The H5N1 virus (aka bird flu) is rearing its head again in Asia, where huge, dirty, inhumane chicken markets are a breeding ground for dangerous bugs and viruses that can be carried around the world by humans, by birds or by other animals.
Dr. David Relman, professor of medicine and of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University, says the danger is linked directly to the way we treat animals.
Here are a few excerpts from an interview five years ago, which was republished today on New American media Since that time, the conditions for animals and the growth of the exotic pet industry have only made the situation worse:
Where you see emerging infections around the globe, you see dislocations of animals, you see disease in animals because of crowding, you see displacements of humans, crowding of humans, poor sanitary conditions, poor hygiene, war, famine — anything that perturbs what might have previously been a fine-tuned balance in nature.
There have been major changes in the way we manage animal populations. One of the most important in the more developed world is the rise of very large-scale, industrial scale livestock management, farming that involves populations of hundreds of thousands of millions of animals all packed together. It’s easy to see where an infectious agent might have lived and died within a small population of animals, but now has the opportunity to move within millions very easily.
We also move animals about the globe in ways that we never ever did ten, 20 years ago. Look at monkey pox, which showed up in the United States two years ago. How did it get here? We are importing millions of exotic strains and species of animals that have no place being in North America, due to Americans’ desires for exotic and unusual pets.
Bird flu is still not easily transmitted from birds to humans. But that can change at any time, as was recently demonstrated in two laboratory experiments.
Six years ago, when he gave this interview, Dr. Relman said that it would probably be two years at most before larger numbers of humans were being infected. Since then, the threat has not diminished. The coming contagion is still only a matter of time.