McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Features

December 6, 2012

How animals spread diseases to us

IOWA CITY — "Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky." — Albert Camus, "The Plague"

In May, 1997, a 3-year-old boy was admitted to an ICU in Hong Kong after suffering from influenza for a week. Two days later, the boy died of pneumonia. His case would have been merely a curiosity if it weren't for 17 more patients who came down with the illness months later. In all, six people died from a strain of influenza that had never been seen in humans before, dubbed H5N1.

However, H5N1 wasn't really "new." It had caused outbreaks in Scottish chickens in 1959 and British turkeys in 1991. It had killed geese in Guangdong, China, in 1996. But these bird outbreaks weren't considered important by physicians or researchers on human disease — this was an avian strain of influenza, and it was thought that humans had little to be concerned about.

That changed abruptly in 1997, when the human cases led to the destruction of 1.3 million chickens in Hong Kong to stop the outbreak. That strategy seemed to work in the short term, but H5N1 has since surfaced in more than two dozen countries and caused more than 600 human infections since 1997 — almost half of them fatal.

While scientists were closely following the movements of H5N1, another influenza virus — H1N1 — snuck up on us in 2009 and spread around the world in a matter of weeks. This was the first influenza pandemic of the 21st century, and like H5N1, it moved to humans from animals — in this case, from pigs.

When new infectious diseases are discovered, one of the first questions is "where did this come from?" More often than not, the answer is one of our animal friends — a kind of disease called a zoonosis. Studies have shown that about 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases (diseases that are newly discovered, are increasing in frequency or have moved into a new geographic area) are of animal origin, as are 60 percent of all known pathogens. Even diseases that have spread freely in the human population, such as tuberculosis, HIV, measles and smallpox, have their roots in infections carried by animals.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Features
Seasonal Content
AP Video
Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-free Travel Raw: MH17 Bodies Arrive in Netherlands Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Disabled Veterans Memorial Nearing Completion Last Mass Lynching in U.S. Remains Unsolved Home-sharing Programs Help Seniors Ex-NYC Mayor: US Should Allow Flights to Israel Clinton: "AIDS-Free Generation Within Our Reach" Judge Ponders Overturning Colo. Gay Marriage Ban Airlines Halt Travel to Israel Amid Violence VA Nominee McDonald Goes Before Congress US Official: Most Migrant Children to Be Removed Police Probing Brooklyn Bridge Flag Switch CDC Head Concerned About a Post-antibiotic Era Courts Conflicted Over Healthcare Law Raw: Truck, Train Crash Leads to Fireball
NDN Video
CDC Director Warns Of A World Where Antibiotics No Longer Work Whoa! Watch "Housewives" Star Do the Unthinkable Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director Chris Pratt Interrupts Interview To French Braid Intern's Hair Shirtless Super Mario Balotelli Dances While Ironing - @TheBuzzeronFOX LeBron apologizes to neighbors with cupcakes Justin Bieber In Calvin Klein Underwear Shoot Samsung Pre-Trolls The IPhone 6 With New Ad Jimmy Kimmel Introduces His Baby Girl Swim Daily, Nina Agdal in the Cook Islands Guilty Dog Apologizes to Baby for Stealing Her Toy Prince George Turns 1 and is Already a Trendsetter Train Collides With Semi Truck Carrying Lighter Fluid Kanye West Tells-All on Wedding in "GQ" Interview Tony Dungy Weighs in on Michael Sam Scarlett Johansson Set To Marry In August New Star Wars Episode XII X-Wing Revealed Obama: Putin must push separatists to aid MH17 probe Michigan inmates no longer allowed to wear orange due to 'OITNB'
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.