There’s an interesting opinion piece on CNN today-“Eating Animals is Making Us Sick”-by Jonathan Safran Foer, author of “Everything is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” It’s a great prelude to his upcoming book–his first nonfiction entry–called “Eating Animals.” The book will be available next week. Foer zooms in on antibiotic resistance and the whopping volume of antibiotics fed to farm animals-17.8 million pounds! He also discusses the link between factory farms and the H1N1 outbreak. “Today, the factory farm-pandemic link couldn’t be more lucid,” he writes. “The primary ancestor of the recent H1N1 swine flu outbreak originated at a hog factory farm in America’s most hog-factory-rich state, North Carolina, and then quickly spread throughout the Americas.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has decided to raise the level of influenza pademica lert from phase 5 to phase 6, the highest level. The level was heightened, according to WHO, based on “available evidence and expert assessments of the evidence, the scientific criteria for an influenza pandemic have been met.”
“The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic,” WGO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said in a statement to the press today. “We are in the earliest days of the pandemic. The virus is spreading under a close and careful watch. No previous pandemic has been detected so early or watched so closely, in real-time, right at the very beginning.”
Dr. Chan emphasized that many, but not all, severe cases have occurred in people with underlying chronic conditions. “At the same time, it is important to note that around one third to half of the severe and fatal infections are occurring in previously healthy young and middle-aged people.”
Despite the heightened level, WHO says it continues to recommend no travel restrictions or border closures.
The ongoing outbreak of Swine Flu / novel influenza A (H1N1) highlights one of the many serious public health risks that industrial food animal production (IFAP) poses on a global scale. It is known that pigs are “mixing vessels” for influenza viruses (for swine, avian and human flu), and it is believed that the last two flu pandemics, in 1957 and 1968, broke out when avian flu and human flu viruses mixed genetically with pig viruses to create a new flu virus that was transferred back to people. It has also been suggested that the 1918 Spanish Flu originated from pigs (Chasing the Fickle Swine Flu, March 7, 2003, Science).
Insufficient evidence is available to definitively determine whether the current swine flu outbreak originated from IFAP swine operations. However, through analyses of genome sequences generated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from current virus isolates, Columbia University researchers have proposed two swine-related genetic ancestors of the current virus. Of these, one that accounts for six of the eight genetic segments of the virus has been identified as the H3N2 virus, a triple reassortment of swine, avian and human virus first isolated in pigs on a North Carolina swine operation in August of 1998. (Evolution of Swine H3N2 Influenza Viruses in the United States, Journal of Virology, September 2000) The other two segments are believed to be from swine viruses of Eurasian origin (Trifonov, 2009). Read More >
In this media-saturated world, where news is updated around the clock on TV and on the Web, it shouldn’t be surprising that conflicting and sometimes downright incorrect information is reported. This is especially true of such a huge emerging story as the swine flu outbreak (oh, right, we’re supposed to be calling it the H1N1 virus, or the Mexican flu, or the North American flu, depending on who you ask).
Since it’s on the collective mind of Americans (and the rest of the world), people are wondering what they can do to protect themselves and their families. It seems like everyone is offering advice— and sometimes getting in trouble for doing so. Enter Vice President Joe Biden.
On the Today Show on Thursday, Biden, who has created somewhat of a reputation for his loose lips, made some comments that the Obama administration quickly went on damage control to clarify.
He said, in part: “It’s not that it’s going to Mexico. It’s you’re in a confined aircraft; when one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft.”
He added: “I would not be, at this point, if they had another way of transportation, suggesting they ride the subway,” he continued. “. . . . If you’re out in the middle of a field and someone sneezes, that’s one thing. If you’re in a closed aircraft or closed container or closed car or closed classroom, it’s a different thing.”
Administration officials went on the record to clear the air on what Biden “meant to say.”
It’s not that what Biden said was wrong, or that he said it with bad intentions. It’s that the federal government is trying to stay on message, and their current recommendations are the following: It is not necessary for all Americans to avoid public transportation and travel (except non-essential trips to Mexico). However, if you are feeling sick, stay home from work or school and avoid public places.
In this and any public health crisis, it is important that the public receives clear, specific guidance that conveys the relevant information without leading to unnecessary hysteria. That said, I guess it remains to be seen what the next PR gaffe will be…
Bob Martin, executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, appeared on both the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and ABC’s Nightline programs this week to discuss possible connections between Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and the flu outbreak.