500 words – science, anyone?

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The reported incidence of Crohn’s disease in Canterbury, New Zealand has doubled over the past decade, crowning the region with the highest reported incidence globally. Scientists around the world believe environmental factors are contributing to this disconcerting rise. In this investigation, we present the research on a disease found primarily in dairy cattle called Johne’s disease, which has the same symptoms as Crohn’s disease and is recognised on over half of all dairy farms in New Zealand. If the MAP bacteria which causes the immune responses in dairy cattle is tested and found in our local drinking water supplies, our air and our dairy products, we could be facing a public health issue of massive proportions.

OMG! Humans have a disease called Crohn’s disease that’s quite a lot like something called Johne’s disease! It even sounds the same, which obviously means it’s caused by the same thing! It’s totally like the time I got a nuclear hangover from drinking Manhattans. And it might be in our drinking water? Our dirty, dirty water? Oh God, I’m totally only drinking Coke Zero from now on! There’s public health crisis of massive proportions looming!

Thank God for plucky journalists who’re willing to lay out the circumstantial case for a public health epidemic.

For listeners at home, here’s the article in a nutshell;

– MAP bacteria causes Crohn’s disease.

– MAP is spread to humans by cow shit in the water. It is virtually un-killable.

– The increasing rate of Crohn’s in Canterbury is a direct result of the dairy conversions of the last two decades.

MAP is causing the increasing rates of Crohn’s disease in Canterbury because of dirty dairying!

And now for a spoonful of Mum’s Anti-Hysteria Elixir…..

There’s nothing new about the link between MAP bacteria and Crohn’s disease. Around 30-50% of cases of Crohn’s are likely due to MAP infection.

The incidence of Crohn’s has doubled in Canterbury in the last decade, but this is in line with the rest of New Zealand. New Zealand’s rate is on a par with many other western countries.

So why single out Canterbury? Presumably because of the initial study in 2006 that showed that Canterbury’s rate had experienced a rather rapid increase (bringing it into line with other western nations). Perhaps something happened in Canterbury leading up to 2006 that caused this increase? Perhaps it was coming off a low base?

Of course, the article is quick to suggest an answer;

A 2008 Canterbury study found that intensive dairy farming and the use of border-strip irrigation increased the concentrations of E-Coli and Campylobacter in nearby groundwater, impacting drinking water supplies. Large scale conversion and intensification of agricultural land in Canterbury is clearly linked to decreases in water quality and the resulting increase in waterborne diseases. The result is that in 2015 alone, E-Coli was detected in Christchurch’s untreated water supply 14 times, raising debate on whether the supply should now be treated.

The water got heaps dirtier! If there’s more MAP in the water, there’s more Crohn’s disease! Right? I mean, JOIN THE DOTS sheeple!

Here’s the thing. MAP is waterborne, but it’s also airborne, through dust especially. It’s in milk. And cheese too. Mmmm cheese…..

It should therefore come as no surprise that the rates of MAP infection are rising all over the world. As dairying intensifies, so does MAP. This is why New Zealand’s rate has doubled in the last ten years. So has everyone else’s.

So yeah, more cows, more intensive dairying causes an increase in MAP bacteria. There are more cows in Canterbury, and therefore more MAP. But to suggest that water is its primary vector is disingenuous – it’s in the air, the food and definitely Cats that Make You LOL.

In fact, so many humans are infected with MAP a better question might be; Why do only some people acquire Crohn’s disease and others don’t?

In other words, why are some people’s digestive tracts able to cope with MAP infection while others are not? (It also doesn’t answer why people without MAP develop Crohn’s, which is surely something Crohn’s sufferers would like to know).

This is what’s known as a multi-factorial clusterfuck. It’s hard to isolate causative factors. And what about the rate of C-sections? Or the widespread use of antibiotics?

It’s unclear why the rates of Crohn’s were high (for NZ) in Canterbury in 2006. Maybe Cantabrians ate more cheese? Maybe the increasing numbers of cows on the plains caused an increase in airborne MAP? Maybe there’s another as yet undiscovered factor at work, perhaps excessive exposure to unflued gas heaters or higher than average ingestion of that caramel popcorn from Countdown on Moorhouse Ave oh how you betrayed me you dirty sticky balls of blissbitch?

Where was I?

Yes. The article does talk about these other methods of transmission, but the focus is clearly on water. Dear reader, the message is clear; Dirty water = Crohn’s disease.

Let’s consider something that wasn’t in the article; Farmers and their families seem to have some kind of immunity to MAP. This is likely due to exposure of extracellular forms of the bacteria, in other words, cow shit. Given the shit-to-water ratio of water in the rest of NZ, perhaps we might argue that the reason Cantabrians have such high rates of MAP is lower rates of immunity amongst the population due to lack of exposure to cow shit as children.

Stand by for the next winning public health campaign;

Come on in, kids, the water’s wade-able! 

Or perhaps; You’re Soaking In It!

I’m all for fanning the hysteria over New Zealand’s appalling water quality. It’s a fucking travesty, but as someone who lobbied ECAN hard in the early 2000s, I can tell you, they came by it honestly. We all knew it was a matter of a few years before Christchurch’s artesian drinking water was gone for good.

No-one gave a rat’s clasper about it then, but it’s heartening that people seem interested now (about 20 years too late).

I often read articles from Wake Up NZ – they do a good, and important job. But cherry picking information to make a case that is at best wobbly and at worst misrepresentative of the data just exposes a weak flank. New Zealand’s water quality is a big enough story without resorting to this kind of ‘investigative’ journalism.



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