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Dozens of new infectious diseases are likely to emerge over the next 25 years unless humans acquire an ecological perspective on infection rather than seeing microbes as simply an invading entity that should be blindly attacked with antibiotics or used as a tool for biological warfare.
According to Professor Tony McMichael, director of the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at The Australian National University, Canberra, the emergence and spread of 35 new or newly diagnosed infectious diseases in the past 25 years is a product of our modern way of life.
A conference at the UK Royal Society exploring the factors influencing emerging infectious diseases was told that the rise in international travel, overcrowded cities, intensive food production, sexual practices, poverty, and global warming were some of the ingredients that had come together to form a suitable culture medium for the emergence, maintenance, and spread of new infectious diseases, as well as allowing the resurgence of older diseases such as cholera, tuberculosis, and malaria.
Hepatitis C was given as an example of a disease born from sociotechnological change. "The advent of illicit intravenous drug use and blood transfusion has allowed the wider spread, and now recognition, of this virus."
The impact of the massive increase in international travel has allowed the spread of new diseases such as HIV and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) on an unprecedented scale.
The way in which humans have changed their environment has also influenced the spread of disease. Developments in agriculture, urbanisation, and deforestation have all changed ecosystems and allowed the emergence of infections. Lyme disease, a disease spread by ticks, was first identified in 1976, in the United States. Forest fragmentation, loss of predators, and the shift of suburbia closer to woodlands are all implicated in the appearance of this disease.
Another example is the Nipah virus. In 1999 this virus killed 100 people in peninsular Malaysia. The virus was normally carried by the forest fruit bat and had not previously seemed to pass to humans. However, because of deforestation and agricultural techniques the bat’s normal habitat and food source were changed. This forced the bats to encroach into fruit plantations, which were in close proximity to pig farms. The bats infected the pigs, which in turn infected the farmers.
Professor McMichael concluded by emphasising the need to acquire an ecological perspective on infectious diseases. "In the 1970s, eminent people were saying it was the end of the infectious disease era. We now find after the experience of the 1980s and 1990s, we are sadder and wiser."
Infection is not to be feared – bacteria are an essential part of the natural life cycle of the environment. Many bacteria are essential in the gut as they manufacture vitamins. Bacterial decomposition is a way of recycling unhealthy, dead or dying material back to its constituent elements. Pathological bacteria cannot grow on a healthy ‘soil’, or ground substance. Mucous membranes are moist warm surfaces such as the lining of the nose, sinuses, lungs, genitals, and the lining of the gut, ideal breeding ground for bacteria. All of these surfaces secrete blood group antigens (in secretors), Lewis antigens and many other protective molecules. These are our first line of defence (apart from substances introduced directly into the blood stream) – keeping the mucous membranes healthy and clean is vital to overall health, and that includes health of the intestines.
Put only the correct food into the intestines to prevent congestion and decay in the mucous membranes of the body, and use your knowledge of blood group and secretor status to choose the foods that are most suitable to you. This is, after all, the reason why each food has been classified according to its interaction with the individual intestinal environment.
Bacteria and viruses are not the cause of disease, they are a sign that a diseased organism (the body, the mind, the surrounding environment, exposure to toxic pollutants and susceptibility due to inherited weaknesses) has allowed a pathological process to bring about decay and decomposition. The symptoms that go with disease (inflammation, swelling etc.) are an indication that the natural healing processes of the body are active. Rather than poison the symptoms and suppress the cleansing mechanisms, encourage the eliminative processes and allow the internal healer to do its work.
British Naturopath Roger Newman-Turner says: “It is widely believed that healthy, well-nourished cattle will develop a natural immunity to Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD), or recover without long-term harm. In this context it should be emphasised that ‘health’ is not synonymous with ‘hygiene’ or asepsis. The antibiotic-ridden cow is the antithesis of a healthy animal. It could even be argued that an obsession with sterility has weakened the immunity by removing natural challenges to inherent defence mechanisms.
“It is high time this hypothesis was put to the test with properly conducted trials. It is not a new idea. Nearly fifty years ago, during the 1952 epidemic of FMD, my father, F. Newman Turner, invited the Ministry of Agriculture and the Animal Disease Research Centre at Pirbright to allow infected animals to mix freely with his herd of pedigree Jerseys. They had been reared organically, were never vaccinated, and were treated only with herbal medicines when the need arose.
“He based this challenge on the experiences of Sir Albert Howard, who had conducted a similar experiment with his pedigree oxen in India in the nineteen-thirties. Sir Albert had allowed his naturally reared animals to rub noses with neighbouring herds infected with FMD. None of his animals contracted the disease.
“F Newman Turner’s challenge was ignored - Pirbright did not even acknowledge his letters - but at least, fifty years later, some people are acknowledging that FMD might partly be the consequence of the intensive farming practices about which he was warning people then.”
The moral of the story is: Live peacefully with nature - any change in the environment in the name of development of human society must be ecologically sound and sustainable. To cure health problems first remove the cause.
New infectious diseases will continue to emerge. BMJ 2004;328:186 (24 January 2004)
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