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What Lies Ahead?
Sneha Kishore

What Lies Ahead?

We are now over a month into this pandemic and my thoughts are on what does the future look like? It is well known that life as we know it cannot return. This saddens me and gives me some relief. Deep down I know that we as a species cannot sustain life as we were living it without consequences. Fast pace, constant travel, constant buying, mass food production, climate change, extremes of weather, obesity epidemics.

Historically pandemics have happened as humans started domesticating animals. Prior to 10,000 there were no such epidemics since man and animals were separate. Let’s look at some examples ….

  • Cows and sheep brought Rinderpest virus which became measles. Over the last 150 years it has killed 200 million people.
  • Smallpox likely came from camel pox.
  • Domestication of pigs gave us whooping cough.
  • Domesticating chickens gave us Typhoid fever
  • Domesticated ducks gave us Influenza.
  • Leprosy likely came from the water buffalo.
  • The common cold from horses.

When Europeans came to the Americas, they brought with them domesticated animals and therefore all their diseases with them, wiping out 95% of the native Americans. Prior to this, there were buffalo, but no domesticated buffalo; so, no measles. Camels in America were wiped out during the Pleistocene ice age; so, no smallpox. No pigs, no pertussis. No chickens, no typhoid.

Eventually the incidence of infectious diseases started to decline until….1975. Around 1975 it started to go back up. More than 30 diseases in 30 years had appeared, mostly new viruses. We may soon be facing a catastrophic storm of microbial threats according to the US institute of Medicine, almost all of which come from animals. Why? Even though domestication of animals occurred 10,000 years ago what has changed is how we treat them, how they live and how they die. We are moving into animal habitats, growing more food on more land for these animals to consume, and then slaughtering more animals to feed the world’s growing population. These are they ways that animal viruses can jump species and create new infections that we are not used to.

As we move ahead through this pandemic and beyond, let us think of all the souls lost due to COVID-19 and let us do better. Let us understand that all of our actions have consequences good and bad. Let us be more thoughtful in our use of resources. Let us be reminded of the balance of nature. Let us learn about factory farms and wet markets to learn why they are not sustainable.

One of things we can do to help protect the future…. eat more plants. Going towards a plant focused diet can set of a positive chain reaction. Less animals farmed, less water consumed, less crops farmed on less land, less CO2 production to name a few positive outcomes.

Let me leave you with a quote from the WHO, “The bottom line is that humans have to think about how they treat their animals, how they farm them, how they market them— basically the whole relationship between the animal kingdom and the human kingdom is coming under stress. In this age of emerging plagues, we now have billions of feathered and curly-tailed test tubes for viruses to incubate and mutate within billions more spins at pandemic roulette. Along with human culpability, though, comes hope. If changes in human behavior can cause new plagues, well then, changes in human behavior may prevent them in the future.”

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