…he had confessed to repeated intercourse with sheep on a recent visit to the family farm; perhaps that was how he had contracted the mysterious microbe.
This incident sounds bizarrely one-of-a-kind and of no possible broader significance. In fact, it illustrates an enormous subject of great importance: human diseases of animal origin. Very few of us love sheep in the carnal sense that this patient did. But most of us platonically love our pet animals such as our dogs and cats. As a society, we certainly appear to have an inordinate fondness for sheep and other livestock, to judge from the vast numbers of them that we keep. For example, at the time of a recent census, Australia’s 17,085,400 people thought so highly of sheep that they kept 161,600,000 of them.
Some of us adults, and even more of our children, pick up infectious diseases from our pets. Usually they remain no more than a nuisance, but a few have evolved into something far more serious… [Guns, Gems, and Steel. Chapter 11: Lethal Gift of Livestock. Page 196. Jared Diamond. 1999]
Happy Australia Day!