Flu Farms?

Decreasing Factory Farming Could Help Avert the Next Epidemic


As the number of confirmed cases of swine flu around the globe increases, we grow closer and closer to having a pandemic on our hands. In preparation against that possibility, governments are emphasizing prevention of further human-to-human transmission and treatment for those who are ill. Talk about greater distribution of filter masks, vaccine production, and limitations on international travel abounds. Surprisingly, however, there is very little discussion about how swine flu got started in the first place.

The primary reservoir for influenza viruses is aquatic birds, but humans are not readily directly infected by the strains from those animals. Pigs, however, are highly susceptible to both avian and human influenza A viruses. They are commonly referred to as “mixing vessels” in which avian and human viruses commingle. In pigs, viruses swap genes, and new influenza strains emerge with the potential to infect humans. Pigs may have been the intermediate hosts responsible for the birth of the last two flu pandemics in 1957 and 1968 and the current swine influenza A, called H1N1, is a triple hybrid avian/pig/human virus.

In order to better avert the threat of epidemics like the one currently spreading around the globe, public health efforts must address the conditions that allow pigs to become breeding grounds for infectious disease. More focus needs to be placed on preventing pathogens from getting into the human population in the first place, and that means starting at the farm. The source of the current epidemic has not yet been identified, but the first confirmed case of swine flu occurred in La Gloria, Mexico, a town surrounded by industrial pig farms, partly owned by Smithfields Foods. We should note of course that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have made it clear that consumers cannot get swine flu from eating pork or pork products. But even if these particular farms are not confirmed as the primary source, based on research into the previous outbreaks of swine flu, it makes sense to consider factory farms as very likely potential sites for the development of these pathogens.

Comment: Time to "make bacon"

1 comment:

  1. This was my first question about this debacle....how close to the factory farms was it?


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