Emerging disease and zoonoses #4–war and disease

I mentioned in part 2 of the introduction the role that war plays in the emergence and transmission of infectious disease. Accurate numbers are difficult to come by, but currently, it’s estimated that approximately 120 million people worldwide are affected in some way by conflict. In 2003, it was estimated that more than 72 countries were identified as unstable, and various conflicts have resulted in over 42 million refugees and internally displaced people worldwide. War and its concomitant devastation and social upheaval leaves its victims at an increased risk of disease transmission to begin with due to poor sanitation, collapse of public health and medical facilities and support personnel, crowding in refugee camps, breaks in supply chains of food, medicine, and other necessary items, malnutrition and depression, and other factors. Population displacement and movement can lead to mixing and sharing of infectious agents, resulting in outbreaks of disease among naive individuals. Rape may be used as a tool of war, spreading sexually transmitted diseases and/or leaving victims pregnant and at further risk of illness or death. Additionally, when disease breaks out, the duration of the epidemic is often longer than in a stable area. Drug resistance can emerge quickly in these populations: for those who do have access to treatment, the antimicrobial may not be appropriate to treat the infection, or it may be taken improperly. For example, drugs may be taken until the user is feeling better, and further doses may be hoarded or given or sold to others, leaving the disease incompletely treated.

There are several examples (discussed below) of emerging infections that have occurred in recent decades in war-torn regions.
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Emerging disease and zoonoses #3–Bushmeat

From the Bushmeat Task Force:

In Africa, forest is often referred to as ‘the bush’, thus wildlife and the meat derived from it is referred to as ‘bushmeat’. This term applies to all wildlife species, including threatened and endangered, used for meat including: elephant; gorilla; chimpanzee and other primates; forest antelope (duikers); crocodile; porcupine; bush pig; cane rat; pangolin; monitor lizard; guinea fowl; etc.

Some of this can be hunted legally–much of it is not. Though I won’t be concentrating on the bushmeat crisis per se (the focus of the Bushmeat Task Force), they note several ways it is obtained:
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The sometimes-ugly face of certainty

From this essay (via The Island of Doubt):

Convictions are important things. We do not want our children to have minds so open that their brains fall out. On the other hand, certainty is conviction absent humility. Certainty is intolerant. It is absolute. It knows the answers and will not tolerate disagreement. It is inflexible, permanent and anti-intellectual….

It is the demagogues on both the left and the right who are more interested in advancing their private agendas than in explaining and understanding an entire situation or picture. Their perspective is often, “I know what I know; do not confuse me with the facts.”

And while the columnist makes the left/right dichotomy, of course this “don’t confuse me with the facts” mentality is prevalent in other areas apart from the political spectrum as well. ID advocates and young earth creationists frequently espouse this type of thinking; you’ve seen it here in some of the conversations discussing HIV.

Certainty isn’t always a bad thing, of course; I’m certain my kids are mine, as the memory of their birth still remains pretty strong in my mind and they were never sent to a nursery to potentially be “switched” or something. I don’t think this makes me anti-intellectual. But when it comes to other areas, some amount of uncertainty is assumed. This doesn’t mean we should throw our hands up–in science and other areas, rather, we follow where the evidence leads, mindful that “proof” isn’t a concept that works in biology as it does in mathematics.