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 Chicken's 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. Don't 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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“It’s corny and it’s a cliché,” said one veterinary virologist, “but Mother Nature is the world’s worst bioterrorist.”890 Her viruses can escape the rainforests in animals living or dead, as pets or as meat. The international trade in exotic pets is a multibillion-dollar industry, and exotic pets can harbor exotic germs.891 Wildlife trafficking—the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife parts—is, in the United States alone, a soaring black market worth $10 billion a year.892 Before, the only wings viruses could typically find on which to travel were those of the mosquito. Now they have jumbo jets. The U.S. imports an unbelievable 350,000 different species of live animals. The deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service testified before a Senate committee in 2003 that the United States imports more than 200 million fish, 49 million amphibians, 2 million reptiles, 365,000 birds, and 38,000 mammals in a single year. With fewer than 100 U.S. inspectors monitoring traffic nationwide, even if they worked 24/7, this would allow but seconds to inspect each incoming animal.893

Whether for exotic pets or exotic cuisine, imported animals transported together under cramped conditions end up in holding areas in dealer warehouses, where they and their viruses can mingle further.894 The 2003 monkeypox outbreak across a half-dozen states in the Midwest was traced to monkeypox-infected Gambian giant rats shipped to a Texas animal distributor along with 800 other small mammals snared from the African rainforest. The rodents were co-housed with prairie dogs who contracted the disease and made their way into pet stores and swap meets via an Illinois distributor. One week the virus is in a rodent in the dense jungles of Ghana, along the Gold Coast of West Africa; a few weeks later that same virus finds itself in a three-year-old Wisconsin girl whose mom bought her a prairie dog at a 4-H swap meet. “Basically you factored out an ocean and half a continent by moving these animals around and ultimately juxtaposing them in a warehouse or a garage somewhere,” said Wisconsin’s chief epidemiologist.895 Nobody ended up getting infected directly from the African rodents; they caught the monkeypox from secondary and tertiary contacts inherent to the trade.896

The international pet trade in exotics has been described as a “major chink in the USA public health armor.”897 As one expert quipped, “It was probably easier for a Gambian rat to get into the United States than a Gambian.”898 Previously, monkeypox was typically known only to infect bushmeat hunters living in certain areas of Africa who ate a specific species of monkey.899 “Nothing happens on this planet that doesn’t impact us,” notes the chair of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “We’re wearing clothes that were made in China. We’re eating foods that were grown in Chile,” he said. “Could there be a more poignant example than this [monkeypox outbreak] happening in Wisconsin? People in Wisconsin don’t even know where Gambia is.”900

Monkeypox is caused by a virus closely related to human smallpox, but currently with only a fraction of the lethality.901 Human-to-human transmission has been known to occur, however, and there is concern that monkeypox could evolve into a more “successful human pathogen.”902 The CDC editorialized that the U.S. monkeypox outbreak “highlights the public health threat posed by importation, for commercial purposes, of exotic pets into the United States.”903 “As long as humans are going to associate in a close way with exotic animals,” said the dean of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, “they’re going to be at risk.”904