China reported its first human case of a rare bird flu strain yesterday. According to a Reuters report, there’s no evidence the strain, H10N3, can be transmitted easily between people. Health authorities in China told Reuters that the patient, who was diagnosed with the strain May 28, was ready to go home from the hospital.
The news has reignited conspiracy theories about China’s “bioweapons.” Some social media users speculated that H10N3 came from the Wuhan lab, nodding to the Covid-19 lab-leak theory. Others baselessly said that these viruses are being controlled and released by Chinese authorities, possibly with an agenda to influence the 2022 US midterm elections. And the Daily Wire, a conservative news site run by Ben Shapiro that regularly shares misinformation, suggested that China is downplaying the case. A Facebook post by Shapiro linking to the article has been shared at least 4,000 times.
The misinformation around H10N3 also resembled the fears of a “novel” hantavirus pandemic in March 2020 in China. That virus was not easily transmissible between people. For example, on the anonymous message board 4chan’s /pol subforum, a post claiming the influenza “looks more deadly than Covid-19” gained sizable upvotes, with at least 60 replies.
Scientists have known about the H10N3 strain of influenza for more than 40 years, and China’s National Health Commission said a full-scale outbreak is unlikely. But amid a context of international criticism of China’s transparency around Covid-19, some commentators are distrustful of official assurances there. “I can’t trust anything. The same disaster is repeated,” said a Japanese political writer in a tweet that has been shared at least 700 times. “It is likely that it will soon be brought into Japan, where Chinese people will continue to enter easily.”
In the US, some influencers who are against masks, social distancing and other restrictions responded angrily to the announcement by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it is monitoring the situation around H10N3. A tweet from the @catturd2 account, which has over 500,000 followers, read in part, “never let them take your freedoms again… NEVER!!!” That post was shared at least 1,400 times. — Keenan Chen, Stevie Zhang