Recently, we found out that scientists had worked back from the H1N1 virus (aka ‘swine flu’, aka Mexican swine flu’, aka ‘that bug that’s going around and I’m thinking it’s going to kill us all’) to locate what they thought its origination was — in the upper Midwest in 1998. So, a)It is no more ‘Mexican’ than lutefisk is and b)it ain’t some ‘illegal alien conspiracy’. It was good ol’ American ‘know how to infect’.
Today, at the Great Orange Satan, Sue Stugis, posted about the Raleigh News and Observer story that further digs into this.
“The Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer reported that a virus related to the current outbreak was first identified a decade ago at a farm in the eastern North Carolina county. The N&O cited Raul Rabadan, a Columbia University scientist who’s studying the new virus’s genetics:
"This virus was found in pigs here in the United States," Rabadan said in an interview. "They were getting sick in 1998. It became a swine virus."
It spread among pregnant sows in Newton Grove, N.C., causing them to abort their litters. The virus then spread to pigs in Texas, Iowa and Minnesota — putting epidemiologists on alert about the new viral strain and the potential for a human outbreak.” Virus genes traced to NC factory farm
I encourage everyone to hike on over and read Sue’s piece because it has some really important stuff to remember. First: All of a sudden, we are hearing that “It’s all over folks; everyone is safe, etc.” But, we actually are not. Second, it deals with the conditions that brought this about in the first place:
1) That virus first broke out at a 2400 sow farm, a factory farm in eastern N. Carolina. That sort of condition is just what viruses love in terms of having lots of back and forth between people (the workers who are in the barns and farrowing pens all the time) and hogs, which as we are learning are the best sorts of cauldrons to do all this virus mixing and changing partners. North Carolina is home to lots and lots of huge factory hog operations.
2) North Carolina’s factory hog operations have not exactly been ‘good citizens’ for a long time. You may recall that there were two hog waste lagoon failures, which unleashed “a spill from Sampson County’s Bearskin Farms in 1995 resulted in the release of about a million gallons of hog waste into a tributary of the Cape Fear River. And that wasn’t even the state’s worst hog waste spill, a distinction held by Oceanview Farms in coastal Onslow County, where a 1995 lagoon failure contaminated the New River with 22 million gallons of hog waste — twice the amount of pollution spilled from the Exxon Valdez. The Oceanview disaster killed 15 million fish and closed almost 365,000 acres of coastal wetlands to shellfishing.” The state has since passed legislation banning construction or expansion of lagoons and spray fields but has done nothing about what is already there.
We have an opportunity here to get a public health ‘twofer’ if we can raise the alarm on what confinement/factory farming does. First, from a virus standpoint, we are just loading the disease gun by encouraging all of this back and forth under the best possible conditions for viruses. And second, the environment just cannot stand this sort of manure load going into the waterways. All animals grown under confinement conditions have health and psychological issues which I don’t need to go into here. One of the ways under confinement systems that farmers use to keep down the health issues is the heavy use of antibiotics in the feeds on an ongoing basis, which we now know produces bacterial that are immune to the chemicals. So, we not only have contamination of the waterways with manure waste; we also have contamination with antibiotics and other agricultural chemicals.
Better to get rid of confinement and factory farming completely to protect the public health and the environment. We got extremely lucky this time. The bird flu in Asia (H5N1) has had several outbreaks in the past several years, the most recent between 2004 and 2006, 103 known cases, with 48 deaths. There have also been outbreaks in Eastern Europe and Africa during the same period. If there is any lesson to be learned from the current situation, it is a)that we are still loading the gun on bird/people/pig/people viruses and that b) we are not even close to having emergency plans at ANY level. Not municipal; not state; not federal.
And buying a few masks and stockpiling Tamiflu as a strategy is just not going to cut it(and by the way, stockpiling Tamiflu is probably not going to work since these viruses are remarkably promiscuous and very clever about mutating, so having Tamiflu from this year is not going to mean squat to the viruses that will be coming out of the pigs, people and birds two years from now).
Americans need to start taking this sort of stuff very seriously; gay marriage doesn’t kill anyone. Regular ‘garden variety’ seasonal flu kills approximately 36,000 people every year.seasonal flu
You can imagine what would happen if a truly pathogenic virus got loose in this country. Time to start writing and calling Congress, your governor, and your state legislators about this because this issue really IS life and death.
(photo courtesy of farm sanctuary