An American doctor is warning a plague that could decimate half the world’s population might be around the corner, and it would make coronavirus look like child’s play.
Dr Michael Greger, a scientist who advocates the health benefits of a plant-based diet, has penned a new book called ‘How to Survive a Pandemic’.
He says our obsession with animals, from keeping them as pets to hunting them for sport to turning them into burgers, makes human beings incredibly vulnerable to infectious diseases.
“Zoonoses” are infections that pass from animals to humans, like how coronavirus likely spread to customers from livestock at a Wuhan wet market. Most of the viruses are benign, but some – such as tuberculosis and SARS – mutated and became lethal.
Dr Greger says the most devastating disease in history could be lurking in chickens, of which there are a staggering 24 billion around the world – double what there was 20 years ago.
Chickens make up a huge part of the global agricultural industry, with their meat and eggs consumed in huge amounts in every country. Unfortunately many of the birds are kept in cruel battery farms, crammed together while being force-fed chemicals.
These conditions make it very easy for a virus to spread to an entire flock – and then to humans.
Avian influenza, more commonly known as bird flu, infected a third of the world’s population between 1918 and 1920, and killed 10% of them – making it the deadliest disease in human history.
In 1997 a new strain of the virus that causes bird flu emerged, known as H5N1, which crossed over into humans from poultry. The outbreak in Hong Kong had an incredibly high mortality rate and killed a third of those infected.
Thankfully it was contained and only 18 people contracted the flu, showing it had a slow transmission rate. But public health experts worried H5N1 might mutate further and gain the ability to replicate itself much more rapidly.
“The only thing I can think of that could take a larger human death toll would be thermonuclear war,” one expert said.
H5N1 mostly affects the lungs but can also infect the bloodstream and damage internal organs. It’s thought that it could mutate to be ten times deadlier than the 1918 pandemic, with a mortality rate of up to 50% – potentially killing half the world’s population.
Dr Greger theorises that the only way to guarantee humanity’s safety from a deadly bird flu outbreak is to kill all the chickens on Earth and re-populate the global poultry population from scratch.
Although he’s a vocal proponent of a meatless lifestyle, he accepts the economy relies on it so says we must overhaul the way we farm, shifting from mass battery farms to smaller flocks allowed to be free-range – and not pumped full of antibiotics.
“The pandemic cycle could theoretically be broken for good,” he writes.
“Bird flu could be grounded….but as long as there is poultry, there will be pandemics. In the end, it may be us or them.”