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Deadly New Pathogens are a Threat to Both Man and Beast

By James Donahue

As we humans continue to overpopulate this planet and expand out living quarters into places once reserved for the wild animals, we are hearing about more and more mystery diseases.

Could it be that man and beast are living too close to one another?

We have all heard about the strange swine and avian flu virus mixed in with a couple of human forms of the disease. It killed folks in Mexico when it first appeared then mellowed out as a relatively bland form of influenza as it continues to sweep the planet. What the heck was that?

Deadly new forms of tuberculosis and streptococcus infections that are immune to nearly every form of antibiotic known to medicine are appearing. 

Then we have the other stuff that hasn’t been making the news much lately.

West Nile Virus that has been sweeping the world via the tiny mosquito. Not always deadly, this bug has the capacity to make its victims very sick and eradicate the weak and the elderly.

And we know all about the threat of the Mad Cow prion in our meat. And the sudden spread of hoof and mouth disease not only among cattle, but also zoo animals and the wild deer herds. We even hear stories about people catching hoof and mouth disease, although for us it is not a fatal illness.

There are other new super bugs out there that are starting to kill people. Some of them are so new they don't even have a name. Here are some of the stories I picked up recently:

The dreaded E.bola virus keeps cropping up in the jungles of Africa where medical teams are still tracking its source. This is a real horror of a bug because the people who get it literally bleed to death. They go down with blood even flowing from their eyes. E.bola also cropped lately in Pakistan.

Remember a year or so ago when teenagers and college students began dropping dead from a form of bacterial meningitis that kills almost without warning. The children complain first of a fever and sore throat. They suddenly get very sick and are dead within hours. One anguished parent said that by the time they realized it wasn't the flu, it was too late. The disease breaks out in clusters, killing perhaps two, three or five children in one area, and then it is gone. The source of this disease, and why it singles out teenagers, appears to remain a mystery.

A three-year-old California toddler died after a rare amoeba infected her brain. The girl remained in a coma for two days before the organism killed her. How she contacted the amoeba is a mystery.

In West Bengal, India, 45 people in the town of Siliguri died and another 66 were very sick from a mystery disease that later was identified as a measles virus, researchers at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases reported.

Another mystery disease in Japeri, Brazil, killed seven people and left 43 seriously ill. The disease, which broke out in two neighborhoods, brings on muscle pains, headache, fever, diarrhea and hemorrhaging.

The deadly anthrax killed a 34-year-old woman in Chimkent, Kazakhstan. The town was plagued by anthrax, which was thought to have started from tainted meat sold at an open air market. The town remained under quarantine for months.

What is going on here?

Dr. Andrew Cunningham, a veterinary pathologist at the Zoological Society of London, says human encroachment into wildlife habitats seems to be having a bad effect on both man and beast. Not only are we passing human diseases like tuberculosis and measles on to the animals, the animals seem to be passing new strains of disease on to us.

Cunningham believes the risk is seriously underestimated. "Historically we've always thought of the main threats to biodiversity as being habitat destruction and chemical pollution," he said. "In fact, pathogen pollution appears to be taking over as the main threat.

"As the rate of infectious diseases increases in wildlife, then the chances of humans getting novel diseases also increases. There will be terrors out there that are going to catch us by surprise," Cunningham said.