Effect Measure

H5N1 and animal health

If you confront other people who think bird flu has gone away as a concern or read news articles to that effect, consider this. In April of this year there were 45 countries reporting infections in their bird or poultry populations. Now, four months later, there are 55. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) continues to warn us that the virus is spreading throughout Asia, Africa and Europe.

The number of confirmed human cases now stands at 240, with 141 deaths. The true number is likely larger, although how much we don’t know. So far it is still small compared with the SARS outbreak of 2003, but like SARS, there is grave and plausible suspicion a devastating pandemic could occur. SARS is caused by a previously unknown virus, so we didn’t have much to go on as to its possible behavior. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the SARS outbreak ceased after infecting some 8000 people and killing about 800. In the case of avian influenza we have much experience with the virus and know its is capable of rapid worldwide spread and has at least once been the source of a global catastrophe (1918).

It seems unlikely at this juncture that the virus can be eradicated. When highly pathogenic (to birds) H5N1 first infected humans in 1997, in Hong Kong, it was hoped that a Draconian culling of poultry could contain and then eradicate it. Millions of birds were killed in a few short weeks in 1997 and for six years it seemed we had dodged a bullet. Then the virus came roaring back 2003 in southeast Asia (and we now know, China). While not visible in the six year period it was around. It spread rapidly in southeast Asia but seemed to be a regional problem until 2005 when it suddenly burst its regional shackles and spread to Indonesia (the world’s fourth most populous nation), the Middle East, Europe and Africa. Sporadic human cases have accompanied its spread in birds and the viruses host, environmental and ecological niches have also multiplied. Vigorous veterinary control measures have been put in place in some countries and little effective control in others.

FAO continues to advocate urgent investment in national veterinary services:

The Rome-based organisation said veterinary controls must be strengthened, particularly in developing countries, in a bid to limit the spread of H5N1 among domestic birds.

“We dont expect to eradicate the H5N1 virus from possible wild bird reservoirs but we can contain and control it fully in the poultry sector,” FAO`s chief veterinary officer Joseph Domenech said.

This “is the best insurance we have that it will not mutate into a virus that is easily transmissible among humans,” he continued.

“We need to find the weak links in the global effort to contain H5N1 and strengthen them.

“That means building up veterinary and laboratory services in the poorer countries of the world, where public services are hampered by a general lack of funds,” Domenech stressed. (Turkish Press)

I would strongly support the FAO position, although not for the reasons given. At this point it doesn’t seem probable we will be able to contain this virus in the poultry sector. Beyond the extreme difficulty of doing this, there is reasonable and plausible suspicion it has already escaped to other animals, which we don’t know as yet. So if H5N1 were the only argument for investing in animal health, we don’t think it is a very good one. But it isn’t the only argument. I can think of three others, two practical and one ethical.

On the practical end, most experts believe emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases of public health importance will be zoonotic diseases, that is, diseases of animals that spread to humans. SARS and influenza H5N1 are just two examples. The more veterinary and laboratory expertise and resources we have available to surveil, monitor and respond to diseases in animals the better equipped we will be to handle the next emerging infectious disease. In addition, animals provide most of the high quality protein for the human species. Protecting animal health also protects human nutrition, and a better nourished planet is a more productive and more peaceful one.

On the ethical end, surely there is some duty of care for the poultry and livestock that sustain us. Without having to agree with those who maintain animals have rights, most of us can at least go along with Peter Singer’s clarification that animals certainly have interests. Faced with treating animals humanely and inhumanely, other things being equal, few of us would be indifferent to the choice. Seeing to the health of animals is one such choice, with the benefit it has practical advantages as well.

Whatever the ultimate evolution of H5N1 as a public health problem, it is part of an even H5Nbigger problem of how we live with, live off of and treat the other creatures with whom our own fate is so intimately tied. The biggest problem with the FAO’s plea is that it is the kind of recommendation that makes so much sense and is so practical that it seems destined to be ignored.

Instead we are throwing hundreds of billions down rat holes like Iraq. Money down a rat hole is not an investment in animal health.

Comments

  1. #1 Tom DVM
    August 24, 2006

    Revere. This is a beautiful piece of writing…I could only wish to write like this.

    1) Almost all of the farmers I have known in North America love their farm animals, treat them with great respect and more often, I had to talk them out of treating their animals rather than into treating their animals. The general public does not understand this fact and your points about the importance of the animals on several levels are refreshing.

    2) We now know that the reason the eradication efforts in Hong Kong didn’t work is because the index case was in Guandong. H5N1 didn’t go away, it remained hidden in China probably with clinical cases from 1997 until 2003 when it showed up in bordering countries. It blew out of Q. Lake to the rest of the world with migrating ducks because the Chinese Government tried to domesticate wild ducks in the vicinity of Q. lake and the released them to spread the disease into wild bird populations. Countries that previously eradicated the disease temporarily are now being re-seeded by disease coming from China…the melting pot responsible for this mess is China…the scientific evidence is irrefutable.

    3)The reasons that unique viruses are emerging at unheard of rates are multi-factoral but one of the main ones that the viruses are emerging in Asia is explained by the NIPAH virus. The factory farms in Asia are now so large that they become their own re-circulation systems for in house mutations…and then their close contacts with wild animal populations allows the wick of introduction and the wick of release into the environment. If they don’t make those farms smaller the viruses are going to line up like persons at the grocery check out…one emerging disease after another until we get the point.

