Epidemics require specific condition to spread disease

Macrae: Without any one of these three ingredients, epidemics fizzle.

Robert Macrae. (Submitted photo)

Robert Macrae. (Submitted photo)

Epidemics such as the Biblical plagues, Black Death, cholera, smallpox, syphilis, influenza, louse-borne typhus, HIV, SARS, and now COVID-19 are not inevitable.

Epidemics require (1) a virulent pathogen, (2) a susceptible host, and (3) environmental conditions suited to the spread of disease.

Without any one of these three ingredients, epidemics fizzle.

There is little we can do to prevent the evolution of virulent pathogens. Relatively harmless pathogens limited to single hosts regularly, but unpredictably mutate into aggressive strains able to spread and sicken less resistant hosts.

There is more we can do to protect susceptible hosts and much more we can do to limit environmental conditions that favour disease transmission. As COVID-19 winds down, it would be wise to plan how to reduce the risk of future epidemics because, as we are being reminded, prevention costs far less than cure.

Our understanding of epidemics is vastly improved. Today, few believe epidemics to be the punishment of angry deities or the product of vengeful sorcery.

Our understanding of microbiology, epidemiology, and immunology is better than even during the 2003 SARS epidemic when precious time was lost identifying the causal agent and its genetic sequence.

During the SARS epidemic, there was only one person testing samples in the entire province of Ontario using a clunkier, costlier procedure unable to process nearly the volume of tests run daily across Canada for COVID-19.

Past epidemics occurred when large numbers of impoverished people lived in crowded, unsanitary conditions where basic services such as clean water and sewage were scarce to non-existent.

For example, London during the Industrial Revolution, when exhausted, under-paid, over-worked labourers were packed into filthy tenements with cellars overflowing with sewage that saturated the ground, poisoned the water, fouled the air, and precipitated London’s Great Stink and tens of thousands of avoidable deaths.

Lesson one is eliminate poverty.

If this sounds ridiculously idealistic, dream bigger. Eliminating poverty is neither impossible nor impractical and a far better investment than assault rifles, intercontinental ballistic missiles, stealth fighter jets, nuclear aircraft carriers, or Star Wars defence systems.

Eliminating poverty requires a fraction of what we spend on the military and returns an infinitely preferable outcome.

Ontario, during the Kathleen Wynne era, experimented with guaranteed basic incomes. She proved they were cost-effective compared with the patchwork of existing social services programs and they enabled recipients to escape the poverty cycle.

In addition to poverty, war nurtures perfect conditions for epidemics.

There were many more deaths caused by louse-borne typhus, typhoid, cholera, and dysentery than by combat during the Crimean, American Civil, Boer, and Great Wars.

Lesson two is eliminate war.

Lesson three is eliminate environmental conditions suited to the spread of disease. This topic embraces more than I can discuss in this article, but here’s a preview.

In his recent book, LIU professor Bill Schutt discusses desertification in Texas and California where researchers gauged soil moisture to assess drought. They determined 2012-2014 to be the most arid period in the past 1,200 years.

Schutt reports, “Across China, Syria, and central Africa, regions that only recently experienced dry seasons are becoming deserts. People in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, three of the poorest countries in the world, are suffering through the worst drought in 60 years.

In parts of Sudan rainfall has fallen by 30 percent over the past 40 years.

The Sahara is encroaching into farmland at one mile per year. Famine and diminishing access to fresh water are now daily realities for more than 12 million Africans. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, many conflicts in Africa are driven by climate change and environmental degradation.”

In concluding this article, there is a relationship between poverty, war, environmental degradation, especially climate change, and epidemics.

In our plans to reduce the risk of future epidemics, it would be ridiculously unwise to ignore this relationship.

Robert M. Macrae, Castlegar.

Climate changeOpinion

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rossland council encourages everyone to support locals only recommendations. Photo: Jim Bailey.
Rossland council promotes ‘Locals Only’ inititative

Rossland mayor encourages people to restrict travel and enjoy what your home has to offer

Caroline Lafond is a Recreation Fish and Wildlife student at Selkirk College. Photo: Submitted
Ecological Comment: Help keep the goats of Gimli wild

A column written by Recreation Fish and Wildlife students at Selkirk College

The West Kootenay Timberwolves received $1535 in relief funding. Photo: Submitted
Three Rossland sports groups receive provincial funding

28 sports groups across the Kootenay will be receiving money from the Local Sport Relief Fund

Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union president Andy Davidoff. Photo: Jennifer Small
An open letter to Premier Horgan and Minister Whiteside: Let’s stop harming our children during a pandemic

A letter from Andrew Davidoff, President Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union

Interior Health reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 and two new death in the region Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
79 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths reported in Interior Health

Both of Friday’s deaths were both recorded at long-term care homes

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Kimberly Proctor, 18, was murdered in 2010. Her family has spent many of the years since pushing for a law in her honour, that they say would help to prevent similar tragedies. (Courtesy of Jo-Anne Landolt)
Proposed law honouring murdered B.C. teen at a standstill, lacks government support

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has concerns with involuntary detainment portion of act

Sunnybank in Oliver. (Google Maps)
Sunnybank long-term care in Oliver reports third COVID-19 death

The facility currently has an outbreak with 35 cases attached to it

Most Read