A community along the Ivory Coast in Africa suffered from repeated outbreaks of a human respiratory virus from 1999 to 2006. Approximately 92 percent of residents in that area manifested symptoms, and the fatality rate was 20 percent. Although you might think that humans transferred this virus, you would be wrong. The carriers were among a group of chimpanzees.
Zoonoses are diseases that animals transmit to humans, or vice versa. While transference from chimpanzees to humans seems logical, considering the similarities in genetic makeup between the two species, many diseases are making the jump to humans from more distantly-related species. Think rabies, toxoplasmosis, bird flu, anthrax and plague, and you open a Pandora’s box of disease transmission possibilities that includes bats, cats, dogs, chickens, cows and rodents.
Animal populations can ‘hide’ zoonotic diseases even as human populations seek to eradicate them from their own communities. As human populations increase in size, as climate change alters environments, and as diseases mutate so that current medicines no longer are effective, people become vulnerable to new infections.
Infection is not required to trigger new outbreaks, however. According to the book, Resurgent Diseases: Opposing Viewpoints:
Rickets, for example, is seen in children who have a deficiency of vitamin D. A 2006 outbreak of fifty-nine cases in Oakland, California, was attributed to a set of factors: the babies had been breastfed (breast milk does not contain vitamin D) and the babies had darker skin that absorbed less sunlight (sun exposure is a source of vitamin D). Because of the benefits of breastfeeding, rates of formula feeding (formula has vitamin D) are dropping, and American life is happening indoors more often than out – these two factors both contribute to the rise of a disease the health care industry had nearly eradicated in the 1930s. When rickets was prevalent, parents knew how to ward it off (oftentimes by administering daily spoonfuls of cod liver oil). After rickets vanished from popular awareness, ordinary people forgot how to protect themselves.
In an environment where diseases have mutated to survive, how can you protect yourself from various new diseases and strains of those diseases with relative peace of mind? One way to protect yourself and your family from pathogenic diseases is to learn as much as you can about how to stay healthy in the first place. Some tips include:
- Maintaining a weight that is healthy for your level of activity, lifestyle, body composition and height.
- Eating a balanced diet that can help you to lose weight, to gain weight or to maintain a healthy weight.
- By drinking at least eight cups (not glasses – cups!) of water per day without additives such as caffeine, teas or other ingredients to make that water “taste better.”
- Engage in physical activity daily, with exercises that increase your heart rate at least three times per week (aerobics such as fast walking, running, bicycling, dancing, etc.). First, talk with your doctor about what you plan to do so he or she can approve of those activities if you have certain limitations such as muscle, bone or heart diseases).
- Practice safe sex so that you do not weaken your immune system with diseases such as HIV/AIDS or other bacterial, fungal, viral, parasitic or protozoan infections.
- Use everything in moderation (such as alcohol), and learn more about what your body can tolerate as you age.
- Practice safety-first routines, such as awareness of your surroundings. This awareness can help you to avoid injury that may alter your lifestyle and your life (or end it altogether!).
Another way to learn more about how diseases can affect you is to learn more about what is happening to other human populations and communities worldwide. One way to stay on top of news about diseases and ‘cures’ is to visit the Centers for Disease Control Web site (CDC) or subscribe to their RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed. The CDC maintains an “encyclopedia” of all known diseases and reports on new strains when discovered.
The book, Resurgent Diseases: Opposing Viewpoints, also provides information that you can use to either defeat your fears or to help understand why not all people agree with vaccines, climate change as a factor in spreading diseases and more scenarios. This book is small, easy to read, and provides information that can help you stay healthy.
You, after all, are part of a community where, when one person becomes sick, then that sickness can affect an entire neighborhood. The new mantra at work has become, “If you’re sick, stay home!” And, that mantra exists for good reason, especially during flu season.
But, community leaders who are not in touch with a community and who fail to report the presence of a deadly and infectious disease also can be seen as responsible for helping to spread disease. This community, today, has enlarged to include people who blog and use social media. For instance, an entire community in Indiana refused to vaccinate their children for measles in 2005, for fear that the vaccine caused autism. An outbreak of measles occurred among children in that community, requiring hospitalization for those children, when a 17-year-old who had not been vaccinated, and who incubated measles upon a return trip from Romania, creating the largest documented outbreak of measles in the United States since 1996.
For those of you who have not experienced the measles, this is a highly infectious, acute viral disease that can cause rash, fever, diarrhea, pneumonia, encephalitis, and death.
Where is the line drawn when it comes to using help if you believe that help will harm your child or your community? Who are you harming by refusing that help? How can you learn to trust that help? Do you trust the news media, your doctor or the government, or do you learn all you can so you can make rational decisions yourself?
Those decisions are yours to make, and you may need to increase those efforts over the years, as more diseases evolve that may resist current medicines.