For the past week or so there has been a lot of discussion about the H1N1 influenza virus and concern about the role that swine play in all this. Now that some of the initial fears about this new flu have decreased to a reasonable level, perhaps it is time to review (or learn) some virology, think about food production and its impact on human society and health, and of course consider how our faith might shape our thinking about all this.
Why do I think we all need a virology review?
Because very few of us understand much about viruses. Nearly every day of my 20 years in clinical veterinary practice, I spent time teaching people basic biology so they could understand what was going on with the health of their pet.
And viruses are really interesting.
And because the potential for pandemics is real and it’s not going to go away. Zoonotic diseases (diseases that spread between animals and humans) are not going to go away. We need, all of us, a basic understanding so we can make smart decisions. So today part of what I’m going to do is provide you with links to good information, mostly about viruses in general and a little bit about epidemiology and pandemics.
Next week after we have had the opportunity to learn about viruses and epidemiology, we can start thinking about how this relates to our relationships with the animals we live most closely with, companion animals, and farm animals.
And the faith piece? There are, I think, two parts to this. First, there are in many faith traditions people who distrust all science and who can be quite vocal in their opinions. The rest of us need to understand the basics of science and our faith so the influence of the anti science folks is limited. But more importantly we are going to have to do some serious thinking about food production, access to medical care, and what it means to live in a “flat” world. We have some ethical decisions to make. We can be driven by fear and self protection or we can follow the precepts of our faith with its concern for the well being of all and social justice.
Let’s start with this article from Newsweek which does a good job of explaining some of the challenges we face in understanding viruses and how they spread.
From the Howard Hughes Medical Institute site (at the bottom of the page) are two slideshows, one about viral genetic recombination and the other about the viral life cycle
This BBC page has a simple explanation about virus mutation and about how pandemics develop.
From the Veterinary College at the University of Wisconsin some influenza basics.
Of course the CDC, WHO and PandemicFlu.gov are sources of credible, up to date information about H1N1, swine flu, avian flu and many other infectious diseases. I’m not giving you these links to scare you but rather so you know that lots of scientists from all over the world are working hard to protect us.
Viruses are very simple organisms but yet they interact with their environment in complex ways. We live in an interesting and complex world. Full of wonder and danger. Filled with organisms we barely understand. We need to be careful and wise.
I’d like to know, what do you think?
If you have additional resources about influenza, epidemiology, or virology, please share them. In this way we can all learn. Next week, we’ll focus on the human animal interactions and how they affect public health, with a particular focus on farming.
To start your thinking about epidmiology, here is a link to this week’s edition of the PBC series, “NOW”