Ecology, Immunity, and Bird Flu

November 5, 2005 Updated: August 21, 2015

The Center For Disease Control (CDC) reports that “[the] H5N1 virus circulates among birds worldwide, is very contagious among birds and can be deadly…In 1997…the first case of spread from a bird to a human was seen during an outbreak of bird flu in poultry in Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region. The virus caused severe respiratory illness in 18 people, 6 of whom died. Since that time, there have been other cases of H5N1 infection among humans. Recent human cases of H5N1 infection that have occurred in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam have coincided with large H5N1 outbreaks in poultry.” With currently no commercially available vaccine to protect humans against the H5N1, the looming threat of a bird-flu pandemic spreads over the globe. Many wonder what conditions could have lead to such a catastrophe.

According to immunologist and molecular biologist, Dr. Lili Feng, the abysmal state of China’s industrial environment is, in effect, poisoning the world. “…China has 16 of the world’s 20 most-polluted cities. Bad air from its industries and coal-fired power plants pollutes not only China but also the entire planet. An estimated 2,000,000 Chinese citizens die each year from diseases related to air pollution. According to State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) of China, there are at least 370 million of people who cannot obtain clean drinking water. It was estimated that logging in China has led to the deforestation of more than 95% of the primary forests. According to Xinhuanet, over-mining has hollowed out one seventh of land in China&#039s coal rich Shanxi Province and deprived nearly 400,000 people of their land, shelter or jobs.”

Combining the perspectives of ecology, environment and immunology, Dr. Feng will lecture on the bird flu phenomenon at Northwestern University on Saturday, November 10th. “China ‘s economic growth over the past two decades has dramatically depleted the country’s natural resources and produced irreversible skyrocketing rates of pollution,” she writes. Dr. Feng describes how industry in China, that has gone largely unregulated, has lead to “significant public health problems, including degradation-related infectious disease outbreaks and pandemic bird flu threats.”

After obtaining her MD in 1984, Dr. Feng worked at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA as Assistant Professor from 1994 to 2000, focusing on immune diseases and inflammation. Currently, she is an Associate Professor at Baylor College of Medicine-Nephrology at Houston, TX. Dr. Feng has been awarded five research grants from NIH— including one on the “Molecular Mechanism of Acupuncture” as well as five grants from pharmaceutical companies.

In addition to her dozens of articles published in peer-reviewed journals, Dr. Feng’s thoughtful insight on the impact of ecology on immunity has earned her invitations to speak at the United Nations and around the world.

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