On February 11, 2001, an enormous cloud of dust whipped out of the Sahara Desert and moved north across the Atlantic, reaching the U.K. two days later. A few days afterward, counties across the island began reporting simultaneous outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, a viral sickness of livestock (sometimes confused with mad cow disease). For Eugene Shinn, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in St. Petersburg, Fla., that coincidence suggested an obvious link.
The idea that large-scale disease outbreaks could be caused by dust clouds from other continents has been floating around for years. But it seemed far-fetched. In the U.S. government, "no one wanted to listen to me," Shinn remembers about his proposal that something as amorphous and uncontrollable as a dust cloud could bring the disease to America.
This article was originally published with the title Disease Dustup.