The Washington Times-Herald

Community News Network

December 5, 2012

How animals spread diseases to us

(Continued)

IOWA CITY —

So, Why Aren't We All Dead?

With so many potentially deadly organisms lurking in the animal species we share the Earth with, the question becomes not if we'll have another novel pandemic, but when. However, these events — the new influenzas, the SARS coronaviruses, the HIV outbreaks — are actually relatively rare. "Spillover" events — an individual becoming infected with a zoonotic pathogen — are common, but typically the infected host is a dead end. He or she doesn't spread the germ to a second person, which is necessary for an epidemic (which is a localized outbreak) or a pandemic (a worldwide infection) to occur. Going back to H5N1 influenza versus H1N1, that's why the former has caused only sporadic outbreaks and the latter has become pandemic. H1N1 is readily transmissible between people, and H5N1 (so far) is not. This is also why there was so much concern earlier this year when a genetically modified H5N1 was created in a laboratory setting. This modified virus was able to spread readily between ferrets, a common animal model for human influenza research. The work caused worry that such a virus may escape from a lab and spread in the wild — "The Stand" come to life.

This controversy also highlights the difficulty in studying potential zoonotic pathogens. Many of these organisms have adapted to their hosts and do not always cause symptoms in their "natural" species. As such, it's difficult to anticipate which microbes will 1) make the species jump successfully; 2) cause illness in the new host species (for example, in humans); and 3) transmit efficiently among members of the new host species. Prediction right now is very foggy, though we're beginning to better understand the diversity of organisms out there, and with that, hopefully gain understanding into why some spill over and others do not.

Text Only
Community News Network
  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Is this a commercial for batting gloves or a baseball game?

    Major league baseball desperately needs to speed up the action. Here's a place to start: Nix the mind-numbing ritual of hitters who first adjust the right batting glove, then the left one, after every single pitch.
     

    August 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • The Simpsons still going strong

    The groundbreaking animation first hit the air Dec. 17, 1989, but the family first appeared on television in "The Tracey Ullman Show" short "Good Night" on April 19, 1987.

    August 21, 2014

  • Does Twitter need a censor?

    Twitter decided last year to make images more prominent on its site. Now, the social network is finding itself caught between being an open forum and patrolling for inappropriate content.

    August 21, 2014

  • Police chief resigns over racial slur repost to Facebook

    A repost on his personal Facebook page of a racially-charged comment by the original poster of a comedy video has forced the police chief of an Oklahoma city to resign his office.

    August 21, 2014

  • sleepchart.jpg America’s sleep-deprived cities

    Americans might run on sleep, but those living in the country's largest cities don't appear to run on much.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Who should pay for your kids ACT?

    Thirteen states paid for 11th-grade students in all public high schools to take the ACT college admission test this year, with several more planning to join them in 2015.

    August 20, 2014

  • Pets.jpg Why do people look like their pets?

    As much as we might quibble over the virtues and vices of Canis domesticus, however, and over whether human nature is any better or worse than dog nature, even dog fanciers don't usually want to look like a dog.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ice bucket challenge trending up

    Internet trends are a dime a dozen these days. Everything from Tebowing to planking to the cinnamon challenge can cause a wave of social media activity that can last for weeks before fizzling out.

    August 19, 2014

  • Africa goes medieval in its fight against Ebola

    As the Ebola epidemic claims new victims at an ever-increasing rate, African governments in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have instituted a "cordon sanitaire," deploying troops to forcibly isolate the inhabitants in an area containing most of the cases.

    August 18, 2014

  • Democrat? Republican? There's an app for that

    If you're a Republican, you might want to think twice before buying Lipton Iced Tea, and forget about Starbucks coffee. If you're a Democrat, put down that Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and throw away the cylinder of Quaker Oats in your pantry.

    August 18, 2014