginners guide to hen-keeping manual, or a fridge magnet or mug bearing the image of a hen. Is should be stressed that at this point, the disease is still manageable.
Clinicians should be alert to the next, crucial, phase of the disease, when the virus replicates itself exponentially and which marks the start of the infectious phase. At this point, the patient usually presents with two main symptoms – an undertaking (public or private) to “get some chickens” combined with the need to tell everyone they meet about “how lovely chickens are”. It is exactly at this point that the patient becomes highly infectious to others, which scientists fear may result in a massive global explosion of HeN1. This could happen if already-infected people shed particles of HeN1 near vulnerable people, for example, at the office, on public transport or in supermarket queues, or anywhere else they feel compelled to “talk chicken”. Only a few particles of “chicken talk” need to be absorbed for infection to occur, and once infected, the virus will lay dormant in its new host until he/she too one day starts to “talk chicken”.
Doctors from the WHO (World Hen Organisation) are advising vulnerable people to avoid contact with infected persons. These “at risk” groups are specified as anyone whose mood system is compromised, such as teenagers, new mums and middle aged women. Also anyone recently retired or made redundant or whose children have just gone off to university. This latter group – comprising those who have recently found themselves sitting in an empty nest – are especially at-risk of contracting HeN1.
It is thought that if the present rate of infection continues, the whole world will be either infected or carriers within 27 months. The virus is, however, believed to have periods of dormancy, similar to the herpes simplex virus. This means that following primary infection, patients may experience several outbreaks of HeN1 during their lifetime, with each phase lasting between 3 and 17 years. During these active flare-ups, it is anticipated that patients who had previously been in remission will resume hen-keeping activities and acquire more hens. They will also continue to be infectious to others.
So if you think you, or someone you know, is infected, here’s what to do:
- Stay indoors – going outside will merely encourage thoughts of the country life, grass, wellington boots and – yes, hens. You need to deprive your mood system of this unwanted stimulus
- Avoid unnecessary contact with visitors – you may infect them with HeN1 if you shed virus particles all over them, even unwittingly. Remember – you only need to absorb a few HeN1 particles to be infected, and as someone once said, “careless talk costs lives”
- Turn off your computer. On no account should you look at any poultry websites of any sort.
- Try self-hypnosis – banish any image of sweet feathery friendly beasties and think instead of megalomaniac, razor-beaked dictators – then hold onto that image.
- If you need advice, call the special 24-hour helpline set up by NHS Direct (National HeN1 Squad)
And finally..remember that this virus – though life-changing – is seldom fatal. Most sufferers are expected to go on to lead normal lives, provided they are able to control their more extreme symptoms, such as letting their hens watch television on the sofa ………..or buying them water-proof radios so they can listen to Mozart…..or getting up in the night to check for red mite…. or adding at least 6 vitamins and tonics to their water…..or remembering their birthdays and Christmasses….
…..or taking them for bicycle rides….or letting them sleep in the dog’s bed…… or buying them toys to entertain them……..or starving the family so the hens don’t have to go without treats……..or giving them hot water bottles when it snows………or failing to attend work as you have eggs hatching……
………or letting them sleep by your bed when they are sick……..or having their own piggy bank for treat money……..or giving them the expensive brand of tender sweetcorn while you all eat the supermarket own-brand budget buy……..
footnote: all hens are to carry a government health warning:
hen-keeping can seriously damage your mental health