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Looking-Glass Viewpoint
Animal Diseases
for Dummies Part One

VeggieBite ...
The amount of land needed to produce a one-year food supply for a person on a meat-eating diet is 3.25 acres. The amount of land needed to produce a one-year food supply for a pure vegetarian is just 1/6 (0.16) acre.
From: "Diet for A New America" by John Robbins
Whether you are a veggie or a meat-eater, Looking-Glass offers a pragmatic viewpoint ...
How rationality should be nurtured and stupidity held firmly at bay.

Irrational behaviour in the event of a viral outbreak is one of those classic dumbing-down traits of humanity.
As fear-induced adrenaline runs high during a potential or imminent pandemic, it's often no thanks to rumour, gossip and headlines that it's everyone for themselves; from governments dishing out slapdash solutions and misguided advice, right down to the mindless actions of the most foolish individuals. Chaos reigns.
In fact, most of us can be held responsible for initiating hysteria or acting on bad advice, because panicking is what we do best.
But there is an inherent reason as to what causes such potentially dangerous transpositions of animal-originated diseases. This Looking-Glass viewpoint aims to unravel the panic in pandemics and inspire pro-active solutions ... without cruelty.

BSE, SARS, Avian Flu (bird flu), Swine Flu ... and Aids; these are words that conjure up nightmare scenarios of death and global devastation.
Who is to blame for the mutation, spread and mismanagement of these infections in the first place? If you think it's animals, then you are wrong.
In all cases it's we humans;
A group of hominids unable to act rationally in the event of a viral threat to its own species. We are supposedly an intelligent species, but we are equally a grossly self-serving society, which has created an ecological mechanism of perpetual cause-and-ill-effect.
It's due to this behaviour that the human psyche hovers close by a mass-destruction button labelled "Blame it on the Animals", and we'll use it without question. "Kill the animals ... that'll solve it!" ... Whether it be an insect having its lunch on a sunflower crop to a bird eating a fisherman's quota - or in this case an animal harboring a virus.

But this is the most ignorant move that humanity could make.

From the beginning of life on earth, all species have been prone to disease. As generations have evolved over millennia, many potentially damaging viruses have actually become less or even completely harmless.
Natural selection is the simple answer.
While one animal or human may have died from disease, others survived because they carried the necessary antibodies to fight the virus. The survivors then passed on their virus-resistant genes to their offspring. And this is how natural immunity to diseases we didn't even know existed developed over time.
So today there are hundreds of viruses circulating across the planet - even hanging around in the air we breath. We are now immune to a lot of them, but 10,000 years ago - or even just hundreds of years ago, some of these same viruses could have harmed us, even fatally. These viruses were no different then than they are now, but in the early days we hadn't developed a natural defence or immunity against them. Then, people would die of a contagious virus while others lived, who were in-turn building up a natural resistance to the virus to pass on to future, healthier generations who live longer partly as a result of viral immunity. Biologists today may not even be able to determine what viruses may have threatened our health over such long time-spans, i.e. what we were resistant to, and what killed us thousands of years ago could be anybody's guess.
Even by the early 20th century there were still some viruses circulating that were killing or causing irreparable illness to humans. But as science and medicine developed during that time, more and more vaccines became available. By giving a person (or an animal) a very mild micro-version of a disease, usually via injection, this triggers off an immunity response. This immunity ("memory") that stays in your body is what you need to resist the disease if you ever came into contact with it for real.
And so vaccination became the medical revolution of modern society, stopping people from developing a host of common, and some deadly diseases, many which today are consigned to history.
The introduction of the vaccine changed the way in which humanity struggled to win over contagious infection. Instead, humans were now in control of their own destiny in the battle against many diseases. Although a triumph in the short-term, vaccinations meant that humans (and even domestic animals) were inadvertently no longer able to build up natural resistance to viruses over a long, "evolutionary" period. We had created a prevention through science, but it now meant that we would forevermore be dependent on finding biological solutions in the laboratory to stop us catching diseases; vaccines could now prevent the spread of infection within a scientist's own life-span, instead of waiting to build up natural immunity over generations.
The important thing to remember is that a vaccine prevents the disease from developing inside us - In most cases it doesn't mean the virus has disappeared off the face of the earth. For example, there are some diseases which have recently made a comeback, such as tuberculosis. A BCG vaccination can stop humans from developing tuberculosis, but slack social welfare programs and bad parenting in some major cities means that more and more children are not being vaccinated. This has meant that a disease, which had been almost completely eradicated by the 1970's, is now nearing epidemic proportions in some parts of the world. Even polio, which had almost been confined to history has reestablished itself in many poor countries.

