Sunday, May 3, 2009

Quarantine - Are Viruses God's Little Mickey Finn?

What kind of a god would create viruses?  If the universe was created through "intelligent design" what possible purpose would viruses serve?  Viruses are so small we don't even really call them life-forms. They're like little machines, whose only function is to infect a host in order to replicate themselves and keep going.  By themselves, they're without any purpose or ultimate meaning.  

In what sense is that different than any life form?  What is the "ultimate purpose" of a green bottle fly, buzzing irritatingly around under the shady eaves on hot days, looking for some stray dung to lay its eggs in? Aren't all living things just trying to get along, reproduce themselves so their kind can continue? That's the "life force" of which philosophers speak. But does it have any ethical meaning, which we ourselves don't give to it?

There's been much hoopla lately in the press about the "Swine Flu" scare which appears to have originated in a dusty little rural hog-farm community in Central Mexico. We already know that "corporate" farming, in which thousands of animals are squeezed into limited spaces with unimaginably dirty and unsanitary conditions is a recipe for contagion, disease, and the promotion of "super bugs".  All of us who eat meat, undoubtedly consume protein which has been grown under intolerable conditions, not just for the poor beasts themselves, but for the dangers this system entails.  

Plagues and infestations have been known for millennia. What they all have in common is crowded conditions, unsanitary practices. Dirty water, poor sewage management, tainted food, overpopulation. Many of our most stubborn prejudices and superstitions grew up over the centuries in response to unscientific notions about how and why people get sick. 

Science has taught us that bacteria and viruses thrive and may quickly get out of control where people live too closely together, or allow their infrastructure to deteriorate. We know that viruses are "everywhere," that all living beings carry thousands of these things around as "benign" "passengers," any one of which may, without warning, mutate unexpectedly into deadly killers.  

As man continues to proliferate across the planet, the natural restraints upon the explosive potential of infection are abandoned. When people once lived in small communities, or nomadic bands, there was a natural "quarantine" effect of isolating contagion within small groups or individuals. One of the classic "tools" epidemiologist and public health administrators always consider in fighting new diseases, is isolation or enforced quarantining of individuals, groups, or communities. But in the bustle and flux of the modern world, quarantining on a large scale appears unworkable.  

The solution to plagues or pandemics is to reduce the concentration of individuals across the biological spectrum. Failure to do this voluntarily will inevitably result in periodic crises of contagion. If we continue to up the ante by ignoring this deadly paradigm, these waves of disease and suffering will increase in severity and frequency. 

In Asian countries, it has become common for people to wear face masks in large cities, either to prevent spread of an infection they have contracted, or to keep themselves from being infected. Wherever people congregate closely in numbers, there's a risk. Anyone who has had a child who went to public school knows how colds spread like wildfire in classroom situations. You will hear theorists occasionally claim that common contagion is really a method of "naturally" inoculating ourselves against infections, by stimulating the natural immune systems within our bodies, that close contact is really a useful tool in maintaining a robust population. But that argument doesn't hold up with the periodic deadly mutation.   

Epidemiology tells us that we are unlikely to keep up with the rapid transformations of opportunistic viral mutations. We can't count on science to provide us with quick cures or inoculations against common or unknown invaders. Historically, we know that isolating contagion is probably the first and best line of preventive medicine. That's what's being tried now in America against the "Swine Flu"--send the kids home and don't go out.  

We haven't really come very far from the days when superstition dictated that one simply avoid seriously ill members. That's still good advice. Of course, we have to treat people, and we have to care for them, even if they're dying. But crowding and overpopulation are the ultimate recipe for armageddon. In wars and natural disasters, disease usually kills far more than bullets or falling walls or fires.        


Anonymous said...

I think as I frequwently do
that all them myriad and sundry countless thousands of antibiotics and pesticides that we feed our animals/vegetables, etc our entire food supply well ..

hey I forgot fish how 'bout FARM RAISED ATLANTIC SALMON! that fish in a swimming pool eating antibiotics and their own fish-excrements... especially lobster with rubber bands on the,

animals ingest all this a-dulterated crap and "spit it out" as "animal waste"
well whetre do the pigs, human, cows, chicens etc etc piss and shit and into which puddle/pond drinking water in a nearby village does it all go

and salmon-nilla ! where to them spinach, lettuces, almonds, peanuts, tobacco pickers got to the bathroom when "nature calls"? in the lettuce. in the spinach, in the tobacco leaves...

they call it "animal waste" well just dip your food in water with some bleach in it

bleach is what they put in swimming pools to kill the bacterias and etc...

hey, if you smell the chlorine... it ain't doing it s stay out of the pool

well there's a poem here somewhere:

Stone Girl
in her garden

Curtis Faville said...

I think there are limits on how much antiseptic we can apply to the environment before it becomes chemically toxic.

The real answer is reduction.

Mankind has multiplied completely overwhelming the environment. We exploit and despoil at an alarming rate, and those "insults" to the earth are increasing every day. People talk about how we'll "need more" water, food, energy, space, etc., etc., but no one dares talk about where all this expansion ends....

It ends in disaster. A completely fucked-up environment, with billions of individuals suffering, living a compromised existence.

People living in parts of Africa that simply can't support a fraction of the populations that occupy them. Annual plagues, famines, water wars, food wars, religious wars, tribal wars, political wars, ethnic cleansing. And then we summon up the resources of the "civilized" nations and send them tons of foodstuffs and medicine and everything else, and the next year the population has grown by another 20% and they're all living in corrugated shacks, with 85% unemployment, disgusting filth, violence, rape, abuse of every kind. These "cultures" such as they are, can't be sustained indefinitely by "assistance." In the end they will die or severely contract, returning to a nomadic, tribal existence, with only the culture they can carry on their backs.

Steven Fama said...

Curtis on viruses:

"By themselves, they're without any purpose or ultimate meaning."

Sort of like us humans, eh?

Some days, or maybe some parts of all days, I do believe the answer is most emphatically YES.

Curtis Faville said...

That was my point, partly, Steven.

eddie watkins said...

One can be without ultimate meaning yet be overbrimming with momentary meaning.

Curtis Faville said...



Anonymous said...


The CDC our guardian angels just announced:

"next yearm we will have (require) THREE flue shots:
one for the current flue
two for swine flew." the present cast per shot...that would be $150!

what flue? what swine-flue?

what a crock of shit! (which is where the various flues incubate just add stagnant water to the animal (human) excrement and VWALAH! new virus!

7 years ago I got a flue shot 2 days later I got the dreaded flue...

chicken soup saved my ass!