[FOUNTAIN]The bugs are counterattackingThe word “virus” originates from a Latin word for the saliva of a mad dog. Westerners have long been aware that when horses or dogs went mad, humans could suffer the same fate. They knew that the saliva of a mad dog could transfer the disease. A Mesopotamian law from the 20th century B.C. required that rabid dogs be killed.
Zoonotic diseases, diseases spread from animals to people, are creations of civilization. Since humans began to live in large groups, mankind has tamed wild animals for food, pets and transportation. From 5,000 B.C. to the present, fourteen kinds of large herbivorous animals, including cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and horses, have been domesticated all over the world. In the course of domesticating wild animals, germs and viruses from animals were transferred to the human body. Mankind could enjoy a richer life than it did in its hunting and gathering days by taming animals, but the cost was viral attacks.
As the human race gradually adjusted to viruses and studies of biology and physiology developed, the threat of zoonotic diseases began to wane. But the terror recently returned to the earth, in the form of new, strange outbreaks. The culprit is the greedy human, who invaded the last remaining virgin lands on earth and set up expansive projects that broke the balance between nature and humankind. In the age of globalization, a virus created in one region can be quickly transported to other countries, thanks to airline networks and multinational restaurant chains.
In 1998, an unidentified disease attacked a hog farm in Malaysia. The disease spread all over the country, and within six months, over a million pigs were slaughtered. The human death toll reached 100. The epidemic control authorities later traced the cause of the outbreak to wild bats, which bit the pigs and passed on the Nipah virus. There have been four major avian flus in the 20th century, and it is suspected that the mass farming of ducks and chickens in overpopulated regions such as China allowed mutations of avian viruses. The Ebola virus, the most notorious virus with a 90-percent fatality rate, prevailed in Central Africa, where jungles were denuded. When gold miners likewise penetrated deep into the Amazon River area, they were infected with a disease of wild foxes.
Over 100 diseases affect both humans and wild animals, and over 300 affect both mankind and domesticated animals. What will come next?
by Lee Kyu-youn
The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.