It turns out, the epicenter of this H1N1 outbreak might possibly have been connected to a huge agribusiness pig farm in Oaxaca, Mexico. Smithfield denies they are the cause. We won’t know unless there is an investigation. Corporate pig farms are one of the top industrial-animal businesses that irritate neighbors and menace communities. For example, during hurricanes and floods, the pig feces ponds can overflow and the concentrations of nutrients kills plants and spreads diseases.
As usual, it pays to visit places via satellite photos. In this case, the epicenter of the viral contagion is in the ridge of jungle-covered mountains that run like a squeezed ridge from central Mexico to the Panama Canal. This ridge separates the Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean systems from the great Pacific Basin waters. It is very wet in the higher elevations due to the air rising up from the two oceans. The satellite photos show these clouds forming as we see below:
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- U.S. meat producers Smithfield Foods (SFD, $9.08, -$1.24, -12.02%) and Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN, $9.87, -$1.06, -9.70%) fell on concerns pork sales may be blunted by the swine flu outbreak, though Smithfield said it’s found no signs or symptoms of swine flu in the company’s herd or employees at its Mexican venture. The price of hogs were tumbling in trading despite authorities rushing to reassure consumers that it is safe to eat pork.
This is why there is some reasonable alarm: the H1N1 viral group is, due probably to many thousands of years of human/pig evolution in tandem, is very dangerous for us. Horses and cows, for example, must roam free in order to breed, raise their offspring and eat. Only in recent human history, have humans been able to feed horses and cows while confining them to barns.
The same is even more true of sheep: they also can share unpleasant diseases with us [including, er, sexual diseases] but they have very clean droppings that are small, dark balls, like deer droppings. But pigs are another matter. From earliest times, they had to be confined. Pigs, in the wild, are dangerous, even escaped domestic ones revert to their ancient prototype which are, to this day, fearful hunting opponents. Calydonian Boar for example, was considered a terrible monster.
Medieval boar spears were the most fearsome weapons a hunter could use. For arrows didn’t bring down the wild boar. The spears and swords that hacked down these boars show the degree of fear they inspired. Penned up boars become, over time, pigs.
If you fall into a pig sty, you can get killed. When I was young and saw ‘The Wizard of Oz’, the movie had Dorothy fall into a pig sty. Modern watchers think, the only fear was, her dress might be dirtied. I knew, as a child, how dangerous pigs were and the fear of the other characters as they risk their lives to save Dorothy, scared me.
Pigs are DANGEROUS. Yet, across the planet, they are kept in pens, close at hand, fed food wastes and are then eaten. And unlike sheep, they are very messy. So are cows, incidentally. But we can turn the cows loose in pastures. Not pigs. For they can dig and dig deep.
The accomplishments of these civilizations included the domestication of many plants and animals including maize, beans,cacao, tomatoes, chili peppers, squash, pumpkin, andturkeys. Also available in the fertile region of Oaxaca were pineapples, avocados, zapotes, and maguey. In the south, the Pacific Ocean was an important food source. The civilizations built by these groups are reflected in important archaeological sites includingMonte Albán, Mitla, Guiengola and Huijatzoo. Monte Albán was a great ceremonial center built on a flattened mountain top by the Zapotec people which reached its zenith between 600 and 900 AD The ancient Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle near the city of Oaxaca is one of the oldest human settlements in Mexico.
Dense populations are the other side of the disease vector. The population in Oaxaca is quite dense if we leave out the uninhabitable mountain areas. This state has seen a lot of native agitation since it has one of the biggest Indian mix populations in Mexico.
Tenochtitlan fell to the Spanish in August of 1521 and with it all of the Aztec empire. The Spanish crown granted Oaxaca to the conquistador Hernan Cortes as his prize for conquering New Spain. On November 25, 1521, Francisco de Orozco arrived in the central valley to claim it in the name of Cortes. Cortes was thereby named Marques del Valle de Oaxaca. The same year, the Spanish founded settlement Segura de la Frontera, later known as Nueva Antequera, and in 1532 it was officially raised to the category of a royal city by decree of Emperor Charles V(Carlos I) with the name of Antequera de Guaxaca.
Transformation was swift in the central valley; the Spanish introduced new food and new methods of cultivation. Cortes ordered the cultivation of wheat in the Valley of Etla and the construction of mills. The Spanish cultivated sugar cane and imported silkworms. Diseases introduced by the Spanish greatly diminished the native population of Oaxaca, as did the insatiable appetite for gold, which led more and more Oaxacans into the dangerous mines.
Gold, conquest and disease: the story of the last 500 years. Now, let’s leave Oaxaca and go look some more at the viral world:
Dr. Anne Schuchat, interim Deputy Director for CDC Science and Public Health, said that the American cases were found to be made up of genetic elements from four different flu viruses – North American swine influenza, North American avian influenza, human influenza, and swine influenza virus typically found in Asia and Europe – “an unusually mongrelised mix of genetic sequences.” Pigs have been shown to act as a potential “mixing vessel” in which reassortment can occur between flu viruses of several species. This new strain appears to be a result of reassortment of human influenza and swine influenza viruses, presumably due to superinfection in an individual human. Influenza viruses readily undergo reassortment because their genome is packaged in 8 pieces (see Orthomyxoviridae).
