The terror is over. A disruptively cold winter has destroyed the uncontrolled breeding of mutant chickens which have swept across South East Asia over the past six months.
It is suspected that the mutant chickens originated in North Korea and were their answer to the expanding bird-flu epidemic that forced the mass-culling of chickens and other domestic birds.
Korean scientists seem to have created these mutants by cross-breeding their own strain of chickens with a little-known, but fast-breeding, local snake species.
The only problem is that the fast-breeding mutant chickens turned out to be highly toxic and dangerous to humans.
Poor farming controls saw the chickens escaping and breeding rapidly. Within months the mutants were threatening China, South East Asia and the edges of central Europe.
More than 20,000 people have been killed by the mutants and property worth more than US$ 2 billion has been laid waste during military action designed to destroy the pests and control the panic in major cities across the region.
The mutant chickens appear to have been controlled by freak weather, but the bird flu epidemic continues.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
1997: Prelude to Bird Flu
In Hong Kong in 1997, avian influenza A (H5N1) infects both chickens and humans. This is the first time an avian influenza virus has ever been found to transmit directly from birds to humans. During this outbreak, 18 people are hospitalized and six of them die. To control the outbreak, authorities kill about 1.5 million chickens to remove the source of the virus. This constitutes Hong Kong’s entire poultry population. Scientists determine that the virus spreads primarily from birds to humans, though rare person-to-person infections are noted.
2003-8: The Second Wave
In 2003 Indonesia becomes the latest country to admit that a massive outbreak of bird flu has been ravaging its chicken farms for months. The disease has now led to the death of many millions of birds across south-east Asia, and at least seven people.
“The scale of the epidemic is unprecedented,” says Klaus Stöhr, a senior virologist at the World Health Organization. “Never in history have we seen such outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza over such a wide area, simultaneously.” Stöhr warns that if a person becomes infected simultaneously with both bird and ordinary human flu, the viruses could hybridize to cause a deadly global pandemic.
China claims that it is entirely free of infection. The World Health Organization knows that this cannot be the case but is unable to gain any information from the secretive police state. In 2006, amidst international concern over the virus – with millions of birds destroyed around the world – China admits that the epidemic probably started there in 2002. They also admit that the first person to die in this wave occurred in November 2003.
Early in 2007 a major UK turkey farm is found to have full scale bird flu. More than 160,000 turkeys are destroyed, 535 farms sealed off and fears grow about “what we don’t know is infected”. Turkey and chicken sales drop dramatically.
In May 2008 more than 200 people in Hong Kong are diagnosed with bird flu. 123 of them die. The World Health Organisation battles to contain the outbreak. An entire team of doctors dispatched to assist in Indonesia is taken ill. Three die.
In August 2008, at a UN security council meeting, the US and EU propose that countries must agree on an international disclosure system to ensure that no outbreak goes unnoticed. The resolution is clearly aimed at China, still doing nothing to help the WHO and a permanent source of re-infection to South East Asia. China vetos the resolution.
In November 2008 it emerges that 22,000 people in China have died from human-version H5N1 bird flu. Refugees flee central China and are soon taking the disease into other parts of Asia. The US and EU issue a travel ban on travelers from the East. With 25 million chickens dead in Europe, the EU issues directive 7735A in which they declare that all chickens in the EU must be slaughtered to prevent the spread of the contagion. Russia follows suit. The US, Central and South America seem to have avoided this wave and their chicken demands a premium.
“I can’t believe it,” says Hoosain Adams, spokesman for KFC. “A year ago we could get chicken fillets for US$ 2 a pound, now it’s somewhere around US$ 50.” KFC is the largest manifestation of the change. They attempt to re-brand around beef burgers but that is already a tight market. Their share price tumbles 80% in December 2008.
2009: The End of Poultry
In January panic seizes Mexico. A wild duck, migrating from Europe, has infected their largest poultry farm with bird flu. The military is called in to isolate the area and destroy 1.2 million birds. It’s too late. By February major culling has started ahead of the outbreak line to try and stop the carnage.