The man-made rise and rise of infectious disease

But while biologists are battling with the forces of nature as they try to eradicate disease, humans are at the same time creating far more dangerous diseases that would ever have occurred in the natural world, and we are not talking about biological warfare either!
Enter bird flu and swine flu.
Influenza, or flu affects many species and has done so throughout the evolution of life. For example we are used to hearing of dog and cat flu, and off course human flu. Now we are getting used to the term "Avian flu" or "bird flu" and swine flu . And while many strains of flu can exist in the wild without any dramatic risk of causing epidemic or even pandemic outbreaks, the type of flu which is "condensed" no thanks to humans cramming birds and animals into confined spaces, causes strengthening variants of the virus and therefore potential danger to humans.
Before we go on, let's just to turn the tables around for a minute; a pet hamster can catch human flu and die from it. When zoologists study groups of animals in remote parts of the wild - they will never get too close in case they transmit human diseases to the group.

Bird Flu and Swine Flu and how does it spread to humans?

All scientific research historically suggests that human flu was a variant generated from an originally harmless strain of bird flu, which then developed a cross-infectious strain through domestic foul crammed into to small, confined spaces no thanks to humans. In this chain of flu variants (crossing over between domestic animals), it appears that pigs were cross-carriers which could also pass it on to humans. This is because pigs have biological similarities to humans, so the jump was a lot easier to establish. This is why swine flu H1N1 (transmitted directly to humans who are in close contact with pigs), can also be easily transfered from human to human. The reason why the virus has developed ever-increasing strains within the pig population is because of the close cramped conditions huge numbers of these animals for slaughter and food consumption are kept in. When humans catch the strain, the same situation arises in densely populated areas, whereby transmission between one human and another can be fast and at the same time the virus can mutate in new strains which can be either milder or deadlier in some cases.

Who is to Blame?

Certainly not the animals ... As mentioned, It's only when densely packed groups of domestic poultry or pigs, are exposed to a strain of flu that things begin to get out of control.
In the following section we focus on wild-bird flu but some points also relate to swine flu:
It's not the original strain of wild-bird flu virus that is "potentially" fatal to humans, but the strain generated by domestic foul (and other animals) which have been squeezed together in confined spaces by humans. This entirely unnatural "living arrangement" then causes a dangerous mutation of the strain, which, in turn can infect wild-birds. Hence, the "man-made" vicious circle.
So to recap; mutations of a flu virus that crosses species is initially caused by birds and animals being kept in very confined spaces - and with different species mixed together, the virus strengthens as it mutates, enabling it to jump species.
Obviously, cramming birds and animals into close proximity with each other is a very unnatural arrangement - and doing so with different species as well makes matters infinitely worse. It's no wonder why such a virus can be so easily passed on and adapt so quickly, through multiple contamination when birds and animals are trapped in tiny spaces.
These flu viruses begin in China and Southeast Asia, who are notorious for raising livestock in minute spaces and in filthy conditions. Sellers then squeeze hundreds of live birds and animals into tiny cages and take them to markets ... thousands of cages piled on top of each other. What would normally be a fairly harmless virus in the wild then becomes a powerfully adaptive disease, eventually passing over to humans who are in close contact with the animals. Within months, flu viruses will have traveled the world.
Different strains of flu do the rounds each year, while medical researchers try to beat each strain with the appropriate flu vaccination, which may or may not be effective.

How can we get all this back into sensible control? - What you can do to help.

In today's over-sterilized westernized society, more and more humans are growing up with allergies and with poor resistance to everyday infections. This is due to babies and infants being overprotected from bacteria which they would have otherwise normally come into contact with. It's now even suggested that by regularly allowing an infant to crawl about in fields and farm yards - and basically get its hands dirty - is the best possible way to help the child build up a natural resistance to allergies and infections for later life. This makes complete sense, and health authorities should take heed of this advice and hammer it in to overprotective parents.
By overprotecting ourselves to such extremes now, we are systematically weakening our own race as humans, and at the same time destroying other species who would otherwise build up their own resistance - if left alone.

Your mini-mission

Meanwhile, while farmers around the world continue to pack together thousands of live birds and animals into extremely confined areas ... whether indoors or outdoors, viruses will continue to spread and mutate ... and worst of all, crossing from one species to another. Therefore it is entirely up to people to deal with the root of the problem - and that means stopping others from treating animals in such an irrational manner.
Even if it's just to protect yourself or you local community, you need to tell your neighbouring farmer or smallholder to stop confining their animals in such a way that triggers off these diseases in the first place. Farmers must provide far more space for animals than they currently do. Make sure that anyone you know who feeds "livestock" is feeding them with a vegetarian diet. Chickens for example should never be fed chicken (or any meat) amongst the feed that they are given. Cows, foul, sheep, pigs etc. are all naturally vegetarian species. None of these animals should ever be force-fed meat. Remember, this is what triggers off Scabies, BSE and CJD etc.)
Even if you don't live in a rural area, pass on this information to others that do own farms etc. And whenever you visit countries in the far east, the Americas or Africa, spend some time trying to reason with the local people about the cause and effect of keeping poultry and animals in unsuitable conditions. Tell them how they can improve, not only the welfare of their animals, but their own health, through careful animal / bird management and handling.
Live transportation, exports and live animal markets must be stopped for good, as this will also help limit the mutation and spread of viruses in confined conditions.

