This blog post is a bit of reverse self-promoting, and I really appreciate any incoming links. It turns out that like Hollow Men there is another story in the works about the end of the world, and the author is keeping a blog about her progress over at Everyday Inklings, I'm on her research list . It turns out that I was just in the middle of doing some research on the health care of farm animals, in fact I just picked up a book over at the bookstore about it. (“Keeping Livestock Healthy” US Dept. Agriculture 1942)
I was also looking for something else to write about, thinking to much about the farm will get me target fixated on it, and I'll miss an opportunity somewhere else. So I noticed that there have been a few leads into this site from Everyday Inkings, and went to look. One of the keywords I noticed in her posts were 'pandemic', and I suddenly realized I've missed thinking about preparing for one, not for ourselves as far as humans go, have the hepa filter masks in the basement, but for the animals on the farm. So much for not getting targeted on the farm.
It wasn't to long ago that British Columbia did a cull of all the farm fowl in the province, trying in vain to avoid a flu like pandemic as a result of a chicken virus (avian influenza). So what I've been thinking about since reading Sarah's Blog is what about the other animals, especially pigs?
Pandemics are started as a result of one of the following factors. Either an antigenic drift, or an antigenic shift in the influenza virus family. A pandemic in an antigenic drift would only be a pandemic in the legal sense of the word, in fact they hold such a smaller risk we use another name 'epidemic', as in a large percentage of the population would come down with the flu, but there would likely be enough similarities in the the surface of the antigens with others that the population has encountered before that we would have the a close enough match of antibodies to fight it off, an example would be a bad summer flu that is going around the office, but on a world wide scale. I wouldn't want to say that hardly anyone would die from such an outbreak, but I equally doubt it that the CDC would classify it as a civilization ending event, since these tend to happen every year. But by contrast, an antigenic shift, would be a much larger change in the surface of the antigen, and our immune system would have a real problem with it. These happen on average every ten to fifty years, and we are way overdue, these are the ones which we fear the most.
Our immune system works by a hit, and miss method. Our T-Cell produce white cells in response to encounters with foreign bodies in our systems, such as our blood stream. The T-cell literally has to bump into a virus before it can produce the correct white cell to fight off what ever it is that needs to be taken care of. If the genetic information is already with the T-Cell on how to fight off a certain foreign body, the response is rather quick, and the infection is usually fought off before we even know we are sick. This is how most immunization shots work, they literally inject the virus, or something with a similar 'surface' into the bloodstream for our T-Cells to learn how to fight it off. Vaccines usually contain dead versions of a virus, same surface, no inside parts, so that our body's immune system can learn, it works great as a defense tool, except in the case of AIDS/HIV which attacks the T-Cells directly.
All mammals have the same set up for an immune system, we all evolved from the same successful experiment by mother nature. Unfortunately, parasites, bacteria, pests, and weeds evolved at the same rate as humans did, each competing with each other for dominance over the Earth. Parasites, the major carriers of viruses, and other nasties, have pretty much beaten us at this game, we are not at the top of the food chain as most believe, parasites far out number humans, and I'm willing to bet, pretty much out number everything else on this planet as well.
It is a mis-understanding that the Black Plague was spread by rats, it wasn't, not technically at any rate, rather it was spread by fleas on the backs of rats. Rats themselves were immune to the Black Plague, and that is why they were able to spread the disease. But not all mammals are immune to diseases which are harmful to humans, pigs share similarities in immune response to us to such a degree that anything which is a health risk to them, is generally a health risk to us. But worse still is the fact that they are often housed physically near other animals, and this runs the risk of a cross-over between species for a disease via a parasite.
An example of which could be imagined like so ...
A farmer has a few pigs, which he houses in the same barn as his chickens, the chickens get sick with the latest chicken pandemic flu. This flu the chickens have isn't actually a threat to humans in itself, and in it's current form. However, fleas will suck the blood from any warm blooded creature, chicken included, the sub-species of flea may prefer cats over dogs, but if the farm has neither the chicken will do. Now our little nemesis the flea in case, may also prefer to use a pig over a chicken, when neither cat nor dog happen by, and spreads the flu to the pigs. If, and this a big if, the pigs get sick, we humans might have a very big problem. This is why as a survivalist, keeping farms animals healthy also means keeping them separated.
Oh, just for the record, the cross-over between species risk can have nothing to do with whether the animals in question are still breathing or not, so if you butcher your own meat, NEVER MIX BLOOD, seen or unseen. Use separate boards for fish, meat per species, and vegetables, and wash completely.
Even in this pig and chicken example, not everything is there for a pandemic to start, a flu like virus that can pass from one species to another, isn't enough to cause a pandemic. First, it has to be new, something our immune system doesn't have a defense against, if the virus isn't new, a major antigen shift is required so that as far as our immune systems are concerned it appears to be new. The odds of which are liken to winning the lottery, but someone always wins the lottery eventually, even with mutually exclusive odds. The infection has to effect humans, getting a virus introduced via a cut in the bloodstream is only bad if the virus can propagate, and do so which make the host seriously ill. Then lastly, it has to be able to be passed from human to human, or from source to humans, easily. If I including a pandemic as a major plot feature in a story I was writing like Sarah, I would have to choose whether the virus came from an natural source, or if it was man made. The scary bit is, made man viruses might be easy to produce then we first thought.
Killing the agent of infection is a bit tricky, and this is where my recent interest in the matter returns me to the subject of the farm. We use to attack harmful agents with bleach in our suburban homes, but this isn't always the best and only solution on the farm.
Disinfectants vary in their ability to kill against various germs, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. For example, house hold food grade vinegar will kill the foot-and-mouth disease virus, but nothing to the virus which causes Johne's disease in livestock. Most house hold and industrial detergents will do little against bacterial spores related to tetanus, blackleg, botulism, and anthrax. (Formaldehyde works against spores, but who wants cancer?) I personally recommend a solution of 2% Lye to water, just remember to add the Lye to the water, not the other way around. You also best to fight the parasites which are most likely to spread viruses, such as fleas, tapeworms, and a host of others.
That's just a start into the required research needed to protect the animals on the farms, good thing I'm planning to plant the trees first.