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[Op-Ed] Pigs and People

Posted April. 28, 2009 08:20,   


French author Bernard Werber, whose books “Empire of the Ants” and “The Ultimate Secret” were bestsellers in Korea, surprised his fans with a shocking conclusion to his other work “The Father of Our Fathers.” In the beginning of the story, a paleontologist who claims to have found the missing link in evolution from four-legged mammals to two-legged primates is murdered. The ending implies that pigs were the “father of our fathers.”

Among mammals, pigs bear the closest anatomical and physiological resemblance to humans. This is why scientists clone pigs for organ transplants in humans. In addition to swine flu, pigs are susceptible to bird flu and colds. When these viruses mutate by exchanging genetic matter inside pigs, a new virus is created that is then transmitted to people via the respiratory system. In other words, pigs become the medium for infectious diseases contractible by both people and animals.

History-changing pandemics such as smallpox, tuberculosis, malaria, pest, measles and cholera have all evolved from diseases formerly confined to animals such as fleas, rats and mosquitoes. People contract rabies from the bite of a rabid animal and brucellosis when coming in contact with infected cows. AIDS was first found in African chimpanzees, and around 400 million people, or around six percent of the global population, now have HIV, the virus which causes AIDS. The human form of mad cow disease is found in people who repeatedly eat specified risk material extracted from cows.

With the development of antibiotics, many bacterial diseases have disappeared but history has also seen an outbreak of new epidemics since microorganisms can outsmart people soon after they invent a vaccine or treatment. Columbia University professor Harold Neu correctly said, “Bacteria are smarter than humans.” It is no coincidence that Hong Kong influenza, which claimed 800,000 lives in 1968, SARS, which struck Asia in 2002, and bird flu, which recently hit Vietnam, all originated from the Chinese province of Guangdong, where poultry such as ducks and chickens are raised alongside cows and pigs near residential areas. Pigs have been at the center of previous outbreaks. What makes swine flu more deadly than bird flu is that it is easily contracted by people as seen in Mexico and the U.S.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)