COVID-19 is what's known as a "zoonotic disease".
This means a pathogen such as a bacterium, virus or parasite has jumped from an animal to a human.
Newcastle's Phil Mahoney had to deal with zoonotic infections back in the 1970s, when he was a union man at the Newcastle meatworks.
"The key issue with zoonotic infections back in the '70s was a lack of awareness among meat workers and the general community," Phil recalled.
"Most people didn't realise that you could catch a virus from an animal just from touching it and then ingesting food without proper hand washing."
Phil worked at the meatworks from 1964 to 1979 as a labourer and first-aid attendant.
"I decided to undertake further study at Tighes Hill TAFE to become a Commonwealth meat inspector in the mid '70s.
"It was during that study that I learned about zoonotic infections and the symptoms to look out for, which include lethargy, cold and flu-like symptoms, sweating and high temperature.
"I also discovered that simple precautions such as wearing a mask and thoroughly washing hands after touching animals could prevent zoonotic infections. However, the young workers at the Newcastle abattoirs were not taught these precautions."
Not long after his TAFE studies, Phil started noticing a lot of his younger co-workers at the abattoirs "going off work for months at a time with the signs of a zoonotic infection".
"They had all the symptoms but when they became too unwell to come to work and had to go to a GP to get a medical certificate, the GP would just write that they had a virus," he said.
"As abattoir workers only got eight days a year sick leave at the time, some workers would be off for many months without pay. GPs were largely unaware of zoonotic infections at the time."
Phil felt sorry for these workers.
"They never had any personal hygiene education from the abattoir's management. That it is why so many got infected," he said.
"One of the most common ways to get a zoonotic infection is through poor hand washing and then eating food with unclean hands. It was just fortunate that during my time studying to become a meat inspector, part of the course was studying zoonotic infections - so I knew what to look for."
Phil can still picture the young workers in his mind now, "sitting there at the abattoirs with their heads in their hands looking like death warmed up".
"One of them even said that they felt like their brain was going to explode. Management didn't seem to be doing anything about the problem."
Phil didn't think it was a cover up, more a "lack of training and education about zoonotic infections".
"I was a union delegate for the younger workers, so I contacted the Newcastle Herald's Cheryl McGregor as I liked her journalism work on community and social justice issues.
"Cheryl invited me to come into the Herald for a meeting. I also invited a union rep named Roy Hall and an employee who had lost a lot of time off work through a suspected zoonotic infection. Cheryl was brilliant and wrote a great full-page story in the Herald.
"Through Cheryl and the union's great work, we got it regulated through NSW Health that all meatworks employees presenting to a GP with a high temperature and flu-like symptoms had to be blood tested and sent to NSW Pathology in Sydney."
If the blood test showed signs of a zoonotic infection, workers were to be paid their full wages for all their time off work, rather than the previous system of having to use their eight days' sick leave and then receiving no income.
"It was a big win for the frontline workers."
Phil said many of his co-workers who became sick "had all three of the common zoonotic infections at once - Q-Fever, brucellosis and leptospirosis".
Coincidentally, Hunter New England Health warned about leptospirosis infections in the Newcastle Herald on Thursday because of an increase in mice and rats due to wet weather.
Phil was sad to see a meat worker died from Q-fever in south-west Sydney in 2015.
"It could have been prevented with hand hygiene training and there is even a vaccine now. However, there was mandatory testing from NSW Pathology, which helped identify the cluster - so our efforts in the '70s did at least help identify the issue and it wasn't just written off as a common flu or virus."
Jets boss Lawrie McKinna has shown off his new face mask on Twitter.
The Jets-themed mask would have gotten our full attention, if not for the picture in the background.
"Decent body in the picture behind me," Lawrie quipped.
Anthony Barlow responded to the photo, saying "Isn't that Mr McT from the Scottish version of The A-Team?".
Lawrie said the masks were available at the Jets shop on King Street in Newcastle.
They cost $11.95 each or $50 for six.
To pinch a phrase from Mr T, we pity the fool who doesn't wear a mask when the virus is on the loose.
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