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Online Discussion: Tracking new emerging diseases and the next pandemic.

BREEDING THE NEXT PANDEMIC

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carbon20 View Drop Down
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    Posted: May 05 2017 at 3:13pm

How we are breeding the next swine flu or bird flu

Australia's factory farming system is a perfect breeding ground for virulent, fatal disease, writes science writer Geoff Russell.



Swine Flu

Bernard Keane did well to summarise the recent Productivity Commission“Regulation of Agriculture” report’s chapter on animal welfare. It’s 61 pages in an 800-page report, but there were a few more relevant chapters that are crucial to understanding how agriculture is and isn’t regulated in Australia. Probably the most important is that on biosecurity, and it demonstrates how easily the Productivity Commission can be led astray.

Keane notes that the commission brings animal welfare within its remit by putting numbers on the costs and benefits to the community of changing the way factories treat animals. I use the word “factories” because well over half of the meat eaten here comes from animals you’d never see in any drive through the Australian bush, except perhaps on the back of trucks. But to economists, animal suffering is of no consequence unless consumers put a monetary value on it.

Even if you choose to play by these commission rules, there are clear costs associated with factory (and traditional) farming of animals that the Commission simply ignores. Swine flu emerged from a mix of human, pig and chicken viruses on factory farms in the US in the late 1990s. It percolated away, picking up little bits of RNA here and there, before starting to kill people en masse in 2009. RNA viruses like influenza are intrinsically less stable and more prone to mutation than DNA viruses.

Swine flu might not have been born here, but it could have been, and the next pandemic influenza may well be. The relative sizes of the US, Australian and Chinese industries mean that such diseases are more likely to emerge there than here. But we all have to pay when it hits our shores.

What’s the cost? In it’s first 12 months swine flu killed 284,000 people globally. Unlike ordinary flu, it didn’t just kill the elderly on the cusp of death anyway, but 80% of its victims were under 65 years old. So we aren’t talking about future risks of events that have never happened. These risks have a real body count. Australia has a good hospital system and did better than many countries, but this influenza still killed an estimated 300 people younger than 65.

Economists aren’t normally shy about putting a value on human deaths, but the commission fails to do so.

How did swine flu emerge? And why is this relevant to commission considerations? To answer that, you need to understand some of the kinds of processes that can yield a new disease.

Here’s a method scientists use to reliably breed killer diseases. Infect a chicken with a harmless flu virus isolated from a waterbird. The chicken’s immune system will begin to kill the viral particles. After a few days, the particles that aren’t dead are the ones that have evaded the chicken’s immune system. Kill the chicken, grind up the lungs and you have something where the virus particles are, on average, a little more dangerous than the initial population you used to infect the chicken. Use this to infect a second chicken. In the time it takes the chicken to mobilise its immune system, the virus will multiply, and after a few days, the particles that are still poor at evading the immune cells will be dead, leaving just the nastiest viral particles. Do this over and over and eventually the virus will start to kill. In one such experiment, by the 24th passage through the 24th batch of chickens, the virus had evolved into a killer that killed 100% of the last batch of chickens.

Once a virus enters a chicken or pig factory, it begins a similar kind of cycling. It may arrive with the pigs or chickens and start off harmless, but it might not stay that way. A factory farm isn’t quite as efficient as a laboratory, but it is still very good at providing excellent conditions to encourage a virus to become deadly. Crowding causes stress and stress depresses immune function. Chickens in a broiler shed live in their feces for their entire lives. One gram of droppings from a chicken infected with bird flu can contain enough virus to infect the entire shed.

As of March this year, 77 countries were infected with 13 strains of avian influenza. Perhaps the next human pandemic will come from one of these, or, more likely, from some currently benign virus that isn’t yet causing enough symptoms to be noticed. Australia has had its own outbreaks of avian influenza in 1976, 1985, 1992, 1995, 1997, and 2010 and 2012.

So the commission chapter on biosecurity is an exercise in inverted logic. The issue isn’t how do we protect factory farms from things that might infect them. These are intrinsically leaky facilities and this is a distributed problem. Distributed problems are, by their nature tough to solve. You could protect one facility with robust safeguards, or perhaps 50, but there are more than 2500 chicken sheds in Australia, each holding 40,000 birds.

The real biosecurity challenge is how to protect people from the new diseases that evolve on factory farms; these are a potent source of totally new viral strains, not simply a conduit. The environment supplies the viral raw material, that’s true, but the factory farming conditions provide the conditions to amplify pathogenicity. This is not a particularly subtle distinction, and it shouldn’t have been missed by the commission.

