ASF, HMD, mad cow disease. What else are we waiting for?
By Penelope A. Domogo, MD
ASF or African swine fever is a highly contagious disease of pigs. Why “African”? Did you notice that a lot of emerging infectious diseases, including human diseases, nowadays are traced to Africa? What gives? Anyway, it is reported that the virus that causes this disease is endemic (meaning “common”) in sub-Saharan Africa. It can spread through direct contact with a sick pig or by ingestion of contaminated meat products/animal parts and vectors like ticks. The most common mode of transmission is through ingestion of contaminated meat products. You see, we don’t usually boil or sterilize our pig food or pig pens, di ba. Although in our Igorot history, we cooked pig food till they were mushy. Not anymore.
The ASF virus causes hemorrhagic fever with high mortality rates in domestic pigs. Perhaps if wild pigs were infected, hunters would be happy because the pigs would be weakened and be easy catch. But such is not the case. Domestic pigs are the ones being infected. Not our free-range pigs or those in the “dongongan” but domestic pigs in big, congested pig farms. This is self-explanatory- for example, a pig has more chances of being in contact with an infected pig in a congested pen than in the streets of Maswa. Thus these big pig farms in the lowlands are the most worried about ASF. It could mean big financial losses. Pork lovers would also be worried because ASF could drastically decrease pig population and availability of pork. The price of pork can increase. Some people might not want to eat pork at this time especially in restaurants outside the province because they are not sure of what they are eating. Although the authorities assure the public that ASF only affects pigs, some people would rather be safe than sorry thus avoiding pork from unknown origin. Personally, I pray that the emergence of ASF at this time would make us reflect on our excessive and almost obsessive love for meat and the aggressive promotion of the meat industry for its products. BTW, ASF is caused by a virus thus there is no medicine for it, no vaccine either.
Well, is it only ASF that should worry us? There is also the hoof and mouth disease (HMD) or foot and mouth disease (FMD) affecting cloven-hoofed animals like cattle, goats, sheep, pigs (again!), deer. “Cloven-hoof” means divided hoof. Although it is not as deadly as ASF, it is highly contagious and can cause deaths in very young animals and thus again, it could mean a lot of economic losses in the animal industry. HMD is also caused by a virus and so it does not need any medicine and the sick animal can get better after some days. Research shows that HMD does not infect humans, except in very rare instances, and it is different from the hand and foot and mouth disease (HFMD) of humans. Although the cause of both are viruses, they are different viruses.
Then there is the “mad cow disease” that became popular some years back. It affects cattle but in rare cases it may infect humans, too. Of course, in humans it’s not called “mad cow disease” but Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (now this sounds human). Scientists say that the cause of this disease is an abnormal version of a protein in the cells of animals and humans. This protein is called prion. Although this disease is rare, it’s scary, because we don’t really know it. Geez, the cause is not a bacteria, it’s not a virus nor a fungus, it is protein! And this protein is a normal component of our cell that just turns crazy and destroys the brain and spinal cord! How this protein turns into Frankenstein we can only guess.
The major preventive and control measures of these infectious diseases are maintenance of clean surroundings, disinfection of farms with sick animals and restricting movement of animals. How to maintain cleanliness of animal pens would be a gigantic task. These friends of ours don’t know how to use the toilet, unless they go to pet school like the cat and dog of my friend in Austria. Presently, we have two native pigs at home and we are hard up keeping their residence clean. Well, they didn’t go to pet school. What more if there are thousands or even hundreds of pigs or cattle in a single compound? These are not free-range, mind you. Google these farms in the internet and you have an idea how their homes look and smell. If they don’t smell like you imagine then some chemical has been sprayed in that place. Are we, then, surprised when Frankenstein emerges?
So what would be the best thing to do as a society in a situation like this? Is the income of big animal industries our priority over health? Could it be that breeding all these huge numbers of animals for human consumption be the cause for these diseases to develop? You see, if more people mean more congestion, then more animals also mean more congestion. So why not just do what Igorots have been doing all along? Just one or two pigs per family. Further, do we need all those meat and meat products in the market, anyway? Isn’t excessive meat-consumption killing our people? I hope the ban on importation of meat or animals outside the locality stays forever. Each community will just produce their own animals for meat. I think that’s what we mean by self-reliance. Who gains? Who losses? Think of the meat industry (frozen foods, canned goods, hotdogs, etc.). Think of the animal feed industry. Think of the many other related industries. Think of the small-scale farmer family who produce their own food. Think of your family. Whose interest do we favor?***
“But ask the animals and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you.” John 12:7