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Humans Blamed For Animal-Related Disease

Eva C. Komandjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta - 19 Feb 2004

Humans are to blame for the recent spread of many life-threatening diseases that are related to animals, including Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease, avian influenza, also known as bird flu, and dengue hemorrhagic fever, experts say.

Mad cow disease and avian influenza are found among cows and poultry and only infect animals. However, the viruses that cause the diseases have mutated, resulting in the diseases being transmitted to humans.

The head of the Indonesian Veterinary Association (PDHI) in East Java, C. A. Nidhom, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday the mutated virus was a result of the forced change in the ecosystem caused by humans. Citing an example, he said cows that normally fed on grass had been fed processed animal feed such as bone meal (the ground bones of cattle) and other food originating from the cows themselves to speed up their growth.

This "cannibalism" has caused BSE disease in cows, which was later transmitted to humans. Indonesian cows are not infected by BSE because they mostly feed on grass, Nidhom said.

"Right now, people only care about how to reach production targets. They forget about the biological aspect of the animals," he said. He said the farming concept in Indonesia relied too much on efficiency and economic aspects. This can be illustrated by many poultry farms that breed ducks and chickens in one pen. "They do not know that ducks can carry avian influenza without being infected and if chickens are in close contact with the disease-carrier ducks, they will get infected," he added. Hormone injections or growth enhancing additives given to chickens to fatten them and make them grow larger will give a larger profit to the farmers.

These kinds of steps are believed to be the cause of the mutated virus, Nidhom said.

Director of the Veterinary Community at the Ministry of Agriculture, Bachtiar Moerad, expressed the same concern. "People are too greedy right now, they will do anything for their own benefit such as feeding cows or chickens unnatural feed," said Bachtiar. However, Bachtiar also said that the virus mutation might be caused by the changes in living patterns and also physical changes in the world. "Scientists predict that new diseases will emerge with the progress of time," he said.

The International Herald Tribune reported a study that found a new form of mad cow disease in Italy. Scientists believe that it may be the cause of some cases of a human brain-wasting disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), which is the human form of mad cow disease.

Last year, a total of 153 cases of CJD cases were reported worldwide. Of these, 143 had occurred in the UK. Meanwhile, Asia's bird flu death toll has risen to 21. In Indonesia, dengue fever had killed 91 people as of Tuesday.

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