In an alarming development, saiga antelope died in droves this calving season. Scientists are trying to figure out why.
60,000 Antelope Died in Four Days and No One Knows Why - NBC News: "Within four days, the entire herd — 60,000 saiga — had died. As veterinarians and conservationists tried to stem the die-off, they also got word of similar population crashes in other herds across Kazakhstan. "The saiga bears a peculiar snout resembling an elephant's trunk. Apparently this adaptation helps filter dust.
As mentioned, the bacteria suspected here are common ones that typically do little harm. The genus Pasteurella contains at least ten members, all parasites of animals. Most of them occasionally pass to people, typically through the bites of cats and other pets. When introduced in this way, they can become dangerous. The symptoms include swelling and bleeding at the site of the bite, joint pain, and, in more severe cases, infection of the respiratory system and the small intestine, meningitis, and blood poisoning. But these complications are uncommon; the infection is usually a minor affair. Animals that can transmit an infection to people,besides cats and dogs, include rodents, rabbits, pigs, Tasmanian devils, fleas, and ticks.
Clostridium is a genus of bacteria containing many species and types dangerous to people. They generally live in soil and feces. One route of transmission to people includes the feces of animals and the presence of an open wound. This is not so revolting as it may sound. For example, a gardener may take an infection because cats long ago defecated in her garden; the bacteria linger in the soil. Farm workers encounter similar risks. Another path to danger for people is contamination of foods derived from animals. The effects of the various species are surprisingly diverse:
- Botulism, a kind of food poisoning caused by the neurotoxins the bacteria make. The symptoms include gastric unpleasantness, disturbed vision, and even death.
- Gas gangrene, which occurs after the bacteria infect wounds. The results can include loss of limbs and death.
- Blackleg (a.k.a. symptomatic anthrax, though it is not true anthrax), a disease of goats, sheep, and cattle which attacks the lungs and causes nodules to develop under the hide. It can afflict people who work with livestock.
- Pigbel (a.k.a. enteritisnecroticans), an infection contracted from pigs that causes sections of the small intestine to die. It is often fatal.
- Pseudomembranous enterocolitis, in which antibiotics ruin the balance of the tiny lives in the human gut. The result is that some microbes, normally harmless, gain ascendancy, causing ulcerations, hideous diarrhea, and plaques that slough into the feces and emerge in the stool as bits of membrane-like growth. One of the offenders is a species of Clostridium.
- Tetanus (a.k.a. lockjaw), a notorious disease sometimes called the most painful death a human being can know. The species responsible often resides in the guts of horses and humans, doing no damage. It becomes dangerous when it enters the body through a wound. The symptoms include spasms of the muscles—not just the skeletal muscles, but those that control breathing. The victim’s spine may bend into positions impossible in a healthy person.