Self-Inflicted Pandemic?

Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. I say it might just be a raging epidemic arising from the virulent combination of modern farming practices, dense populations, and global culture.

Is the H7N9 scare a harbinger of how it will go? Foreign Policy ponders:

At this writing, 108 cases of H7N9 flu, as the new virus has been dubbed, have been confirmed, and one asymptomatic carrier of the virus has been identified. Twenty-two of the cases have proven fatal, and nine people have been cured of the new flu. The remainder are still hospitalized, many in severe condition suffering multiple organ failures. As the flu czar of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Keiji Fukuda, terselyput it to reporters last week, “Anything can happen. We just don’t know.”

On this tenth anniversary of China’s April 2003 admission that the SARS virus had spread across that country — under cloak of official secrecy, spawning a pandemic of a previously unknown, often lethal disease — Beijing finds itself once again in a terrible position via-a-vis the microbial and geopolitical worlds.  In both the SARS and current H7N9 influenza cases, China watched the microbe’s historic path unfold during a period of enormous political change. And the politics got in the way of appropriate threat assessment.

Well worth the full read.

The Terrestrial World Is Giving The Ocean World Flu

Parasites and pathogens that infect humans, pets and farm animals are increasingly showing up in marine mammals.

This isn’t really surprising, but it’s just one more reminder that EVERYTHING humans do matters to the system as a whole.

Here’s the gist (full story here):

Between 1998 and 2010, nearly 5,000 marine mammal carcasses were recovered and necropsied along the British Columbia and Pacific Northwest region of the U.S., including whales, dolphins and porpoises, sea lions and otters.

“Infectious diseases accounted for up to 40 per cent of mortalities of these marine animals,” says Stephen Raverty, a veterinary pathologist with the Animal Health Centre in the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, and an adjunct professor in UBC’s Marine Mammal Research Unit.

“In many cases, the diseases found in these marine mammals have similar or genetically identical agents as those infecting pets and livestock. We don’t yet know how these diseases are affecting the health of marine mammals” says Raverty.

There are no obvious policy responses, except to say that it is increasingly important that the earth be viewed as a single, integrated, system with no barriers.