A CNN report this week on ‘The looming zoonotic danger’ makes use of some astounding figures developed by veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace and her team at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), based in Kenya.
‘We’ve seen an unprecedented rise in infectious diseases in recent decades, 75 percent of which are “zoonotic,” meaning they come from animals. About 300 new animal-to-human diseases have emerged in the last 60 years.
This summer, the International Livestock Research Institute released a report estimating that zoonotic diseases cause 2.5 billion cases of human illness each year and 2.7 million human deaths worldwide. Most of these illnesses and deaths are caused by diseases spread from farm animals. . . .
‘New chicken and pig flu viruses have emerged at an alarming rate in recent decades. The latest swine flu virus, dubbed H3N2v, claimed its first human victim last month in Ohio. Up until the 1990s, only about a dozen human cases of swine flu infection had ever been reported. In the last year alone, in contrast, H3N2v has infected 300 people, sending 15 to the hospital and one to the morgue. The H1N1 virus that emerged from pigs in 2009 infected an estimated 60 million Americans, resulting in 12,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
‘Both H3N2v and the pandemic H1N1 share genetic origins with the “triple reassortant” strain that spread throughout the U.S. pork industry in 1999, a virus that combined genes from bird, pig, and human strains. . . .
‘Bird flu followed a similar trajectory, from rare cases to a multitude of new chicken flu viruses now causing sporadic human outbreaks around the world. The greatest concern is that with increasing numbers of circulating pig and chicken flu viruses capable of infecting humans, a virus with the human transmissibility of H1N1 could combine with a virus with the human lethality of H5N1, a bird flu virus that has killed 359 of its 608 known human victims. Imagine the implications of 60 million Americans coming down with flu with a 60 percent mortality rate. . . .
‘For years, the public health community has warned about the risks of intensive livestock confinement. In 2003, the American Public Health Association called for a moratorium on concentrated animal feeding operations. In 2008, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which included a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, concluded that industrialized animal agriculture posed “unacceptable” risks to public health. A key recommendation was the phasing out of extreme confinement practices such as gestation crates, which “induce high levels of stress in the animals and threaten their health,” the commissioners wrote, “which in turn may threaten human health.” . . .
Read the whole article by Michael Greger, at CNN: The looming zoonotic danger, 26 Sep 2012.