The CAFO/Swine Flu story is leaving the blogs and Huffington Post, and getting some better treatment now: The UK’s Guardian is now providing more light on what what may be the quickenings of the swine flu outbreak in a giant confined animal feedlot operation in Mexico.
Guardian writer Jo Tuckman gets us some more, solid information than Kirby or Tom Philpott had gathered — namely, that a four-year-old boy named Edgar Hernandez Hernandez came down with flu-like symptoms, was briefly hospitalized, and, later, his sample was sent to the United States to see what it was that the boy had contracted. To quote the article:
The [Mexican] federal government said tonight that he tested positive for the same strain of the virus which has claimed lives in Mexico.
I question why the writer chose to word this so cagily (why not say "Lab results confirmed that the boy contracted H1N1 swine flu?), but no matter. The point is that, very early in the outbreak, H1N1 infected a child from the village La Gloria, located just 12 miles from the Granjas Carroll (Carrol Farm) CAFO, a hog feedlot that was already under investigation from the Mexican social security institute.
But before we go any further, and before this CAFO narrative gets digested as truth by other reporters covering the swine flu outbreak, we need some influenza experts to weigh in on this key matter: Can polluted conditions around a CAFO help create a swine flu outbreak?
Here are other questions reporters need to address if they’re going to pursue the CAFO-as-culprit angle. Can "clouds of flies" really act as carriers (that is, mechanical vectors) of swine flu? Can conditions in a CAFO facilitate garden-variety H1N1 swine flu’s mutation into a killer? Does swine flu behave like avian flu, where close interaction between humans and flu-carrying poultry can cause antigenic shift in the virus?
If the answer to any of those questions is "no," then we really need to stop barking up this tree. Because articles like the Guardian’s, which emphasize the "clouds of flies" theory and the stinking conditions, etc, may actually be muddying the issue. Off-gassed hydrogen sulfide from a CAFO’s manure lagoon, after all, can cause the very symptoms and disorders (fevers, bronchitis, pneumonia, etc) that are associated with influenza.
Personally, I don’t know the answer to these questions, and none of the writers who’ve taken this topic on have answered them satisfactorily. Are there any flu experts reading this blog who’d like to weigh in on how swine flu behaves on pig farms and CAFOs? Has this kind of outbreak happened before? What physical conditions or events can cause antigenic shift in swine flu?