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(So-called) Health Scares

Health Scares

We will now consider the following health scares which had politicians and the media announcing impending catastrophe and millions of deaths, not unlike MMGW really.

• BSE variant CJD
• Listeria
• Salmonella in eggs
• Lead in petrol
• Asbestos
• Passive smoking

BSE variant CJD

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad-cow disease, is a fatal, neurodegenerative disease in cattle, that causes a spongy degeneration in the brain and spinal cord. BSE has a long incubation period, about 4 years, usually affecting adult cattle at a peak age onset of four to five years, all breeds being equally susceptible. In the United Kingdom, the country worst affected, more than 179,000 cattle have been infected and 4.4 million slaughtered during the eradication program.
The disease may be most easily transmitted to human beings by eating food contaminated with the brain or spinal cord of infected carcasses. However, it should also be noted that the infectious agent, although most highly concentrated in nervous tissue, can be found in virtually all tissues throughout the body, including blood. In humans, it is known as new variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (vCJD or nvCJD), and by October 2009, it had killed 166 people in Britain and 44 elsewhere with the number expected to rise because of the disease’s long incubation period. Between 460,000 and 482,000 BSE-infected animals had entered the human food chain before controls on high-risk offal were introduced in 1989.
A British inquiry into BSE concluded that the epizootic was caused by cattle, who are normally herbivores, being fed the remains of other cattle in the form of meat and bone meal (MBM), which caused the infectious agent to spread. The origin of the disease itself remains unknown. The infectious agent is distinctive for the high temperatures at which it remains viable; this contributed to the spread of the disease in Britain, which had reduced the temperatures used during its rendering process. Another contributory factor was the feeding of infected protein supplements to very young calves.
At the height of the media hyped scare we were told millions would die, this type of irresponsible reporting is typical of all these health scares. Every death (regrettable as they are) is reported upon, which surely is an invasion on the grieving of the victim’s family. In all likelihood, when a real scare does come along no-one will listen to media scaremongering and that could have disastrous consequences.

Listeria (Listeriosis)

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The disease primarily affects pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems. It can be avoided by following a few simple recommendations.
A person with listeriosis (listeria infection) has fever, muscle aches, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhoea. If infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can occur.
Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness; however, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, premature delivery, or infection of the newborn.
How great is the risk for listeriosis?
In the United States, an estimated 2,500 persons become seriously ill with listeriosis each year. Of these, 500 die. At increased risk are:
• Pregnant women – They are about 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis. About one-third of listeriosis cases happen during pregnancy.
• Newborns – Newborns rather than the pregnant women themselves suffer the serious effects of infection in pregnancy.
• Persons with weakened immune systems
• Persons with cancer, diabetes, or kidney disease
• Persons with AIDS – They are almost 300 times more likely to get listeriosis than people with normal immune systems.
• Persons who take glucocorticosteroid medications
• The elderly
Incidence in 2004–2005 was 2.5–3 cases per million population a year in the United States, where pregnant women accounted for 30% of all cases. Of all nonperinatal infections, 70% occur in immunocompromised patients. Incidence in the U.S. has been falling since the 1990s, in contrast to Europe where changes in eating habits have led to an increase during the same time.
Healthy adults and children occasionally get infected with Listeria, but they rarely become seriously ill.
The listeria hysteria whipped up by the media blamed the outbreak mainly on cheese, not just any cheese but all cheese, and most dairy products. Many old and established independent cheese makers were driven out of business, due to their inability to absorb the costs of adopting the measures made mandatory to eradicate the risk of listeria, even if their cheese had never been linked to listeria. Some cheeses have all but disappeared, all because of a scare that once again never materialised.

Salmonella in Eggs

Edwina Currie was a Junior Health Minister for two years, before resigning in 1988 over the controversy over salmonella in eggs. As a knee jerk reaction to the (once again) media hyping of a ‘possible’ scare, the ministry of health announced that all UK eggs were potentially unsafe. The claim, that “most of the egg production in this country, sadly, is now affected with salmonella” sparked outrage among farmers and egg producers, and caused egg sales in the country to rapidly decline.
There is no corroborated evidence that the salmonella bacteria can pass through the shell of an egg, even if the hen is infected. This is another case of government applying the precautionary principle (just in case), which seems to be applied to almost all scares. The UK egg producers should have been suing the newspapers responsible for creating this scare. Any government is put into a difficult situation if the daily headlines are suggesting something is killing people, they have to be seen to respond; hence they almost always adopt the precautionary principle.

