Whilst blogging on the fact that the latest pandemic has taught us some valuable environmental lessons, it also dawned to me that there seems to be a distinct connection between animals and pandemics. I found this wonderful site which you must browse (I have reproduced one of their infographics below which is relevant to this subject). Then, I set about doing some basic internet research on the causes of these pandemics.
In the previous article, I endeavoured to give a different perspective on the lockdown that has been necessitated due to the Corona Virus COVID-19, as it is called. I fervently hope that the honourable world leaders do wake up and realize the positive impact on the environment and the urgent imperative to reverse global warming and develop sustainable processes that do not harm the environment.
In the present article, I am trying to make every person aware of the apparent connection between animals and pandemics, which seems to have been either ignored, intentionally or unintentionally. The past 2,000 years have seen several pandemics. The Antonine plague in the 2nd century is believed to be either smallpox or measles. And available research suggests the high probability that it originated in camels brought into Egypt and spread through rodents thereafter. The world population at that time was estimated to be about 160 million of which nearly 5 million died.
The Japanese smallpox in the 8th century was an infection that had ostensibly been carried by a Japanese fisherman who had contracted the illness after being stranded on the Korean peninsula. More likely than not, it passed on from animal to human and thereafter to thousands of other humans. It is said to have killed 1/3rd of the entire population in Japan. This was followed by the Plague of Justinian which killed about 40 million people and the Bubonic Plague which killed almost 200 million people, a significant proportion of the world population at that time. The transmission was from rats and fleas.
Image courtesy : https://www.visualcapitalist.com
The Russian Flu or the Red Flu (H2N2) in the 19th century which killed over a million people is believed to have an avian (birds) origin, whereas the Spanish flu (H1N1) in the 20th century is believed to have an originated from pigs. The Hong Kong flu is also believed to have originated from swine/pigs. HIV/Aids originated from chimpanzees. The Swine flu pandemic as recent as 2009-10 also came from pigs. So far, going by available data on the internet, it appears that rats, pigs and birds were responsible.
SARS in 2002-03 brought in the linkage with bats/civets and Ebola in 2014-16 with wild animals. MERS reinforced the link of diseases with bats and COVID-19, which is the most recent pandemic seems to have come from pangolins and bats. There seems to be a distinct connect between strains of human influenza and those from animals. One research from 1995 onwards traces H5N1 to chicken, H5N3 to terns, H7N3 and H5N9 to turkeys. Fortunately, none of them went to become pandemics.
There are dozens of other diseases that could be borrowed from animals – this site lists most of them – from Anthrax to Zika. Potential pandemics for the future, depending on how we interact with and/or ingest animals in future. To me, it looks like a sword dangling over human necks. If these aren’t enough, the top 5 diseases linked to meat consumption are Heart Disease, Cancer, Stroke, Diabetes and Obesity. Obesity in turn leads to many other complications. The other common diseases associated with eating meat are E. coli from ground beef, BSE (bovine spongiform encephalitis) from beef cattle also known as Mad Cow Disease (100% fatal), Trichinosis from pork, Salmonella from poultry, Scrapie from lamb and mutton, etc.
In this article I am not venturing into the environmental impact of meat. I am also not venturing into the steroids and antibiotics that are fed to most of the animals that are bred. However, considering the COVID-19 battle that the world is fighting right now, can human beings show greater restraint when it comes to devouring a variety of animals – at least to prevent pandemics? One can only conjecture.