New York Post bird flu article fuels conspiracy theories online

After a rare human case of H5N1 avian flu, or “bird flu,” was discovered in Texas, the New York Post published an article claiming that bird flu is “100 times worse” than COVID-19. In response to the article, some social media users are falsely claiming that this human case of bird flu is a government hoax intended to sway election results, while others claim that this is the beginning of a bird flu pandemic that was intentionally instigated by the U.S. government.

Recommendation: These types of posts downplay the risks of COVID-19 infection and may promote distrust in public health guidance about bird flu. This may discourage patients in New York—as well as patients throughout the country who encounter these claims—from following current and future public health guidance. Debunking messaging may emphasize that the government did not create bird flu, a real disease that primarily affects birds and has been documented since 1878. Infrequently, humans have contracted bird flu after coming into contact with infected animals, and cases of human-to-human transmission are even more rare. Messaging may also emphasize that COVID-19 and bird flu are different illnesses with different risks. There have been few documented human cases of bird flu throughout history, and there are currently only two documented cases in the U.S. In contrast, over the past four years the U.S. has seen more than 1 million deaths from COVID-19 and 6 million hospitalizations.