The Next Contagion

The Next Contagion
(AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about with the WuFlu…African Swine Flu is now running rampant through North Korea, with South Hwanghae Province and North Hamgyong Province hardest hit.  Daily NK, probably the most authoritative source on all things North Korean, details not just this outbreak, but tosses in this gem:

Daily NK reported last week that some 6,000 ducks, geese, pigs, goats and sheep died of infectious diseases at a livestock complex in Kangwon Province.

Eastern and Northern Europe had a similar issue in 2007, and gave us a foretaste of the problem with ASF in North Korea–the countries involved (former Soviet vassals and Iran) were not completely destroying all infected and suspect livestock.  Instead, between the military supply system and graft-motivated sellers, some portion of the infected meat entered the human supply system.  From there, the scraps and leftovers are fed to, you guessed it, pigs, keeping the infectious cycle going.

Eastern and Northern Europe isn’t exactly starving, nothing like how North Korea is.  Imagine the pressure on your poor livestock farmer in Kim-land.  Some government honcho descends from Pyongyang and tells you to kill your herd and burn them.  You’ve had a nutritious meal of grass and bark soup that morning, and now you have to destroy the only asset you have.  How easy would it be to sell it off to the corrupt army regiment in the next town?

At the moment, humans are safe from ASF.  But the virus that causes this is similar to the poxvirus family, and the target cells for infection are the same ones that other viral hemorrhagic fevers target.  For domesticated pigs, the disease this virus causes is very similar in symptoms and timing as Ebola is in humans (although they are from different virus families).  But this virus only emerged about 300 years ago, and there’s no reason why it won’t mutate to hang out in humans.

North Korea is perhaps one of the worst places to have a plague like African Swine Flu.  Agriculture is primitive, the population is so malnourished they’ll eat anything regardless of its condition.  Farming practices are from the 17th century.  For instance, human waste is spread on crops for fertilizer, despite all of the diseases and parasites known to be transmitted in this manner.  I would not be surprised to find an emerging hemorrhagic fever coming out of North Korea in the next ten years.  You shouldn’t be, either.



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