Pandemics start by eating animals

Covid 19 poster

Diseases that come to humans from animals are called zoonoses. The current corona virus epidemic, as well as the Flu, Ebola and other diseases, all started by eating animals, thus exposing humans to viruses that emerge from animals. Once that happens, the virus can spread from person to person, as well as from animals, and a pandemic can start.

In Wuhan, China, the alarmingly contagious virus currently spreading around the world, has been identified as a zoonotic coronavirus, similar to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus, and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus. This marks the third re-emergence this century of a zoonotic coronavirus.

Public health officials suspect that the current outbreak may have originated at a live-animal market in Wuhan. Selling and eating wild animals, disrupting ecosystems, and destroying forests all contribute to the risks of disease-causing viruses spreading into human populations.

These markets serve as a playground for the emergence of mutating and combining animal viruses, especially corona viruses, known for quick mutation rates. It is not difficult to understand why we increasingly see the emergence of zoonotic viruses.

Chinese Pangolin

Chinese pangolin

In this case bats, along with armadillo-like animals known as pangolins, are suspected of producing the COVID-19 virus. Pangolins are highly prized in traditional Chinese medicine, so even though it’s illegal to trade them, that doesn’t stop the trade. Apparently, their meat is also something a lot of people are interested in too. Chinese wet markets are where many wild animals, such as bats and pangolins, were sold.

According to zoologist Juliet Gellatley, “Wet markets are called ‘wet’ because animals are often slaughtered in front of customers. They are repulsive places filled with caged, frightened [animals] – many captured illegally in the wild. Animals are skinned sending a cocktail of microorganisms into the air. The dreadful, cramped conditions and mix of wild and domestic terrified creatures, alongside the throngs of people choosing their victims is an epidemic in the making.”

Ken Stedman, a biology professor at Portland State University, and an expert on viruses and the spread of viruses, says, “all of these markets in China are incredibly packed, everything’s very, very, close together, all the animals are packed, cages stacked on top of each other. So it could be some kind of fecal matter or aerosol droplets from the animals, then spread to people in the market and then from there, spread to other people.”

Prof Diana Bell of the University of East Anglia explains that we could prevent another “perfect storm” such as the one we’re currently experiencing.  “We are bringing together animals from different countries, different habitats, different lifestyles – in terms of aquatic animals, arboreal animals and so on – and mixing them together and it’s a kind of melting pot – and we’ve got to stop doing it.”

The World Health Organization has just classified the corona virus as a pandemic. The virus is spreading very rapidly around the world. Well over 100,000 people have become sick and thousands have died. In Italy the entire country is lock down. Japan closed every school in the country, affecting 13 million children. Many states in the US have now declared a state of emergency, including of course, Washington, one of the first states where the virus emerged.

Where will it all end, we ask? And was eating those animals worth all the suffering, death and societal disruption? While the Chinese government has, for the time being, suspended wet markets, they could resume once the current epidemic is under control, so other similar viruses could emerge.

Not consuming meat, worldwide, could prevent the problem from recurring. When people stop eating meat, people will stop selling it, and the risk of such viruses emerging will be reduced. Follow a plant-based diet. No cruelty and no zoonotic diseases. No brainer!