You're probably thinking, no Braden, haven't we had enough of this rampant pestilence. It is keeping us at home, preventing us from being with our loved ones and ridiculing people in our minds when we see them wearing their masks incorrectly or not at all. Yes, it's been a long, trying year and it all started apparently with some guy in Asia having a craving to eat bat for lunch. All jokes aside though, it is essential to find a vaccine to stop the spread, and along with this, it is even more important to know how and what caused the pandemic in the first place to prevent future epidemics. I recently started reading a book called THE EXTINCTION MARKET by Vanda Felbab-Brown (2017). In literally the first paragraph of the text written:- "Diseases linked to wildlife trafficking and consumption of wild animals have included SARS and Ebola. Wildlife trafficking can trigger global pandemics", just let that sink in for a moment or two.
Lockdown be like...
I've been going through the available scientific literature published so far, along with news articles. They all point towards wet markets and wildlife markets. Wet markets are very similar to the westernized farmer's markets in that they sell fruit and veg, fish, meat and so on. The difference is that most of the animals are alive, and customers can choose which animal they like, which will then be killed in front of them. After this, the area is hosed down and cleaned, and this is where the name wet market originates. Most markets around towns and cities in Asia are regulated and clean, and since swine flu broke out in 2009, pigs are banned from these markets. However, this is not certain for the wet markets in some rural areas. Wet markets stray away from conventional methods and start selling wildlife on the side as well, and this is a cause for concern.
A brief look into wet markets.
Another type of market is wildlife markets which purely deal with wild-caught animals. This is where the pawpaw hits the fan. Mostly fueled by illegal wildlife and pet trade, these markets are cramped, crowded, dirty. Animals from parrots, civets, pangolins, bats and monkeys are stacked on top of each other or side by side in an overcrowded area. When animals are stressed for long periods, their immune system weakens. Some animals like bats, for instance, shed disease when stressed. This allows for an array of diseases and viruses to be concocted in a specific area. Studies have shown that not only do bats harbour many infections but it has been found that the strand of coronavirus circulating the world as you read this, is 96% similar to a strand found in bats. Although this information provides a captivating indication, it does not prove that this particular species of bat contributed to or assisted in the spread of COVID‐19. In other words, this doesn't mean you need to have a personal vendetta against bats from now on. These and other animals are being put into unnatural circumstances, and in a naturally healthy, functioning ecosystem, these viruses would have a much harder time crossing the species barrier.
Animals and viruses of the past
Relatively recent epidemics such as Ebola, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), bird flu, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and swine flu are all examples of diseases that have originated through the transfer of disease to humans from animals. For example, the highly pathogenic Asian avian influenza A (H5N1) virus or bird flu is highly contagious, and it occurs when humans come into direct or close contact with infected or already diseased poultry. Therefore, the significant risk factors for infection include visiting or mixing animals in live poultry markets.
Some professionals have suggested bats, and the spread occurred through other animals such as civet cats. During its initial outbreak, SARS resulted in more than 8,000 cases in over 25 countries. Similar to SARS, MERS (camel flu) began as the result of a zoonotic virus in Saudi Arabia. Even though different practices other than wet markets or animal reservoirs led to the outbreak of MERS, the method of transfer is the same; animal to human. These viruses don't hang in the air waiting for someone to breathe it in, they are created and found in specific animal species when those animal species are put under pressure and stress, ultimately opening the flood gates to further pandemics.
Bats have been linked to carry and shed viruses
Another animal that has been branded with spreading Covid-19 is the pangolin. This scaly mammal may I remind you is the most trafficked animal in the world. The prospect of this animal carrying the disease got conservationists very excited, and they hoped that this would possibly curb the decline of the species and deter people wanting to purchase it for its scales and meat. From the available research I read (which is pretty minimal at the moment) it seems that pangolins in the wild do not carry any virus that can be transferred to humans. However, pangolins that were rescued or confiscated from dealers after an unknown amount of time did have traces of viruses that could potentially spread to humans. This confirms that when animals are kept in close contact with each other, in stressful conditions, it can become a health risk to other animals and ultimately people.
More research needs to be done understand pangolins and if they can infect humans with viruses.
So now what
Well, from what I've read, the coronavirus did come from animals; however, they didn't willingly do this naturally or by themselves. Interference of human beings by putting these animals in confined spaces like small cages, in a congested manner is where the problem lies. So why don't we ban all these wet and wildlife markets? Many people rely on these markets, not only for food but as a source of income, bringing the community together as well. The majority of these markets are well run and regulated, except for a select few. China and its neighbouring countries need to look at their laws, change and adjust these laws to make them more animal welfare-based and sustainable.
It will take time to get a more definite answer about what specifically caused Covid-19, the virus that put the world on pause.
The new norm for a while.
Aguirre, A. A., Catherina, R., Frye, H., & Shelley, L. (2020). Illicit Wildlife Trade, Wet Markets, and COVID-19: Preventing Future Pandemics. World Medical and Health Policy, 12(3), 256–265. https://doi.org/10.1002/wmh3.348
Borzée, A., McNeely, J., Magellan, K., Miller, J. R. B., Porter, L., Dutta, T., … Zhang, L. (2020). COVID-19 Highlights the Need for More Effective Wildlife Trade Legislation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, xx(xx), 2018–2021. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2020.10.001
Lee, J., Hughes, T., Lee, M.-H., Field, H., Rovie-Ryan, J. J., Sitam, F. T., … Daszak, P. (2020). No evidence of coronaviruses or other potentially zoonotic viruses in Sunda pangolins ( Manis javanica ) entering the wildlife trade via Malaysia. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.06.19.158717
McNamara, J., Robinson, E. J. Z., Abernethy, K., Midoko Iponga, D., Sackey, H. N. K., Wright, J. H., & Milner-Gulland, E. (2020). COVID-19, Systemic Crisis, and Possible Implications for the Wild Meat Trade in Sub-Saharan Africa. Environmental and Resource Economics, 76(4), 1045–1066. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10640-020-00474-5
Petrikova, I., Cole, J., & Farlow, A. (2020). COVID-19, wet markets, and planetary health. The Lancet Planetary Health, 4(6), e213–e214. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(20)30122-4
Roe, D., Dickman, A., Kock, R., Milner-gulland, E. J., Rihoy, E., & Sas-rolfes, M. (2020). Since January 2020 Elsevier has created a COVID-19 resource centre with free information in English and Mandarin on the novel coronavirus COVID- 19 . The COVID-19 resource centre is hosted on Elsevier Connect , the company ’ s public news and information website . Elsevier hereby grants permission to make all its COVID-19-related research that is available on the COVID-19 resource centre - including this research content - immediately available in PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories , such as the WHO COVID database with rights for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source . These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 resource centre remains active . Beyond banning wildlife trade : COVID-19 , conservation and development. (January).