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"The Enemy - Zoonotic Disease or Us?"

Take a moment to read this peice written by Andrew Lacqua from Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in our opionion editorial category. 

Andrew Lacqua
The Enemy - Zoonotic Disease or Us?
It’s a warm summer night and you are sitting around a fire with friends. You are talking about your new vegetable garden when smack!, you squish a blood-filled mosquito on your forearm. Thinking nothing of it, you continue the conversation as itchiness sets in. Meanwhile, your dog is hightailing it out into the forest. She saw a deer.
This scenario seems ordinary, right? It is. For the most part. Amidst the casual chatting and your dog, well, being a dog, there is great opportunity for the spread of disease. Zoonotic disease, to be exact. Let me explain.
A zoonotic disease is any disease or infection that can spread between humans and animals. They are caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi and they’re able to get into our bodies in all sorts of creative ways. Some get in through the air, others through urine, and others even through your pet’s water bowl. And just as the routes of transmission vary, so too do the symptoms. From cold sores caused by Herpesvirus to skin ulcers and vomiting from Anthrax, symptoms can be relatively benign to life-threatening.
Now back to the fireside chat. You're scratching your forearm remembering that you never put on bug spray. You don’t realize this, but the mosquito you just squished previously bit a bird infected with West Nile Virus. So, you go back into the house to find bug spray and decide to bring out the platter you made with the vegetables from your garden. You forgot to wash them and last night a few deer walked through your garden, spreading feces infected with E. coli all over the place. Thinking nothing of this, you look through your window and see your dog running out of the forest and into the house. You pet her and under the fold of her ear you feel a deer tick, carrying Lyme disease. It must have jumped onto her during her pursuit of the deer. You take extra precaution with the deer tick knowing that you, too, could get infected.
Throughout this entire scenario the limiting factor here is us, the humans. We are a huge part of zoonotic disease transmission and this is critical to understand, especially today. As the human population expands and connects previously disconnected parts of the world, the spread of zoonotic disease becomes ever more important. Dr. Sam R. Telford III, of the Department of Infectious Disease and Global Health of the Cummings School, stresses that:
humans are to blame for any epidemic that we see due to zoonotic infections. We let deer overpopulate, and the ticks that result give us an epidemic of Lyme disease. We hunt for bushmeat and bring Ebola into the village. We don’t emphasize the human component enough.
Perhaps this could be the topic of discussion at the next fireside chat: the evidently detrimental role that humans play in the spread of zoonotic disease. Dr. Telford recalls the Pogo comic strip, published by Walt Kelly on Earth Day in 1971, in which Pogo somberly tells Porkypine , “We have met the enemy and he is us.”


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