Lead in Petrol

Lead was originally added to petrol in the form of tetraethyl lead (TEL), a compound of lead in liquid form originally added to petrol to increase its octane rating. A side effect of adding TEL is that a layer of lead compounds forms on the valve faces of the engine, retarding wear.
Lead poisoning (also known as plumbism, colica Pictonum, saturnism, Devon colic, or painter’s colic) is a medical condition caused by increased levels of the heavy metal lead in the body. Lead interferes with a variety of body processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, and reproductive and nervous systems. It interferes with the development of the nervous system and is therefore particularly toxic to children, causing potentially permanent learning and behaviour disorders. Symptoms include abdominal pain, headache, anaemia, irritability, and in severe cases seizures, coma, and death.
The definitive link between lead in petrol and ill health related to airborne lead is not absolutely proven, but is probably a case where the precautionary principle being applied is a good thing. There are many other highly toxic exhaust gases and compounds, including of course carbon monoxide.
Also remember, lead is actually less toxic than fluoride, which is deliberately added to our drinking water, mouthwashes and toothpaste.
Additionally lead is banned from being added into paints, but once again, unless you actually drink the paint it is not obvious how lead enters your body. Mercury has a gaseous state, lead does not.


There are several types of asbestos, one of which, blue asbestos (crocidolite) is very dangerous to human health. For other types, such as white asbestos (chrysotile), the dangers have not been proven, but due to the name, they have all been declared dangerous. This has led to a very lucrative business for people specialising in asbestos removal.
Asbestos (from Greek asbestinon, meaning “unquenchable” or “inextinguishable”) is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals exploited commercially for their desirable physical properties. They all have in common their asbestiform habit, long, thin fibrous crystals. The inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause serious illnesses, including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma (a formerly rare cancer strongly associated with exposure to amphibole asbestos), and asbestosis (a type of pneumoconiosis). Long exposure to high concentrations of asbestos fibres is more likely to cause health problems, as asbestos exists in the ambient air at low levels, which itself does not cause health problems. The European Union has banned all use of asbestos and extraction, manufacture and processing of asbestos products.
Asbestos became increasingly popular among manufacturers and builders in the late 19th century because of its sound absorption, average tensile strength, and its resistance to heat, electrical and chemical damage. When asbestos is used for its resistance to fire or heat, the fibres are often mixed with cement or woven into fabric or mats. Asbestos was used in some products for its heat resistance, and in the past was used on electric oven and hotplate wiring for its electrical insulation at elevated temperature, and in buildings for its flame-retardant and insulating properties, tensile strength, flexibility, and resistance to chemicals.
Six minerals are defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as “asbestos” including that belonging to the serpentine class chrysotile (white) and those belonging to the amphibole class amosite (brown), crocidolite (blue), tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite. There is an important distinction to be made between serpentine and amphibole asbestos due to differences in their chemical composition and their degree of potency as a health hazard when inhaled. However asbestos and all commercial forms of asbestos (including chrysotile asbestos) are believed to be human carcinogens based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans.

Passive Smoking

Despite apparent evidence linking passive smoking to various health problems, including lung cancer, the link has not been conclusively proved, despite what we are told. Of course for any non-smoker the banning in public places of smoking is welcome, but is it really justified? Smoking cigarettes is clearly bad for the health of most smokers, and yet the sale of cigarettes is legal. If something is clearly bad for health, the labelling certainly says so; why not ban the sale of cigarettes, not just to children, but to all? Could it be that the sale of cigarettes brings in healthy revenue of duty and VAT to the treasury? Could it be that the treatment of smoking related illness is lucrative business for the drug companies? Or is that being cynical? There have been notable examples of people dying of cancer apparently from passive smoking, Roy Castle for instance, but was that definitely the cause?
There is evidence that the data used to prove the link between passive smoking and smoking related illness has been manipulated or suppressed, not unlike with global warming data.
Whatever your views on smoke and smoking, banning in public places is a case of loss of a civil liberty, and raises the question what’s next? It is the inexorable creep of the nanny state.

DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane)

DDT is one of the most well-known synthetic pesticides. It is a chemical with a long, unique, and controversial history. First synthesized in 1874, DDT’s insecticidal properties were not discovered until 1939, and it was used with great success in the second half of World War II to control malaria and typhus among civilians and troops. The Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1948 “for his discovery of the high efficiency of DDT as a contact poison against several arthropods.” After the war, DDT was made available for use as an agricultural insecticide, and soon its production and use skyrocketed.

In 1962, Silent Spring by American biologist Rachel Carson was published. The book catalogued the environmental impacts of the indiscriminate spraying of DDT in the US and questioned the logic of releasing large amounts of chemicals into the environment without fully understanding their effects on ecology or human health. The book suggested that DDT and other pesticides may cause cancer and that their agricultural use was a threat to wildlife, particularly birds. Its publication was one of the signature events in the birth of the environmental movement, and resulted in a large public outcry that eventually led to DDT being banned in the US in 1972.DDT was subsequently banned for agricultural use worldwide under the Stockholm Convention, but its limited use in disease vector control continues to this day and remains controversial.

One thing appears certain and that is since the widespread use of DDT in 3rd world countries, the incidence and mortality from malaria has increased rapidly, DDT is the most effective treatment for controlling malaria mosquitoes ever.

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