Who Knows It’s A Zoonosis?

In the wee hours of this morning, The Mrs discovered something about me. I was stealthily returning to our bed but my Ninja-style silent movements failed for the first time. My clumsiness annoyed me when I carelessly kicked the castor wheel of the bed. I thought I only yelped in pain under my breath, but my stealth mode failed this time. “Where have you come back from?” She asked with that firm voice that often tells me I’ve done something wrong. “Err, I went to watch a football match downstairs” I whispered, as if afraid to wake her up. Her hearing has never been great; I was surprised she heard me. “Your team playing?” She asked. “Nah, match finished”. Only someone disinterested in sports would think sports fanatics would return to their beds midway during a match. “Who won? Your team?” It was five in the morning – I really didn’t think she cared. But she asked, and so I told her. “Yeah, Manchester United won”. “They are your team?” The Mrs pressed for more information. After being married to me for 39 years, she finally found out I have been a Man United fan since I was a little boy. I used to buy comics about English football – my favourite character was a phenomenon who could kick a ball so powerful like a cannon that the net would break each time he scored a goal. My heroes were Bobby Charlton and George Best. Last night, my team won 2-0 in their local derby against Man City in the Premier League. Last December, Man United won 1-2. Their first double win over their neighbours in a season since 2009-10. They have now gone ten games undefeated. A mini renaissance that will surely save their coach’s job. They won 2-0 and 1-2. The Mrs would never know to ask me why it is scored this way. Why not 2-0 and 2-1. She is simply not interested to know the home team’s score is reported first in the score line. “They won? Uh. Good.” That’s about as good as it gets when it comes to conversations about football with The Mrs. Rightly so, I should add. I am happy The Mrs leaves me alone when it comes to football. That is the one subject we do not have disagreements! Those who are disinterested in a particular topic and therefore ignorant about the matter should be quiet. They don’t even need to pretend to be interested. That is why people like Fox News’ host of The Five, Jesse Watters, should learn to be quiet in matters that he has no knowledge of. Last week, he was blatantly stoking anti-Chinese sentiments, guffawing and talking down at the “hungry” Chinese. He demanded an apology from China for the coronavirus COVID-19, pinning all the blame on the poor and “desperate” Chinese who, “failed by their communist government”, had to resort to eating “uncooked and unsafe” live bats and snakes. Watters is an ignorant bloke, yet he exudes supreme confidence from behind his desk as TV host. That makes him a loud empty drum, making all the wrong noises and drumming anti-Chinese support in the West. It seems Fox News use race and extremism to attract viewers. Last year, their right wing rhetoric attracted the highest ratings in their 23-year history, with nightly viewers of over 2.5 million. That makes Jesse Watters a dangerous man as he spews venom about China to his audience. Does he believe himself? Does he know his words are baseless and false? Is he really interested in the truth? Does he not undertake proper research in his topics before selling them to his audience? Or does he know them to be wrong to deliberately attract the target audience that they want with their propaganda? According to Nielsen ratings, Fox News viewers are 94% white people over 65. Those who are employed are mostly blue-collared and 83% are without a college education. No wonder they would give their time to Fox News. They do not know better.

But, who knows for sure COVID-19 is a zoonosis anyway? Earthlings have long domesticated animals for food. That is no crime. It is not about the hundreds of millions of animals we slaughter each year. It is not even about the land degradation and toxic wastes that damage the environment. The issue here is the cruelty we subject the animals to. But what is or should be criminal is the suffering animals destined for the dinner plate are subject to. ‘The live sheep export industry is unwilling and unable to reform, and must be prevented from inflicting further animal cruelty and damage to our international reputation and Australia’s farming future.” That was the damning statement from Australia’s RSPCA on April 22, 2018. Debeaking chickens and mulesing lambs are less horrendous compared with subjecting animals during their productive life to crammed spaces such as cages and crates on cement floors without windows or skylights. These animals stand on their own faeces until their legs rot; pregnant sows so fattened they cannot stand and milking cows with udders so grossly distended that their swollen and scarred teats leak pus from mastitis. In such factories the stench of urine is so strong their eyes burn; genetically modified animals, fed antibiotics and growth hormones to make them grow in unsanitary conditions, have become so over-sized their brittle bones break easily. Meat produced in such factories are laden with faecal bacteria. What we have today is antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten human health. In doing so, we actually bring about zoonoses – infectious diseases that pass to humans from other animal species via bacteria, viruses or parasites. Human history is littered with major well-known zoonoses such as the Black Death, a plague that wiped out 60% of Europeans in the 14th century and the Modern Plague which killed 10 million people in the late 19th century. The rat flea was very likely the cause of both plagues. TB or Bovine Tuberculosis is transmitted to humans through consumption of unpasteurised dairy products or direct contact with infected cattle. I know of many relatives who died of TB in the 20th century. It originated from Africa some 9,000 years ago. BSE, more commonly known as mad cow disease is a neurodegenerative disease which can spread to humans from cattle. It takes 4-5 years before symptoms appear after infection. By some stroke of luck, only 231 people have been reportedly infected with over 4.4 million cattle destroyed in the UK alone. It was the rise of agriculture some 11,000 years ago that enabled the evolution of pathogens to spread from domestic animals to humans. Large gatherings of humans with close proximity to animals gave us diseases such as diphtheria, influenza A, measles, mumps, pertussis, rotavirus, smallpox. The consumption of primates gave us hepatitis B and Ebola. There are four still from unknown sources – rubella, syphilis, tetanus, typhoid, and there is still debate about whether HIV/AIDS is a zoonosis. It was the pig that gave us the swine flu pandemic. The Americans discovered the outbreak in April 2009 outside San Diego but did little to contain it. It is estimated that by October 2010 when the pandemic was declared over, around 700 million to 1.4 billion people contracted the illness, with about 150,000–575,000 fatalities world-wide. In comparison, the SARS epidemic was much more alarming having its origins in Foshan, China. SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV), a virus identified in 2003, is thought to be an animal virus from perhaps bats, that spread to other animals such as civet cats. From 2003-2004, there were 8,098 reported cases of SARS and 774 deaths. The other alarming outbreak was the bird flu or influenza A/H5N1 which was first isolated from a goose in China in 1996; it quickly spread to Hong Kong and the rest of the world. Some 700 cases were reported. The most horrendous in our history was the 1918 Avian H1N1 flu. Also known as the Spanish flu, it killed between 50 and 100 million people. Humans are under attack by another coronavirus today, named COVID-19. As yet, we do not know if it is a zoonosis. As worrying as it is, it pales into insignificance when we look at pathogens from the food we eat e.g. Salmonella bacteria in poultry, Campylobacter in raw milk, E. coli in under-cooked meat and raw fruits and vegetables, Taxoplasma parasites in pork, Listeria bacteria in deli meats and dairy products. According to the WHO, 600 million are sickened (48 million in the US) and 420,000 die from food poisoning every year. So, Jesse Watters, which country do you demand an apology from? Urghhling, it is the animals exacting their revenge on us. They want to have the last laugh and can you blame them?

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