In the modern era, we’ve gotten way too familiar with pandemics over the course of, oh, our entire lives. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was swine flu, bird flu, normal flu -- we live in a veritable menagerie of influenza. Back in the ’20s and ’30s, though, the flu was almost as mysterious as the economy. We were only about a decade removed from the Spanish flu pandemic, which just up and disappeared one day for reasons we still can’t really explain and no one wanted to question for fear of jinxing it.

So when parrots and their owners started dropping dead, people were primed to react like Muppets in a burning building. There was panic, a backlash to the panic, and finally a bunch of dead scientists, which eventually led to the creation of the National Institute of Health. That’s right: Bird murder gave birth to centralized American medical research.

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