You know, in many ways it all comes down to the way we raise our critters for food.
We should realize that the animals might come back to haunt us somehow.
Now it's swine flu. Why not just call it pig flu; do they think swine makes people feel any better? And the pigs surely think they're getting a bad rap, since they got it from chickens or some other fowl.
The recent outbreak of swine flu, fortunately, is a mild strain so that even as it spreads, not many people are dying and therefore aren't panicking. But the bug's not diminishing yet.
By Thursday, the number of the nation's swine flu victims passed 100, and government officials said they would make that eventually enough vaccine for everyone would be produced. They said shots couldn't begin until fall at the earliest.
The outbreak penetrated more than a dozen states.
Despite the media jumping all over the news, the outbreak is minute compared to some in the past. And the story's a break from the guilt-ridden news of torture and the depressing economy, just as pirates were a few weeks ago.
The deadly 1918 Spanish flu virus killed millions, but that was before we had antibiotics and other drugs that could fight the bug. That virus also went from birds to pigs and then to humans, a path that has been considered likely to produce the most dangerous strains.
The government figures a 1918-like pandemic today would infect 90 million people in the U.S., with about 10 million requiring hospitalization. I'm sure we're not ready to deal with that, and presumably we won't have to.
Nearly a century later, it seems there's been little progress in finding out how the pigs get the flu from the birds, and then how it gets to humans, since the experts say it's not transmitted by eating pork chops, bacon or ham.
The Centers for Disease Control says swine influenza is a respiratory disease of pigs. That makes sense; after all, it's called swine flu.
But how does it get to humans? It's not like Mexican farmers are out in their sties sharing hankies with their porkers.
One writer referred to a swine flu's creation myth being staged in the ``fecal mire of an industrial pigsty.'' He may be right.
In recent years, we've had bird flu, mad cow disease, SARS and other strange infections in one place or another.
Back in 1976, about 500 people were infected by swine flu at Fort Dix, N.J. The government reacted with a vaccination program that inoculated 45 million people. It turned out that some of the vaccine was bad, and many people got sicker than they ever would have from the flu.
Another factor we don't hear much about is that pigs getting the flu is not a rare occurrence. Flu outbreaks are common in pig herds, especially in winter, which is probably normal because that's when humans usually get flu viruses.
How many people knew that swine flu is so normal for pigs and has such a high rate of incidence that it annually has a significant economic impact on the swine-meat industry? Like it or not, it has to have something to do with our modern, factory-farm form of meat production.
According to author Mike Davis, writing in The Guardian on Monday, "Animal husbandry in recent decades has been transformed into something that more closely resembles the petrochemical industry than the happy family farm depicted in school readers.''
He calmly points out that back in the 1960s, there were 53 million hogs in the U.S. on more than a million farms; today, 65 million hogs are concentrated in 65,000 facilities.
Davis avoids the word ``farm'' when referring to today's operations.
``This has been a transition from old-fashioned pig pens to vast excremental hells,'' he continues, ``containing tens of thousands of animals with weakened immune systems suffocating in heat and manure while exchanging pathogens at blinding velocity with their fellow inmates.''
And it's not just pigs. As we've seen, our fast-food nation also has similar concentration camps for chickens and cows.
It's like we're setting the stage for the critters to have another "Animal Farm" rebellion.
If this latest bout with swine flu plays out, as expected, without too many fatalities and with mainly a few glorified sneezes, it's not likely anything will change down on the farm.
The only lessons may be in the preparedness of various layers of government _ which may have just discovered their shortcomings if indeed a serious pandemic were to occur.
We must learn to be more humane with our animals, however, or their long-term impact on humans will be more and more animalistic.
Cary Brunswick is managing editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at (607) 432-1000, ext. 217, or firstname.lastname@example.org.