Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Assorted Weird Diseases Part I—There’s Plenty More to Fear than Fear Itself

The other morning I woke up to the radio, and before I even had my eyes open I was hearing the saga of Dawn Becerra. Wow, what an eye-opening story! It seems that poor Dawn was vacationing in Mexico a few years ago when she made the mistake of eating a "pork" taco. It made her sick for 3 weeks. But that was just the beginning of Dawn's woes. Sometime later she began suffering seizures and more illness, and eventually the doctors at the Mayo Clinic found that a worm from the taco had made its way into her skull and was happily chewing away on brain tissue. The doctors eventually removed the worm (it was already dead—probably from years of eating fatty foods) in a 6-hour operation, and fortunately Dawn is okay today.

Think she's given up eating "pork"?

Just a few years ago things like brain-eating worms crawling out of tacos would have been seen only in Japanese (no, make that Mexican) horror movies. Today, though, it doesn't seem so strange. Just look at some of the assorted weird diseases that have been in the news lately.

  • E. coli Contamination—E. coli, the bacteria found in animal excrement, has been big news ever since four people died and another 700 got sick from eating at the now-infamous Jack-In-The-Box restaurant chain. (New corporate slogan: "We're cookin' the sh*t out of our burgers.")
    In the years since then major outbreaks, meat recalls, and other newsworthy E. coli disasters have come around just about every hour. My own personal favorite was the "Cornstock" party, where guests got sick after some hearty partying (they apparently consumed a steer, a hog, and an ostrich along the way!) in a farmer's field in Illinois. Embarrassed party organizers swore that the field was cleaned of manure in advance of the event, but they probably couldn't say the same for the steer, hog and ostrich.
  • Mad Cow Disease—Let me see if I've got this straight… There's this renegade protein running around that even modern sterilization procedures can't destroy. Everyone in Europe is terrified of it, but here in the Colonies we've been a bit slow to catch on. Anyway, it turns cows' brains to mush, and will do the same thing to people if they eat the cows. Since nearly everyone eats cows, and since this disease can take years to manifest itself, this is an accident waiting to happen. We could wake up tomorrow and find that the people left alive on earth are a few vegetarians. (We'd all be very rich and enjoy the last laugh, but heck, we'd probably get bored.) Is that pretty much it?
  • Foot-and-Mouth Disease—Nobody seems to understand this disease, but it too appears to be driving the Europeans loony—causing them to kill all their farm animals and light large fires with them. This, in turn, causes major depression to spread among us animal-rights types. This may be the most frustrating and distressing disease of all.

    I could go on. In addition to the above, people are getting sick every day from Pfiesteria piscicida streptococcus, giardia, salmonella, Listeria Monocytogenes, Campylobacter jejuni, chlamydia and even toxic algae. And there seem to be new things that could be turned into Japanese horror movies appearing all the time.

    What all these assorted weird diseases have in common, of course, is that they are all intrinsically linked to the raising and eating of animals. So, does anyone ever suggest that vegetarianism is an answer to the problem? No, that would be too easy. Instead, we promote irradiation, quarantine the boots of people who have been traipsing around the European countryside, and generally do a lot of worrying. And of course the most common advice given by our medical community is to "make sure your meat is well-cooked."

    Well-cooked meat? That may be a partial answer, but it seems ironic that, as I write this, well-done meats have just joined cigarettes, asbestos, DDT and arsenic on the federal government's official list of substances suspected of causing cancer.

    Would you rather be afflicted by assorted weird diseases or by good old-fashioned cancer? It's a heck of a choice for meat-eaters.


    [Next time, in exciting Part II, we'll look at some of the dumb things we humans do to make sure new assorted weird diseases keep coming, and get shared by everyone!]

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