Queen Elizabeth’s Swans Are Dying From Bird Flu & It’s Incredibly Sad

Ad failed to load

Swans are the closest thing to a sacred bird in British culture. All mute swans born in open water in England and Wales technically belong to the Crown, according to a law dating back to the 16th century; you have to have a special license from Queen Elizabeth herself to own one, and their numbers are surveyed every year. But swans in the United Kingdom now face a new threat: the flock that occupies the moat of Windsor Castle, one of the Queen's residences, has been dying at alarming rates, with as many as 30 succumbing in recent months, the BBC reported. The culprit? Avian flu.

The swans have been the focus of a media storm as vets race to save them, but one expert told the BBC that they could die in as little as 48 hours after the beginning of symptoms. It's a big symbolic blow for the country, because swans are one of its most precious symbols. Recipes for eating swan, a delicacy restricted to the most noble feast tables, date back to the 12th century, where it was usually served roasted in a "lifelike pose." Eating a swan without royal dispensation was a treasonous offense up until 1998, and for hundreds of years swans were "marked" on the beak with the nobles who had bought their ownership rights from the royal household. But the avian flu outbreak represents more than a threat to British sensitivity.

Leon Neal/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Ad failed to load

Avian flu, otherwise known as bird flu, is a specific kind of influenza that spreads among birds and has been known in recent years to threaten human health, too. The World Health Organization notes that aquatic birds are at the most risk from avian flu. In rare cases, it can spread from birds to humans; before 2013, only one kind, influenza A (or H5N1), was known to be capable of inter-species spreading, but in 2013 in China, a new variety of avian flu, H7N9, was detected that can cause deaths in humans. The United Nations reports that as of 2018, 1,624 confirmed cases have been diagnosed and 621 people have died worldwide as a result of H7N9 — but despite widespread fears of pandemic, the H7N9 problem appears to have been contained, with only a handful of cases being noted outside of China, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The illness that is believed to have struck the Queen's birds is H5N6, one of the newer varieties of bird flu to have appeared in recent years. It first showed up in China in 2014, and in 2017, H5N6 and similar flus were reported in very small amounts in Cambodia, South Korea, the Netherlands, Japan, and Taiwan, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. In 2018, it's been detected in birds in Iran and in an eagle found dead in Ireland. While the 2014 outbreak led to the death of 10 children in China, no other human fatalities have been reported, and it's not thought to be a strain that has a high risk of transferring to humans and causing health problems. The BBC noted in its reporting about Queen Elizabeth's swans that this flu "does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers."

The Queen's birds are thus far being tightly contained, so that they don't spread the flu to other birds. The big worry for British bird-fanciers isn't that the Queen will come down with avian flu; it's that H5N6, which is highly contagious, might lead to serious problems for wildlife across the U.K. Avian flu has also caused destruction for poultry farmers in the past, as they've had to destroy whole flocks because of infections to avoid contamination. The Queen's swans aren't exactly portents of doom, but it's worth hoping that they keep their coughs to themselves.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

7 Signs Your Energy Is Closed Off To Love, According To A Psychic

Finding love requires more than just the actions of going on dates or setting up an online dating profile. It also requires opening yourself up to love and giving off the vibe that you're open. You may not even realize it if you're energetically bloc…
By Suzannah Weiss

Bustle's Editors On Ice Dancing + Rihanna

For those of you who had a holiday on President's Day, welcome to the start of the work week! And for everyone who worked yesterday, you're one day closer to the weekend, woo! Today's been a fairly chill day so far — we've got more on the Winter Olym…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

It Took Heather Graham YEARS To Make A Movie About Women Ditching Toxic Men. The Reason? Men.

They say you should write what you know. But in Hollywood, that age-old advice apparently needs an addendum: Write what you know — as long as men are into it. And for actor and newly minted director/screenwriter Heather Graham — a woman who swam thro…
By Kelsea Stahler

Target Just Launched A Gorgeous New Home Brand — And Most Pieces Are Under $30

Design lovers rejoice! Everyone's favorite store for pretty much everything is about to make all your daring decorating dreams come true. Today, Target's corporate blog issued a press release that provides a peek into Target's new homeware line, Opal…
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

17 Brilliant Ways To Support Parkland Survivors Wherever You Are

Following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, survivors are demanding Congress take action. A large group of students who survived the shooting are opposing politicians' "thoughts and prayers," arguing that inst…
By Sarah Beauchamp

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

How This Quadriplegic Beauty Lover Beat Cancer & Became A Professional Makeup Artist

In 2010, one day before she was supposed to start cosmetology school, Steph Aiello was involved in a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down with limited ability to move her hands and one of her closest friends dead. She would spend the…
By Sara Tan

7 Common Marriage Rules That Aren't Good For Relationships

When it comes to marriage, everyone loves to give their two cents, and with all the warnings and advice floating around out there, no wonder people find marriage intimidating. Luckily, you don't always have to play by the rules, and there's some bad …
By Carina Wolff

The Infuriating Way Hollywood Movie Sets Are Designed To Make Life Harder For Women

Whitney Cummings is fed up — with the way Hollywood treats women, and in particular, the way the it treats female directors who have children. While the entertainment industry may be working hard to get more women behind the camera, Cummings wants to…
By Casey Cipriani

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

Here Are All The Terms You Need To Know If You’re Watching Olympic Ski Events Right Now

Every four years the Winter Olympics rolls around to remind me that A) there are so many important Winter Olympic sports, and B) I know virtually nothing any of them. And I know for a fact, I'm not alone, I bet most people don't know what the differe…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
via Romper

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale

17 Moms Reveal The Most Disgusting Part Of Their Pregnancy

Pregnant bodies do weird-ass things. Weird-ass, gross things. I mean, my pregnant body did (twice), and I have long-suspected I'm not alone. So I asked other moms to share the most disgusting part of their pregnancy and I learned that, not only am I …
via Romper