In April 2009, the US President has the horrifying task of informing the public of the tragedy. “My fellow Americans. Today, with a heavy heart, I have to tell you that we will, from tomorrow, destroy all poultry in the United States.” The army is called in.
Almost unnoticed in the uproar is the effect in Asia. Rising malnutrition meets several minor outbreaks of human-version bird flu. 15,000 people are infected. 413 die. China continues to remain mute.
There are human outbreaks in the EU and US but they are quickly controlled.
In April of 2009 KFC quietly closes operations. “Temporarily suspended” says a press release.
2010: GM to the Rescue
The Chinese government were the first to sequence the DNA for the chicken and their scientists were quick to start work on modifying the genome to produce a bird immune to the disease. Unfortunately China has become extremely unstable. An outbreak of human-version bird flu in their parliament kills 32 politicians and leads to riots across China. Monsanto offers astonishing salaries to Beijing’s top geneticists and many flee the country.
In a further blow, North Korea decides to take this moment to bribe the remaining scientists to come to them. A race is on between the well-paid and equipped laboratories of Monsanto, in the US, and the secretive labs of North Korea.
Monsanto is first to market with a slow breeding derivative. “We’re having a problem with sterility. Many of the eggs just don’t hatch. We’re not sure why,” says Doug Halgood, Monsanto’s spokesman. KFC executives begin talks about how to support further research. Chicken starts making its appearance in more restaurants.
“But it’s still too expensive to have at home,” say many consumers.
2011: Chickens Attack
In early February North Korea’s premier, Kim Jong-il, appears on their state television channel flanked by cages filled with chickens. Spokesmen excitedly tell of their new super-fast breeding chicken. The excitement is short-lived.
On 2 March 2011, Chinese and South Koreans living along the borders with North Korea report that they have seen vast numbers of chickens gathering within no-man’s-land. Thousands of people flock to the border in excitement. A television crew from South Korean Television films what happens next.
It is carnage. The chickens attack. Viewers of YouTube.com and Joost.com around the world watch in horror as people swell up and die before the cameras. Panic sets in and thousands are trampled. Air Force jets bombard the area in the hopes of stopping the chickens continuing their invasion. Chicken bodies are sent to laboratories for analysis.
“It appears that the chickens are able to produce venom. They’re not snakes, they can’t inject it, but their pecks are sufficient to introduce the toxin. The chickens and their eggs are lethal,” says Wilma Rontgen of the WHO. No news comes out of North Korea but live satellite images visible to all on Google Earth indicate that vast swathes of the secretive country is under attack from chickens.
“We have no idea how many are dead there,” says George Mason, US representative of NATO. “We’ve sent some recon flights over and they’ve been ignored. Clearly their military is being overwhelmed by the birds.”
China suddenly announces that they have lost control of Liaoning province, neighboring North Korea. In April the first chickens make it to Europe from China, via Russia.
“They breed incredibly quickly. I’ve never seen anything like it. And they’re ferocious as anything,” says Dr Lawrence Pritchard at Suffolk Testing Station in the UK. A North Korean scientist who makes it across the border is suffering from various pecks. Shortly before he dies he tells investigators that the chickens have been crossed with a locally occurring fast-breeding but venomous snake. There is uproar.
It is clear that North Korea continues to be the source of the chickens. It is also clear that their state is no longer intact. In July a NATO force is assembled in South Korea and launches an invasion into North Korea. The battle is unequal. The chickens can easily hide in forests, abandoned villages or caves; short of a nuclear bombardment, it is difficult to exterminate all of them. The number of dead starts to climb.
Then, a few months later, luck happens. “We’re looking at the earliest and worst winter storms in 30 years. The temperatures are plummeting,” says Victoria Emmett at the Brisbane Meteorological Institute. Blizzards plunge much of South East Asia into darkness. Chicken attacks gradually decrease. And, within weeks, none are left.