A Brief History
On December 29, 1997, the frightening specter of Avian Influenza crossing over the species barrier to affect humans necessitated the killing of about 1.25 million chickens on the island of Hong Kong, accounting for every chicken on the island! This Hong Kong Avian Flu epidemic had started in the Northern part of Hong Kong, known as the New Territories, and the possibility of spreading to create a medical catastrophe mandated the drastic action of slaughtering the entire population of fowl on the island.
The cross-over of disease from animals to humans creates a nightmare scenario of a potential apocalyptic pandemic that could result in a horror movie-esque die off of human beings before scientists could create a viable vaccine and or cure for the disease. Since people live with such a large number of animals in domestic farming and home pet situations, the prospect of a disease jumping the species barrier is terrifying.
Lucky for us, our faithful canine companions, “Man’s best Friend,” the dog, generally is immune to our maladies and we do not get them sick when we are ailing. Likewise, few doggie diseases are likely to affect humans, which makes the relationship between dogs and people viable.
Unfortunately, like other living organisms, germs and viruses mutate, and those germs and viruses that cause disease and illness could easily, maybe even inevitably, mutate to much more deadly forms and forms that cross species types to affect humans. Or our diseases could mutate to kill off vast numbers of our animals, both pets and farm types.
When we think of the various ways mankind may be so adversely affected by events that humans are either killed off or at least civilization is grossly undermined, a pandemic is certainly one of those doomsday scenarios that hangs over people like the Sword of Damocles. We can take steps to thwart nuclear war and make preparations to deal with climate change and rising sea levels, and possibly even deal with an incoming asteroid should one head our way, but predicting the next great pandemic is not so easy.
Will the next devastating pandemic be caused by a particularly virulent strain of a current disease that mutates into something we cannot quickly deal with? Will the next pandemic be caused by careless human manipulation of microorganisms in an attempt to create biological weapons (Captain Trips?) Or perhaps our scientists will manage to blunder some other form of genetic manipulation into a global pandemic while they are trying to cure some disease or another or otherwise manipulate nature. Or perhaps a disease will “jump” from animals to humans, as in the Avian Flu scenario.
Another frightening scenario where microorganisms play a role in ruining civilization or even killing off all humans comes from our dalliances into space. Our returning space craft and astronauts might inadvertently bring back some sort of virus, germ, or as yet unknown sort of antigen that devastates humankind. Aliens that kill off humans do not have to have giant space ships and death rays, just be microscopic entities that kill us from within. Or for that matter, such an alien apocalypse does not even have to directly kill humans to be catastrophic. Maybe there is some sort of micro-bug in space that could kill all our plants or animals, indirectly killing us off. The possibilities, unfortunately, are endless.
How likely are one or more of these scenarios to develop? We surely do not know, do you?
Question for students (and subscribers): What will cause the extinction of mankind? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Conover, Michael and Rosanna Vail. Human Diseases from Wildlife. CRC Press, 2014.
Waltner-Toews, David. The Chickens Fight Back: Pandemic Panics and Deadly Diseases That Jump from Animals to Humans. Greystone Books, 2007.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Bernard Spragg. NZ from Christchurch, New Zealand of chicken feet, is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. This image was originally posted to Flickr by Bernard Spragg at https://flickr.com/photos/88123769@N02/16841735339. It was reviewed on by FlickreviewR 2 and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-zero.