Deadly Companions: Animal-born Microbes Pose Threat of Global Pandemic

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October 30, 2007

Deadly Companions: Animal-born Microbes Pose Threat of Global Pandemic

Pandemics_3 “Microbes are always going to be one step ahead of us. Their generation time is 24 hours, ours is 30 years. They mutate, they change, they will find a way. They are amazing opportunists.”

Dorothy Crawford -Professor of Medical Microbiology at the University of Edinburgh and author Deadly Companions.

The vigorous international trade in exotic pets such as monkeys, crocodiles and rats must be stopped if human beings are to be protected from global pandemics, according to Dorothy Crawford, Professor of Medical Microbiology and a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. In an interview with the TimesOnline of London, she said that "the risk to people from zoonoses – animal-borne microbes – had never been greater, and that there was a need to reexamine our relationship with wild and domestic animals."

Combining tales of devastating epidemics with science and fascinating history, Deadly Companions reveals how closely microbes have evolved with us over the millennia, shaping human civilization through infection, disease, and deadly pandemic. Beginning with a dramatic account of the SARS pandemic at the start of the 21st century, Dorothy Crawford takes us back in time to follow the interlinked history of microbes and humanity, offering an up-to-date look at ancient plagues and epidemics, and identifying key changes in the way humans have lived--such as our move from hunter-gatherer to farmer to city-dweller--which made us ever more vulnerable to microbe attack.

Showing that how we live our lives today--with increased crowding and air travel--puts us at risk, Crawford asks whether we might ever conquer microbes completely, and whether we need a more microbe-centric view of the world.

Most emerging infections, including HIV, severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and bird flu had been acquired from animals and no one could say how many other devastating diseases could yet mutate to human beings, Professor Crawford said. “Who knows what could be hiding around the corner? We really have to think about what we are doing,” she said. Crawford also predicted that global travel would need to be restricted in the event of an avian flu pandemic.

As an example, Professor Crawford highlighted a consignment of giant Gambian rats, which were flown from Ghana into the U.S. as exotic pets. The rats carried monkeypox virus, which transferred to prairie dogs that were sold in the same pet shop. The prairie dogs then passed the disease to their human buyers. The chain of infection was only terminated after the microbe had infected 71 people. In another instance, crocodiles being farmed in Papua New Guinea to provide luxury items for the West had been infected by a virus from wild pig meat, which crossed to their keeper.

Professor Crawford said that it was “only a matter of time” before the growing tourist demand for bush meat in Africa led to a new epidemic from microbes jumping from their primate host. She said that common sense could be as helpful as scientific advancement in preventing pandemics.

“We just don’t treat microbes with enough respect. Is it really necessary to have a horrible, ugly giant Gambian rat as a pet? Is it sensible to fly carcasses from South America? Do we need to travel to Spain or even South Africa for the weekend? We really need to think. We could start chipping away those things which are completely unnecessary.”

Professor Crawford predicts that an avian flu outbreak would likely restrict commercial flying. “When that comes, we are going to have to change our lifestyles and cooperate globally,” she said.

By Casey Kazan.

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Story Sources:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article2759830.ece
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Deadly-Companions-Microbes-Shaped-History/dp/0192807196

Comments

Yes there are numerous infectious agents to be aware of, educated on & treat with respect. However you fail to point out our government is responsible for the transmission of the monkey pox. It didn't quarantine the imported mammals (as APHIS says it mandates), the vet officers didn't thoroughly examine the incoming mammals at the port of entry, the import permit was issued to a known offender with no follow up, and finally if our illustrious governmental powers that be still vaccinated the citizens for small pox it would not be a concern. If any concern it would be minimal. Lastly in my honest opinion, I do no believe our government really wants to educate the public in a realistic, sound thinking manner. Ignorance or partial truths distorted by the media are what propegate and flourish. I find it highly disturbing and sad. I work in the health profession & am educated. It seems the true victim in the saga of monkey pox is the black tailed prairie dog who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is just a shame the CDC and any other governmental agency that controls the immunization, education and reporting of infectious diseases decided that small pox, chicken pox and the others the older adult population was innoculated against were not a concern in the 1970-2000 years. We aren't resistant to those diseases, the diseases are alive, well and flourish in other areas and to think that we are exempt from re-infection is ignorance. Why not get down to basics and immunize, vaccinate, protect before outbreaks. Hmmm, that may be to much of a clean cut, logical, rational approach for the governmental body.

Just my opinion.

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