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
Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey Raw: Obama Eats Ribs in Kansas City In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo NCAA Settles Head-injury Suit, Will Change Rules Raw: Amphibious Landing Practice in Hawaii Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA
NDN Video
Heartwarming 'Batkid Begins' Documentary is Tear-Jerker Orlando Bloom 'Takes a Swing' at Justin Bieber In Ibiza Pitch Invading Morons Cause Chaos - @TheBuzzeronFOX Sadie Doesn't Want Her Brother to Grow Up "Maxim" Hotness! See Jessica Alba's Sizzling Spread Two women barely avoid being hit by train Broken Water Main Floods UCLA Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber Reportedly Came To Blows In Ibiza Meet the Man Behind Dumb Starbucks Chris Pratt Adorably Surprises Kids at a 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Screening NOW TRENDING: Peyton Manning dancing at practice "The Bachelorette" Makes Her Decision Thieves pick the wrong gas station to rob Golden Sisters on '50 Shades' trailer: 'Look At That Chest!' Staten Island Man's Emotional Dunk Over NYPD Car - @TheBuzzeronFOX GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show'
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.