The cytokine storm (hypercytokinemia) is the systemic expression of a healthy and vigorous immune system resulting in the release of more than 150 inflammatory mediators (cytokines, oxygen free radicals, and coagulation factors). Both pro-inflammatory cytokines (such as Tumor necrosis factor-alpha, Interleukin-1, and Interleukin-6) and anti-inflammatory cytokines (such as interleukin 10 and interleukin 1 receptor antagonist) are elevated in the serum of patients experiencing a cytokine storm.
Cytokine storms can occur in a number of infectious and non-infectious diseases including graft versus host disease (GVHD), adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), sepsis, avian influenza, smallpox, and systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS).
Role in pandemic deaths
It is believed that cytokine storms were responsible for many of the deaths during the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed a disproportionate number of young adults. In this case, a healthy immune system may have been a liability rather than an asset. Preliminary research results from Hong Kong also indicated this as the probable reason for many deaths during the SARS epidemic in 2003. Human deaths from the bird flu H5N1 usually involve cytokine storms as well. Recent reports of high mortality among healthy young adults in the2009 swine flu outbreak point to cytokine storms as being responsible for these deaths.
The Hong Kong flu was another form of the dreaded H1N1 family of viruses. I remember very much how my lungs filled up and struggling to breathe. Several things: one has to drink lots and lots of something and my Chinese friends gave me lots of ginger dark tea. I couldn’t swallow well so I got it through a straw. Every time I was awake, I sucked down this mixture that was made with ‘royal jelly’ which is a honey extract from China that came in these tiny glass tubes.
I also recommend not sleeping lying flat but when awake, lying on the stomach with some cushions that hold the chest higher than the bed and then leaning down, chocking up the debris in the lungs. I did this for days and days. I knew that it bothered people so I did it mostly alone. It was a blessing that someone would come by and clean up the bowls and sterilize the place. Of course, changing the bedding frequently and using plastic or rubber between sheets and mattress is also highly recommended.
Needing food and unable to eat, friends would give me eggs from our chickens [we all had them] and give me the yoke, raw, with coconut juice and banana all mushed up with a blender and I would drink this with a straw, too. Feeding people when they are in bad shape is an art form. My Hispanic and Chinese friends were endlessly useful when it came to figuring out how to feed me, etc. I can’t thank them all enough.
Here is a text book about the evolution of viruses:
Viruses are ubiquitous companions of cellular life forms: it appears that every cellular organism studied has its own viruses or, at least, virus-like selfish genetic elements . Recent environmental studies have shown that viruses, primarily, bacteriophages, are “most abundant biological entities on the planet” , with the total number of virus particles exceeding the number of cells by at least an order of magnitude [3,4]. Viruses actively move between biomes and are thought to be major agents of evolution by virtue of their capacity to operate as vehicles of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) .
A remarkable feature of viruses is the diversity of their genetic cycles, in a sharp contrast to the uniformity of the cellular genetic cycle [6-9] (Fig. 1). Viruses with different genome strategies span a vast range of genome sizes (the genomes of the largest known virus, the mimivirus, and the smallest viruses, e.g., circoviruses, differ by three orders of magnitude) and show a non-uniform and non-trivial distribution among the host taxa (Fig. 1). For example, the extraordinary diversity of double-stranded (ds) DNA bacteriophages is in a stark contrast to the absence of bona fide dsDNA viruses in plants. Conversely, RNA viruses are extremely abundant and diverse in plants and animals but are currently represented by only two compact families in bacteria, and so far have not been detected in archaea (Fig. 1).
Viruses and other selfish elements: the replication strategies, genome size distribution, global ecology, and hallmark proteins. For each class of viruses and related elements, the approximate range of genome sizes is indicated (kb, kilobases). ‘+’ denotes positive strand (same polarity as mRNA) and ‘-’ denotes negative strand. Tr, transcription; T, translation; R, replication; E, encapsidation; A, archaea; B, bacteria; F, fungi; Mz, Metazoa; P, plants; UE, unicellular eukaryotes. For each class of viruses (elements), characteristic structures of hallmark proteins and characteristic electron-microscopic images of viruses are shown. RdRp, RNA-dependent RNA polymerase; JRC, jelly-roll capsid protein; RT, reverse transcriptase; RCRE, rolling-circle replication (initiating) endonuclease. The rightmost panel shows the host range, with the size of the respective image and acronym roughly proportionate to the abundance of the given virus class in the respective taxon.
Evolution of the virus world: origin of the main lineages from the primordial gene pool. Characteristic images of RNA and protein structures are shown for each postulated stage of evolution, and characteristic virion images are shown for the emerging classes of viruses. Thin arrows show the postulated movement of genetic pools between inorganic compartments. Block arrows show the origin of different classes of viruses at different stages of pre-cellular evolution.
On top of all this, we had major earthquake near Oaxaca, Mexico, today!
And an aside: the Jews are not happy about Swine Flu getting Jews sick in Israel. It has already spread there via tourists:
Ultra-Orthodox Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman on Monday declared that Israel would call the new potentially deadly disease that has already struck two continents ‘Mexico Flu,’ rather than ‘Swine Flu, as pigs are not kosher.
“We will call it Mexico flu. We won’t call it swine flu,” Litzman told a news conference on Monday, assuring the Israeli public that authorities were prepared to handle any cases.
I don’t think the Mexicans will appreciate this. Why not a compromise? Call it ‘The Smithfield Flu’?
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