Thursday, September 3, 2009

Book Review: Bird Flu

Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching by Michael Greger, M.D.

Book description: Dr. Michael Greger walks the reader through the history of avian flu and its implications for us today. The threat of avian flu can be directly linked to industrialized animal agriculture which weakens the animals' immune systems, and threatens our own health.

If you are not scared shitless at the thought of a pandemic flu, you're not paying attention. While the focus has shifted from avian to swine flu, the information in this book is no less relevant. Birds, pigs, and humans form a close-knit disease vector triangle. It is strongly suspected that the 1918 influenza epidemic was an avian flu that made the leap to humans through domesticated pigs.

Human domestication of animals has had enormous benefits throughout history. Unfortunately, it also has its downsides. As humans and the animals they domesticated lived together, their immune systems became intricately linked and disease transmission became easier. Viruses by their very nature can mutate very fast. Thankfully, the avian influenza virus has not developed the mutation necessary to cause human-to-human transmission.

However, I have heard a number of epidemiologists say it is only a matter of time.

Dr. Greger lays out how intensification of animal agriculture has exacerbated the threat. By moving towards confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), animals are placed in closed proximity to each other and have suppressed immune systems due to high stress levels and poor living conditions. He argues that when the flu pandemic comes, it will be due to Western agricultural methods. He makes a very convincing case -- even after I learned he works for PETA. But Bird Flu is meticulously researched and I've read other articles and books about influenza that back up what he says.

Just because he may have an axe to grind, that does not make Greger's thesis any less true.

But you be the judge. Read it for yourself -- the entire book, including endnotes, is available online for free.

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