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SARS-Like Disease Could Become a Pandemic

Photograph Source: Gauthier DELECROIX – CC BY 2.0

Do you remember SARS? Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was so contagious; a SARS-afflicted man on an Air China flight in 2003 infected 20 passengers sitting at a distance away from him and two crew members. The simple act of flushing the toilet spread the deadly lung disease and health care workers had to wear HazMat suits to treat patients. Eight hundred people died including Pekka Aro, a senior official with the United Nations.

Where did the disease come from? This is what the Journal of Virology wrote.

“Exotic animals from a Guangdong marketplace are likely to have been the immediate origin of the SARS that infected humans in the winters of both 2002-2003 and 2003-2004. Marketplace Himalayan palm civets and raccoon dogs harbored viruses highly similar to SARS…the sporadic infections observed in 2003-2004 were associated with restaurants in which palm civet meat was prepared and consumed.”

China’s response to SARS was to drown, incinerate and electrocute 10,000 civets. The slaughter was depicted in heart breaking photos. Later, reported the Wall Street Journal, the virus was found to be only hosted by civets and actually originated in bats.

Now, a similar disease caused by the same coronavirus as SARS is back in China. “Because some of the patients worked at a seafood market where birds, snakes, and organs of rabbits and other game were also reportedly sold,” there is concern that the pathogen comes from animals like SARS reported Bloomberg this month.

The “new SARS” disease has now spread to Japan and Thailand and is causing deaths. According to the Wall Street Journal:

“Those infected in Wuhan included seafood merchants, buyers for restaurants and spice vendors from the market, known as Huanan, said shoppers and vendors in the area. Among those quarantined was the husband of Ms. Huang, who asked to be identified by only her surname. She said her 41-year-old husband frequented the now-closed market to purchase ingredients for a restaurant…

On Dec. 31, he was hospitalized at Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital… That night, the mostly empty ward filled up with 40 other patients who had been in contact with the seafood and meat market had been diagnosed with the same viral pneumonia…

A week after the closure, one man who sold live fish there had reopened shop in another market about 12 miles away while waiting for authorities to clear the Huanan market for reopening.”

Exotic, Hunted and Diseased Animals Cause Other Diseases

Eating exotic, hunted and diseased animals can cause diseases to “jump species” and spark huge, merciless epidemics. According to WHO, 32 million people have died of HIV since the beginning of the epidemic and the origin is attributed to animals. Avert, a web site offering global information and education on HIV and AIDS traces HIV to the almost identical disease SIVcpz.

“The most commonly accepted theory is that of the ‘hunter’. In this scenario, SIVcpz was transferred to humans as a result of chimps being killed and eaten, or their blood getting into cuts or wounds on people in the course of hunting. Normally, the hunter’s body would have fought off SIV, but on a few occasions the virus adapted itself within its new human host and became HIV-1.”

Eating cows with mad cow disease (BSE) and deer with chronic wasting disease (CWD) can cause the always fatal human brain disease called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). According to the CDC of two patients who died from the animal-transmitted disease

“One of the patients was a 61-year-old woman who grew up in an area where this disease is known to be endemic, and she ate venison harvested locally. She died in 2000, and analysis of autopsy brain specimens confirmed that the patient’s CJD phenotype fit the MM1 subtype, with no atypical neuropathologic features. The second patient was a 66-year-old man who was reported to have eaten venison from two deer harvested in a CWD-endemic area.”

In some areas two-thirds of the deer herd are now infected. Recently, a man contracted CJD from eating squirrel brains.

African Swine Fever Is Spreading

Finally, there is African swine fever (ASF) which has has killed one-fourth of the world’s pigs and half of all China’s factory farm pigs. It has spread to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, North Korea, the Philippines and the EU.

Even though the disease does not kill people, ASF lives in the meat. “The agriculture ministry has even contacted the German army and nurses to alert them about the risks of crossing into Germany from Eastern Europe with bacon sandwiches,” reports POLITICO as local German governments are building fences along the Polish border to try to stop the disease which wild boar may spread.

Most US ag experts expect the arrival of African swine fever on our shores dashing, hopes of capitalizing on China’s pig scourge with exports.

From SARS to CJD to bird flu and porcine epidemic diarrhea (which killed scores of US animals in the last decade) it is clear meat purveyors have learned nothing from deadly outbreaks.

More articles by:

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

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