Japanese researcher Yasuhiro Tsukamoto’s flock of 500 ostriches are being enlisted into the global fight against swine flu by exploiting Japan’s practice of wearing masks in public to ward off allergies and colds.
Tsukamoto, 40, a veterinary professor at Kyoto Prefectural University, was part of a team that investigated the deaths of birds in 2004, when avian influenza hit farms in western Japan. The probe into the virus that killed three-fifths of infected people worldwide spurred him to produce flu-fighting antibodies from ostriches, which are resistant to infectious diseases.
In July, even before the swine flu outbreak surfaced, Tsukamoto began selling, for about $2 each, face masks lined with the ostrich antibodies. The swine flu circling the globe has heightened the Japanese obsession with wearing face masks, leading shops to sell out plain white surgical types as well as patterned varieties, such as those with Mickey Mouse themes.
“Masks have become part of social etiquette as they give Japanese a sense of security that they and those around them aren’t spreading diseases,” Masataka Yoshikawa, who tracks consumer behavior at market researcher Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living, said in a telephone interview from Tokyo.
Not sure masks are part of the social etiquette that I want to be in. Flu or no flu I like to see people's smiling faces.