By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
It’s been reported that the global swine flu outbreak most likely originated in a small town in Mexico that straddles a large pig operation; there a 4-year-old boy was believed to have been the first victim of the influenza virus.
Now officials say there was a larger outbreak of a respiratory illness in La Gloria earlier in April, with some victims falling sick as early as February, according to a report in The Times of London.
“Health workers soon intervened, sealing off the town and spraying chemicals to kill the flies that were reportedly swarming through people’s homes,” according to the story by Chris Ayres.
The pig facility, which is partly owned by Smithfield Foods of Virginia, raises a million pigs a year and includes manure containment areas or “manure lagoons” that attract the flies. A company spokeswoman told the Times that they’ve found no signs of swine flu in its animals or workers.
But The Times story quotes sources saying that more than half of La Gloria’s 3,000 residents sought medical treatment during the outbreak this spring.
Pork producers in Mexico have denied that pigs could be the source of the flu. Mexican health officials, however, say they’ll be reviewing the epidemiological evidence to try to pinpoint the origins of the outbreak, including looking closely at what transpired in La Gloria.
Pollution from Confined Agricultural Feeding Operations (CAFOs) is an ongoing issue in many locations where residents living nearby complain about the smell, water and ground contamination from animal waste. Environmental groups have long warned about the dangers posed by the concentration of pollutants and disease incubation at high-density facilities.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has put out a report warning about CAFOs; that they increase food-borne illnesses like e coli and salmonella as well as animal-to-animal diseases that require excessive use of antibiotics.
Neighboring towns “bear the brunt of the harm caused by CAFOs” which “includes
the frequent presence of foul odors and water contaminated by nitrogen and pathogens, as well as higher rates of respiratory and other diseases
compared with rural areas that are not located near CAFOs,” concluded the report, The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations.
Whether the CAFO in Mexico was ground zero for the swine flu outbreak, though, has not been proven.
The flu has been blamed for up to 149 deaths and the hospitalizations of another 2,000 people in Mexico, and has been spreading worldwide. There are 40 cases reported in the U.S., where the cases have so far been milder.
For more information on flu cases in the U.S., along with advice on how to respond, see PandemicFlu.gov.
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