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Community View: Consider health and the seals

BY CECIL HOUGIE, M.D.

As a retired pathologist, I am surprised at the scant attention given to the health hazards posed by the current conditions existing at the Children’s Pool, particularly as it is now established that viruses affecting animals can infect man either directly or by a mutation. I “Googled” the search words “seals” and “influenza” and was presented with 625,000 entries.

One has only to peruse the first page to learn that harbor seals are very susceptible to epidemics of influenza that are often severe and can be fatal. As the Pool is frequently visited by aquatic birds, it is not reassuring to find that both seals and humans are susceptible to influenza viruses of avian origin.

At times, there are close to 200 harbor seals inhabiting the pool, wallowing in their own raw sewage. The polluted condition is such that those responsible would be subject to prosecution if found at a zoo or dog kennel.

What is most disturbing is that it would be difficult to devise a better milieu or environment for the study of mutations of the influenza and other viruses. As human swimmers, seals and birds co-mingle in the Pool, opportunities for the swapping of genes from the different species are provided. This type of evolution is called horizontal gene transfer.

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While the evolution of a dangerous influenza viral mutant in the Pool may be an unlikely event, its occurrence could be catastrophic, with regional and worldwide implications.

Certainly, taking this risk can never be justified. This is not a local matter to be decided by the majority of the electorate or the courts. We already have in place agencies such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that have the expertise to make informed decisions affecting public health.

Cecil Hougie is a La Jolla resident.