Commonsense Precautions

If a flu pandemic in humans does occur or has the potential to occur, listen to the advice of your country's government as well as using your own commonsense initiatives. For example, to help lessen the spread at the first signs of a potential pandemic, and even if your country hasn't advised it, you should take the following simple precautions to help minimize cross-infection:

  • Only leave your home when it's absolutely necessary - Stock up with more long-lasting food items so it becomes less necessary to make so many frequent trips to the shops.
  • If you have to travel on planes or subways (a melting-pot of internationally spread gems and viruses), or any other public transport, it may be advisable to wear a surgical mask. There is no room for vanity in situations like a potential threat to world health, and even if everyone on the aircraft looks at you as if you are mad, then don't let it bother you. It may be up to those people to follow your example, because prevention is better than the potentially dire consequences that can arise from contamination due to being stuck in confined spaces. There are mixed opinions about whether or not a face mask makes any difference. But wearing one in confined situations for short periods may help keep contaminated airborn moisture (through coughs, sneezes and nose blowing) spreading either from you or to you from others. Be aware though that a face mask might be of no effect once it becomes damp from your own mouth moisture. Also remember to remove it with clean hands - dispose of it sensibly and wash your hands after disposal.
  • Lifts are also breeding grounds for virus germs. Take the stairs if you can and clean your hands after touching stair rails. If you have to take the lift clean your hands after pressing buttons etc.
  • Don't touch anything in public places if you can help it. If you have to, then wash or spray your hands with an antibacterial gel straight after touching door handles, petrol pumps, light switches, cash / pin number machines, ticket barriers, counters, desks and anything else frequently handled by others. This can also include goods in shops often handled by others, as well as potential hazards in cafes, bars and restaurants: Cups, glasses, plates, cutlery, table surfaces and chairs. If you think that the food and drink containers in public eating and drinking places may not be sufficiently clear of germs then wipe drinking areas of cups with an odorless alcohol-based antibacterial wipe before drinking and do the same with knives, forks and spoons.
  • Money, whether it be notes or loose change, carries a host of germs. After handling wash your hands.
  • Exercise the same precautions as above even in your own home. Other members of the family and visitors all need to help protect each other and themselves from potentially harmful flu germs.
  • Young children are often more contagious, and for longer periods than adults. Exercise all the precautions listed here and also keep them well away from people such as the elderly or people with weak health conditions.
  • To ensure you don't spread any potential germs to others, never sneeze or cough without putting your hand in front of your mouth. Wash your hands straight after.
  • Do NOT shake hands or hug in greeting with others.
  • If you do become unwell with a suspected case of a pandemic flu, stay at home and follow the advice of your local health authority. They may suggest that you aim to keep your house well ventilated with plenty of fresh circulating air and to drink plenty of fluids. If you live with others who are not infected make sure you refer to all the relevant suggestions above to help reduce cross-infection within the household.

See also Advice During a Bird Flu Crisis

How do we reduce the threat of animal diseases?

Habitual meat-eaters are continually adding fuel to the fire, and the situation with the bird and swine flu viruses are a classic examples. To reduce the possibility of a bird flu pandemic the simple solution is to stop the consumption of poultry worldwide for at least two or three years. Let the bird flu virus burn itself out, instead of creating constant demand for bird-meat. If farmers are inclined to continue farming millions of birds and therefore allowing the disease to spread and mutate into more lethal variants, then the problem will never completely go away. The same solution would apply to any other virus originating from mass-farmed animals such as pigs (Swine Flu).
The long-term answer is simple ... Stop farming animals in mass, which leads to them living and been transported in unatural, unhealthy cramped conditions ... And to truely help lessen or perhaps stop the problem completely, the answer is simple ... Stop eating them. Minimal demand for meat will mean minimal negative consequences for animals and humankind alike.
Also do the sums ... the Veggiebite at the top right of this page explains simply.

Animal Diseases for Dummies © 2006/7 - VeggieGlobal and Looking-Glass

Part 2:
More about viruses and diseases caused through mismanagement of animals

See Also:
Part 3: What you should and should not do in a bird flu crisis
Britain's H5N1 Outbreak in 2007

Useful info on swine flu:

Useful info on bird flu:

Help to educate third world countries about the importance of wearing condoms as well as abstinence to help stop the spread of Aids:


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