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Swine Flu: Scary but Avoidable?

4/29/2009 12:00:00 AM

Tags: swine flu, health

Swine flu may or may not be the pandemic that cable newscasters are proclaiming - but why take chances? This most recent health scare is yet another reminder that eating local, organic food - preferably raised by a source you know and trust - is just a smart thing to do. 

On Sunday, The Department of Health and Human Services issued a nationwide public health emergency in response to the recent cases of swine influenza A (swine flu) discovered in the United States. When the PHE was issued, there had been 20 confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States; as of today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 64 confirmed cases in five states, including New York, California, Texas and Kansas. 

According to the CDC, swine flu is a respiratory disease caused by type A influenza virus. It usually occurs in pigs, but the virus can mutate - especially when exposed to other viruses such as avian and human influenza - and infect more than just one species. Grist magazine reports that the outbreak might be traced to a Smithfield Farms hog farm in Mexico. Smithfield Farms has denied that. 

Swine flu most often occurs in people who have close contact with pigs. Photo By Vicky TGAW/Courtesy Flickr  

The CDC says that swine flu cannot be transmitted through pork products - as long as the pork is cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit -and most often occurs within people who have close contact with pigs. Human-to-human transmission can also occur, and is thought to spread in the same way as seasonal flu: a person touching something with the virus on it, then touching his or her mouth or nose. For more information about swine flu, check out the CDC’s Swine Flu Key Facts.

While it’s good news that swine flu can’t be transmitted through fully cooked pork, this outbreak reminds us that our eating habits matter. The ways in which animals (not just pigs) are treated on factory farms (known also as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs) has a lot to do with this outbreak, as well as many others. Animals often live in cramped quarters where diseases spread very quickly. To combat this, the animals are frequently treated even before an outbreak occurs, leading to the concern about antibiotic-resistant strains of dangerous diseases. 

These are great reasons to buy and consume local, organic or wild meat. Local operations are often smaller, allowing them to be more attentive to their livestock. The animals are generally not treated with hormones or (unnecessary) antibiotics and have better living conditions, with less of a chance of contracting or spreading dangerous diseases (either to other animals or to humans.) 

Another lesson we can learn from this outbreak is that going vegetarian - or at least drastically decreasing our meat consumption - is a better idea than ever. Replacing meat with other forms of protein, such as tofu and legumes, is a cost-effective and healthy diet decision. Natural Home features many articles about making healthier food decisions as well as creative and delicious recipes, both with and without meat. 

Whether or not you’re worried about swine flu, your family will be the better for it.

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