Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Getting Parasites from Animals

An article by Peter Michael on (“Dingo Poo Spreading Deadly Parasites to Humans,” July 13) interests me for several reasons. First, the “deadly parasite” involved is Ecinococcus granulosus, which is by no means a new parasite for people in many parts of the world. It was once a big problem anywhere sheep were raised because sheep dogs could pass the worm’s eggs to people. Today, mostly because sheep dogs typically get better preventative care, the parasite is slowly losing ground.

It’s a bitter twist, then, that wild canines that have lost their fear of humans and come into human communities are now a source of infection. Therein lies the other thing that interests me. A few of the people who commented on that article have it right: it’s not that these wild animals are “encroaching” on us; it’s that we have encroached on them, and we’ve been doing that ever since the first human settlements with the beginning of agriculture and domestic animals.

[caption id="attachment_296" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Dingos by Joshposh, Creative Commons 3.0"]Dingos by Joshposh, Creative Commons 3.0[/caption]

Before we grew our own food and raised animals, how often would we have come in close enough contact with an animal to catch a disease? Sporadically: when an animal was killed for food, when we shared the same cave perhaps, and by accident. Now we breed them and invite them in by carelessly providing food: cattle, pigs, birds, dogs, cats, fish, raccoons, dingos, rats, mice, and lots more. Meanwhile, we destroy their habitat and oblige them to adjust. Civilization is bad for our health: so many devastating diseases would be rare if we had not settled down and brought animals, and their parasites, into our space, one way or another.

Of course, without civilization, people would be rare as well. Most of us wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be writing this, and there wouldn’t be an internet. So one wonders, was it all worth it, and where does it stop?

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