So how did the PC miss this? There are 34 mentions of “trespass” in the 800-page report, including sub-sections devoted entirely to this topic. In contrast, avian influenza gets two passing references and no sections. So the commission wasted a whole lot of time on a trivial issue and totally missed an issue with literally fatal consequences. Clearly, the bleating and moaning by factory farming bodies about people exposing what goes on behind closed doors has distracted the commission from the main game.

Similarly missing in action is any systematic treatment of food poisoning. It gets a single mention in relation to salmonella from eggs, but what about the 31,000 hospitalisations for food poisoning, the majority of which will have been from animal products, either directly or indirectly when infection is spread to plant materials on cutting boards, knives and the like.

There is a significant part of our health sector that is no more than a hidden subsidy for our animal industries. Again, this is perfectly capable of being analysed and costed within the PC framework, but it wasn’t. Keane highlights the excellent treatment in the commission report of the way in which the animal industries control and subvert any attempt at regulation. But the commission itself has fallen victim to the tricks of the industry in letting them set the agenda on biosecurity and waste so much time on trespass and the resulting ag-gag laws while neglecting much bigger issues.

*Geoff Russell is the author of Greenjacked: The derailing of environmental action on climate change

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote CRS, DrPH Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 06 2017 at 10:39pm
^Well done, Carbon20!  Sounds like me when I am on my soapbox!!  

An important component in the evolution of pandemic flu viruses is the human!  Human workers pass flu viruses on to fowl and swine, and vice-versa....with each infection, multiple virus strains infect the same host, allowing for viruses to co-infect the same cell and swap genetic material = "virus sex" if you will.  

This reassortment is what makes emerging strains so deadly - we create exotic strains that we have not had exposure to in the past, so mankind is particularly susceptible.   Statistically, this happens every couple of dozen years, but with the growth of animal husbandry in confined animal feeding operations, the opportunities for reassortment grows exponentially.  

Be safe!


All known subtypes of influenza A viruses are found among wild avian species that serve as primary reservoirs for these agents (11). In general, an influenza virus infects only a single species; however, whole viruses may occasionally be transmitted from one species to another, and genetic reassortment between viruses from two different hosts can produce a new virus capable of infecting a third host. Avian influenza viruses are not readily introduced into humans (1), possibly because humans do not possess the α(2,3)-sialyllactose (NeuAc-2,3Gal) receptors required for attachment of the viruses to epithelial cells. However, individual viral genes can be transmitted between humans and avian species, as demonstrated by avian-human reassortant viruses that caused the 1957 and 1968 influenza pandemics (163339). This finding suggested that an intermediate host may be needed for genetic reassortment of human and avian viruses. Pigs are considered a logical candidate for this role because they can be infected by either avian or human viruses (171834) and because they possess both NeuAc-2,3Gal and NeuAc-2,6Gal receptors (12). In addition, there is good evidence that pigs are more frequently involved in interspecies transmission of influenza A viruses than are other animals (1722253031).
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote carbon20 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 06 2017 at 10:45pm
"Hung by our own Pitard" springs to mind....
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote jacksdad Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 07 2017 at 7:56am
Ditto what both of you said.

We're absolutely responsible for the exponential rise in the emergence of novel flu viruses. We find new strains in the wild and expose both ourselves and commercially raised poultry to them in China's wet markets, and we house huge numbers of immune compromised mixing vessels literally cheek to jowl with inadequate biosecurity on commercial poultry and hog farms. Throw Ag-gag laws into the mix, and humans moving among and between large groups of susceptible and potentially infected animals, and you have the perfect viral storm. We couldn't have designed it better if we started from the ground up.


"Buy it cheap. Stack it deep"
"Any community that fails to prepare, with the expectation that the federal government will come to the rescue, will be tragically wrong." Michael Leavitt, HHS Secretary.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote carbon20 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 07 2017 at 3:13pm
not only that Jacksdad,the more we expand(the human population ) into the deep forests, 

the more likely we come across a real nasy.....

Read this about 25 years ago.......


The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus

 4.09  ·   Rating Details ·  74,738 Ratings  ·  3,805 Reviews
The bestselling landmark account of the first emergence of the Ebola virus. A highly infectious, deadly virus from the central African rain forest suddenly appears in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. There is no cure. In a few days 90 percent of its victims are dead. A secret military SWAT team of soldiers and scientists is mobilized to stop the outbreak of this exotic "hot...more
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