Influenza: The Pandemics of Disease, Industrial Greed, and Hatred
While health professionals and authorities scramble to contain a new strain of influenza, the workings of industrial greed and hatred surface.
What do birds, swine, and people have in common? The flu.
Not any flu, but the kind that jumps from one species to the other; “a pig could conceivably catch a human flu from a farmer and a bird virus…at the same farm” reported back in October of 2005 a senior editor of National Geographic, Tim Appenzeller.
On the other hand, In America every year 30 to 60 million adults are affected by the flu, and among them, it is mostly the elderly that die at a rate of 36,000 each year.
Why then, are health authorities so alarmed regarding the few confirmed cases and fatalities of Swine Influenza A (H1N1)?
It’s precisely that a virus may have jumped from an animal species to the human species, and now its being transmitted from one person to another, from one country to another, and from one continent to another, that is, a pandemic.
For scientists it was the discovery that the so-called ‘Spanish Influenza’, a 1918 plague that killed between 50 and a 100 million people, resulted from a flu virus crossing “into people from some unknown animal, leaving victims with little immunity...”
“It really is the whole of humanity that is under threat in a pandemic” warned Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, after announcing this week the raising of the alert level.
Spanish or Mexican Influenza? The burden of a name
While Mexicans were being exhorted to stay home for five entire days, “the safest place”, according to their President Felipe Calderon, Mexico carries the enormous burden on its shoulder of having reported the first confirmed case of the current outbreak.
Other than the first reported case, there exists no findings yet of where exactly this crisis may have erupted first. Nevertheless, history repeats itself, to this day nobody knows where the Spanish flu of 1918 first emerged, senior National Geographic Tim Appenzeller wrote: “No one knows for sure when or where the Spanish flu emerged, though it certainly wasn’t in Spain. As a neutral country, Spain had no wartime censorship, and the flu apparently got its false pedigree from news reports about outbreaks there in May 1918.”
Five-year old Edgar Hernández from La Gloria, near Perote in the Mexican state of Veracruz, was the first confirmed case, not necessarily the first case, simply because “swabs taken from his throat and sent to a Canadian laboratory for analysis tested positive for a new strain of the H1N1 virus” according to the BBC.
Mexico also takes “credit” for the first confirmed fatality, a 39-year-old mother of three Adela Maria Gutierrez, who lived in the southern state of Oaxaca.
Is Farm Animal Production the culprit?
What do Mexican peasants of La Gloria and scientists from the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production have in common? They both believe that pig farms may be responsible for the outbreak of sickness.
Disastrous consequences for people living and working around ‘concentrated animal feeding operations’ (CAFO) “may result from workers exposed to diseases and other hazards” reported a study published in April 2008 by the Pew Commission.
The effects on Public Health by Industrial Farm Animal Production (IFAP) include “disease and the transmission of disease, the potential for the spread of pathogens from animals to humans” read the same source. The reason: “While transmission of new or novel viruses from animals to humans, such as avian or swine influenza, seems a rather infrequent event today (April 2008), the continual cycling of viruses and other animal pathogens in large herds or flocks increases opportunities of the generation of novel viruses…”
It is noteworthy that this Pew study focuses on Industrial Farm Production in America, yet it does mention developing countries feverishly adopting this same type of production for two main reasons: a) Growth in wealth resulting in a greater consumption of meat, and b) Multinational corporations looking for cheap labor and lack of regulation and management for the resulting large amount of pollution.
The Pew Commission faced open hostility from the agro industry in conducting and publishing this study.
Such industrial production of animal protein or ‘food animals’ in the “United States is not sustainable and presents an unacceptable level of risk to the public health and damage to the environment…” concluded Robert P. Martin Executive Director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production.
The Burden of Having Reported First and Prejudice
For simply having reported the first case, Mexico, Mexicans, Hispanics, and Immigrants as a whole are now facing the full brunt of an outbreak in xenophobic speech, which sooner or later could result in attacks.
“Who are we infecting by even bringing people into our hospitals?” asked Councilwoman Toni Lawrence, referring to the Mexican toddler who became the first to die of the infection in the U.S. This woman protested the fact that Houston’s Children’s Hospital even admitting the toddler protesting “We need to look out for Houstonians first” as reported by the LA Times.
Michael Savage in his national syndicated radio show stated “make no mistake about it: Illegal aliens are carriers of the new strain of human-swine avian flu from Mexico.” Then Mr. Savage suggested a course of action: “I’m going to have no contact anywhere with an illegal alien… I will have no any illegal alien workers around me. I will not have them in any of my properties, I will not have them anywhere near me.”
CNN a TV Network loosing ratings to a more radical Fox News, has attempted to retain audiences by allowing its host Lou Dobbs to relentlessly attack illegal immigrants. One of his repeated contentions was that the United States has a marked increase in leprosy cases caused in part by “unscreened illegal immigrants coming into this country primarily from South Asia” per a report of MEDIAMATTERS called “Paranoia pandemic”.