    4) There has always been a lack of respect for the veterinary profession from the medical profession. You guys do not understand emerging zoonoses, you never understood zoonoses but you (the collective) weren’t smart enough to realize you weren’t Gods and needed to listen to others who might know a little more and are closer to the enrvironment. Your profession also needs to get a message in this…and if not…it is going to get worse before it gets better and I am not talking about the imminent H5N1 pandemic.

    Thanks again. It was a joy to read it!!

  2. #2 TJ
    August 24, 2006

    Die, italics, die!

  3. #3 Ground Zero Homeboy
    August 24, 2006

    Not just the size of factory farms, but the multi-animal nature: pigs on the upper story, ducks/chickens on the lower story, with a grid instead of a second floor. You get the idea.

    Actually the large scale factory farms in China watch the West very carefully and are serious about biosecurity.

  4. #4 Jon Singleton
    August 25, 2006

    Yup diddly! And place a genetically modified DJ-metaphor into the above multi-factoral mix: the global environmental release this past decade of unsafe technological elements (eg. old and enhanced CaMV 35S promoter) within GM corn and soy products.

    Unsafe GM technology which, over time, culminates in the hypergenesis of a multistrained transgenic (zoonotic) pathogen like H5N1…

    C21*S*E*Research — The Politics of Horizontal Gene Transfer (How did H2H H5 get here!?!)

    I suspected genetic engineering was dangerous way back
    in the late 90s when first digesting a tv news item on
    H5N1 contamination in Hong Kong — six people (adults
    and kids) cytokine storm died of this transgenic H/N
    avian flu during a late 1997 outbreak in Hong Kong’s
    Special Administrative Region.

    Even a major pharma company, Roche, was worried back
    in 1997 bout the global implications — in its Media
    News 16 (May 2006) Roche says:

    “Roche has been in discussions with governments as
    early as 1997 regarding pandemic preparedness…”

    http://www.roche.com/med-cor-2006-05-16

    So how did H5N1 get here?

    H5N1 is a transgenic polymorphic pathogen — a highly
    mutable cross species multi-strained virus probably
    CaMV 35S promoter gene flow originating from genetic
    engineering.

    Since the mid 90s, dietary consumption of GM
    (genetically modified) crops by birds, animals and
    humans (who eat crops, birds and animals) has
    increased dramatically. It is very probable GM crops
    containing CaMV 35S transcription promoter are the
    horizontal gene transfer (HGT) causation vector thru
    which transgenic viral pathogens (eg. H5N1) are
    recombining (homologously) into existence with such
    ease, speed and spread.

    The “homologous recombination” process has, according
    to Recombinomics.com, always been the explanation for
    viral evolution and not “random mutation”. But, the
    thang bout the technology of potpourri tweaking GM
    organisms sees “hyper-acceleration” entering natural
    DNA evolution — thangs move a durn sight faster…

    Recombinomics — Random Mutation Explanation of Flu
    Genetics Is Fatally Flawed (March 30, 2006) @

    http://www.recombinomics.com/News/03300602/Random_Mutation_Flawed.html

    The defence against evolving polymorphic viruses is
    rather simple and has been repeated many times by
    numerous scientists worldwide — cease the corporate
    controlled release of genetically modified organisms
    within the global environment.

    Prior to the end of 2005, efforts in sequence tracking
    the genesis of H5N1 were lackluster — multiple
    strains exist in birds and mammals…

    But still, the question remains unanswered, how did a
    transgenic virus appear out of nowhere?

    The probable (but unproven) cross species vector is
    GM/GE feed fed to domestic fowl from the mid 1990s to
    present, HGT recombining H5N1 (via CaMV 35S promoter)
    into a transgenic polymorphic pathogen which obviously
    now infects and kills humans…

    So,basically I’m saying gene flow has occurred as a
    consequence of transgenic crops doing a CaMV 35S
    promoter recombination hotspot remix in the bellies
    (and bodies) of all organisms consuming such crops.

    Those of us who enjoy the squishy sides to our love
    making should be concerned bout those particular
    bodily fluids (blood and jizz) as vectors not only for
    conventional and/or hybrid (transgenic) STD/BBV viral
    pathogen transmissions, but also for “spontaneous
    transgenesis” (the process of spontaneous uptake of
    foreign DNA resulting in bizarre gene expression).

    In other words, the blood and jizz from your male
    lover who consumes GMDNA might have altered. And once
    in your body it may then be taken up by your cells
    creating a “gene expression event” (eg. oncogenes
    going el-spazzo and triggering normal cells to turn
    cancerous).

    Slo-dance mutation: illegitimate and homologous
    recombination… If your lover is infected with some
    STD/BBV, then that virus is slo-dance mutating (via
    the acquisitional and RNA remixing mechanics of
    horizontal gene transfer and recombination) within his
    body — indeed, this is the probable end point
    consequence of continually consuming transgenic DNA
    food, etc, containing CaMV 35S*.

    So, taking blood and jizz into your body is now a bit
    different from the old days when sex was a natural DNA
    thang.

    Prof. Joe Cummins was the first to warn against using
    the CaMV 35S promoter or any viral genes in plants
    because it had been shown that such viral transgenes
    in plants could gene flow recombine with naturally
    occurring viruses to generate, in some cases,
    super-infectious viruses.

    Subsequently, the CaMV 35S promoter has been found to
    substitute for the promoter of many plant and animal
    viruses to produce infectious viruses.

    * Remixed excerpt ISIS Press Release 29/11/04 — Fluid
    Genome & Beyond @

    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Fluidgenomeandbeyond.php