Table of Contents:



I. Storm Gathering

1. 1918

2. Master of Metamorphosis

3. H5N1

4. Playing Chicken

5. Worse Than 1918?

6. When, Not If

II. When Animal Viruses Attack

1. The Third Age

2. Man Made

3. Livestock Revolution

4. Tracing the Flight Path

5. One Flu Over the Chickenís Nest

6. Coming Home to Roost

7. Guarding the Henhouse

III. Pandemic Preparedness

1. Cooping Up Bird Flu

2. Race Against Time

3. Tamiflu

IV. Surviving the Pandemic

1. Donít Wing It

2. Our Health in Our Hands

3. Be Prepared

V. Preventing Future Pandemics

1. Tinderbox

2. Reining in the Pale Horse


References 1-3,199

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by Kennedy Shortridge, PhD, DSc(Hon), CBiol, FIBiol
Professor Emeritus Kennedy Shortridge

Professor Emeritus Kennedy Shortridge

Professor Emeritus Kennedy Shortridge is credited for having first discovered the H5N1 virus in Asia. As chair of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, Dr. Shortridge led the world’s first fight against the virus. For his pioneering work studying flu viruses, which spans over three decades, he was awarded the highly prestigious Prince Mahidol Award in Public Health, considered the “Nobel Prize of Asia.”
Horse-drawn carts piled with dead bodies circulated through a small town in Queensland, Australia. A nightmare to imagine, yet even more horrific to learn that this scene was a recurring reality throughout the world during the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic.

My mother’s compelling stories about the devastating reaches of the pandemic have stayed with me since my earliest years. What started out as a spark of interest has led me to search the hows and whys of influenza pandemics through birds and mammals.

The world has seen unprecedented advances in science and technology over the past 50 years, and, with it, a phenomenal increase in the availability of food, especially meat protein, largely through the intensification of poultry production in many parts of the world, notably Asia. But at what cost?

Chicken, once consumed only on special occasions, has become a near-daily staple on dinner tables around the world as a result of animal agriculture practices that have dramatically changed the landscape of farming by confining ever greater numbers of animals in ever decreasing amounts of space. In China, the shift from small, backyard poultry rearing toward industrialized animal agribusiness began to take root in the early 1980s. In just two decades, Chinese poultry farming has increasingly intensified—and has developed an unintended by-product: the prospect of an influenza pandemic of nightmarish proportions, one that could devastate humans, poultry, and ecosystems around the world.

Influenza epidemics and pandemics are not new. Yet it wasn’t until 1982 that the late Professor Sir Charles Stuart-Harris and I put forward the hypothesis that southern China is an epicentre for the emergence of pandemic influenza viruses, the seeds for which had been germinating for 4,500 years when it was believed the duck was first domesticated in that region. This established the influenza virus gene pool in southern China’s farmyards.

Indeed, molecular and genetic evidence suggests that the chicken is not a natural host for influenza. Rather, the domestic duck is the silent intestinal carrier of avian influenza viruses being raised in close proximity to habitation.

It is the siting of large-scale chicken production units, particularly in southern China where avian influenza viruses abound, that is the crux of the problem. There, domestic ducks have been raised on rivers, waterways, and, more recently, with the flooded rice crops cultivated each year. The importation of industrial poultry farming into that same region introduced millions of chickens—highly stressed due to intensive production practices and unsanitary conditions—into this avian influenza virus milieu. The result? An influenza accident waiting to happen. The H5N1 virus signalled its appearance in Hong Kong in 1997, and has since made its way into dozens of countries, infected millions of birds, and threatens to trigger a human catastrophe.

Michael Greger has taken on the formidable task of reviewing and synthesizing the many factors contingent upon chicken production that have brought us to the influenza threat the world now faces. Drawing upon scientific literature and media reports at large, Dr. Greger explores the hole we have dug for ourselves with our own unsavoury practices.

Indeed, while governments and the poultry industry are quick to blame migratory birds as the source of the current H5N1 avian influenza virus, and to view pandemics as natural phenomena analogous to, say, sunspots and earthquakes, in reality, human choices and actions may have had—and may continue to have—a pivotal role in the changing ecology. Now that anthropogenic behaviour has reached unprecedented levels with a concomitant pronounced zoonotic skew in emerging infectious diseases of humans, H5N1 seems like a cautionary tale of how attempts to exploit nature may backfire. The use of antibiotics as farm meal growth promoters leading to antibiotic-resistance in humans or the feeding of meat or bone meal to cattle leading to mad cow disease are cases in point: profitable in the short term for animal agriculture, but with the potential for unforeseen and disastrous consequences. Intensified, industrial poultry production has given us inexpensive chicken, but at what cost to the animals and at what heightened risk to public health?

We have reached a critical point. We must dramatically change animal farming practices for all animals.

Michael Greger has achieved much in this volume. He has taken a major step toward balancing humanity’s account with animals.

Kennedy F. Shortridge