Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Spreading disease

The dangers presented by zoonoses or those susceptible to catching diseases are real and severe. 

Those who then pass on their diseases to the rest of us.

There's not a hope in hell, of predicting the nature and timing of the next influenza pandemic. 

Too many random factors in play..

Unless of course it is deliberately started by someone or some group.
Here is a two part question asked of several eminent disease scientists: 

Will a new disease emerge, in the near future, sufficiently virulent and transmissible to cause a pandemic on the scale of Aids or the 1918 flu?  

If so, what does it look like and whence does it come? 

Their answers to the first part have ranged from maybe to probably. 

In other words they don't know but suspect.

Their answers to the second have focused on various viruses prone to mutation.

Especially those for which the reservoir host is some kind of primate or bird.
But the difficulty of predicting precisely doesn't oblige us to remain blind, unprepared and fatalistic. 

We can at least be vigilant.

We can be well prepared and quick to respond.

Well not really, I mean in what way can you protect yourself?

Washing your hands is about it. 

The scientists are on alert. 

They are our sentries.

Fine and then what?

A panic while they try to find an antidote.

And we all know that this is not done in five minutes. 

But we, too, should understand in some measure the basic outlines and dynamics of the situation. 

We should appreciate that these recent outbreaks of new diseases.

As well as the recurrence and spread of old ones.

Are part of a larger pattern.

And that humanity is largely responsible for generating that pattern. 

We should recognise that they reflect things that we're doing.

Not just things that are happening to us.
We have increased our population to the level of 7 billion and beyond. 

We live at high densities in most cities. 

We have penetrated, and continue to penetrate, the last great forests and other wild ecosystems of the planet. 

We cut our way through the Congo, through the Amazon, through Borneo. 

We shake the trees, figuratively and literally, and things fall out. 

We kill and butcher and eat many of the wild animals found there. 

We settle in those places, bringing in our domesticated animals. 

We multiply our livestock as we've multiplied ourselves.

Often under conditions that allow them to acquire infections.

Infections they then share with one another.

And often then go on to infect humans. 

We export and import livestock across great distances and at high speeds.
We travel, moving between cities and continents even more quickly than our transported livestock. 

We stay in hotels where strangers sneeze and vomit. 

We eat in restaurants where the cook may have butchered a porcupine before working on our scallops. 

We gather in close proximity to each other in terminals, shopping malls, cinemas and the like.

We visit monkey temples in Asia and Africa.

Live markets in India, the Middle and Far East.

Picturesque villages in South America.

Bat caves in East Africa.

Breathing the air.

Feeding the animals.

Touching all manner of things.

Shaking hands with the friendly locals. 

And then we jump on our planes and fly home.

Then we are surprised when we go down with some disease

A disease often difficult to identify in a local clinic.

We wonder why things seem to be getting out of hand in so many areas.

Wonder no more.

Worry instead that we are unable or unlikely to be able to deal effectively with the next pandemic.

No alarmist blog this just open our eyes to what we are creating.

An amazing incubator for all kinds of nasties.

1 comment:

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