That’s not how you get cholera

Look, as a description of the current state (and oh, what a state) of affairs in SA right now, this tweet is pretty accurate.

Fullscreen capture 2016-09-05 104312 AM.bmpHowever, as a description of how you get cholera, it’s wildly inaccurate. That is, unless the carrot in question has been washed in cholera-infested water.
And I wouldn’t put anything past the Gupta family, to be honest.

Cholera is an infectious disease that causes severe watery diarrhoea. It’s spread via the faecal-oral route. That means that the bacterium in question – called Vibrio cholerae – er… “exits” the body of a cholera sufferer and somehow ends up being ingested by another individual. This is often via it getting into the drinking water system through poor hygiene and inadequate water treatment though.
You don’t get it from eating carrots (with the caveat above firmly in place, that is).

And anyway, even if you did cholera from eating carrots, there’s no evidence that donkeys can get cholera. In fact, in their 1996 book “Cholera and the Ecology of Vibrio cholerae“, Drasar and Forrest cite a 1974 study by Sanyal et al. in which 195 animals (including donkeys), living in a cholera endemic area in India were routinely tested for the bacterium over a period of a year. Pathogenic V.cholerae was only isolated from 3 cows, 2 dogs and 2 chickens. (NB – no donkeys).

And then, even if the donkey did eat the carrot and you could get cholera from carrots, and even the donkey could get cholera, it’s a big stretch to suggest that the entire nation would then become infected with cholera, just because a donkey got it from a poisinous [sic] carrot. Just what was this donkey doing? How on earth would it successfully have infected 55 million people? That’s biological warfare on a massive scale. I’m not sure anyone could carry that out, let alone a lone donkey, who, lest we forget, is allegedly rather unwell.

So, no. As an accurate account of the source of a cholera infection and how it might be spread, this tweet is rubbish.
As a metaphor of what Jacob Zuma and his friends have done to South Africa though – pretty good.

The Ridiculously Sensitive Water Buffalo Meat Issue

In more ways than one.

Look, we’re not going to die just by eating water buffalo, goat or donkey. We might die because the meat processing plants have been breaching other regulations that we didn’t know they were either though.
But since we haven’t died yet (and here, I’m speaking for myself), it seems unlikely that that’s actually the case.

So let’s not get carried away here.

But, as long time reader, first time emailer Richard Atkinson pointed out when sending me the Stellenbosch paper – that’s not the only ridiculously sensitive problem here:

They use mtDNA PCR for species typing of the samples. My biggest criticism is how ridiculously sensitive that technique is. They would be picking up contamination from an animal that was slaughtered in the same area, or processed with the same equipment. This would obviously be a problem if found in Halaal/Kosher meat, but they never specifically state that they found contamination in those meats, which is something I’m sure they would have harped on about at length if they had to help drive the PR machine.

It’s a very reasonable point, and furthermore, there’s no mention of any controls on the methods they used (which would have raised alarm bells and prevented Richard’s concerns).
Not to go into too much detail, but mtDNA PCR is a method of analysis which could detect even the tiniest amount of DNA and present it as a possibly significant result. Which is a good thing, because there rightly shouldn’t be any “foreign” DNA in your “100% beef” mince, so the fact even a minute amount of “foreign” DNA can be detected makes the test sensitive. Sensitivity is good.
However, given that abattoirs generally don’t work solely with one species of meat, there’s likely to be a lot of DNA floating around in the areas in which our meat is processed, and it’s entirely likely that some of it may have found its way into “other meat”.
And here, over-sensitivity is bad.

So from that point of view, maybe we shouldn’t be reading too much into the results of this study. Except to perhaps question the donkey (not literally, because he’s dead and he couldn’t talk he was alive). While beef, pork, chicken and even goat and water buffalo are recognised foodstuffs in SA; donkey isn’t. So Eeyore – described in the paper as “undeclared donkey” – shouldn’t be in there:

Perhaps of greatest concern from a regulatory, health and ethical standpoint was the detection of undeclared donkey (E. asinus) in one meat sample sold in KZN as ‘quality sausage’, for which the only animal species declared was beef. Since donkey is not a species commercially processed for human consumption in South Africa, there is a high probability that this indicates a further case of intentional substitution for economic gain.

Although to be fair to the food labellers, it does appear that they never stated that the ‘quality sausage’ was good quality sausage.