By Dr H S Prayag & Meera Bhardwaj
The Wuhan novel-Coronavirus (n-CoV2o19), which made its deadly entry early this year and spread across the world, is attributed to the Chinese fetish for eating all kinds of wildlife. Even as the world stares at the virus spread, the genetic sequence of this new strain points to the Wuhan seafood markets. These unhygienic and dirty fish markets also sell a variety of wildlife ranging from fruit bats to snakes, including live animals.
Apart from this, there are many other speculations making rounds on the social media that the virus is alleged to have leaked from a lab working on various kinds of questionable viruses with the Chinese not forthcoming with facts time and again.
Presently, the World Health Organization has declared a global health emergency as many countries are not in a ‘position’ to respond to the spread of this deadly contagion. Further, as of now, no one can predict or know the extent of spread of this virus or its impact.
Till date, the virus life cycle, evolution, its transmission and other parameters are yet to be scientifically deduced.
NOW WHAT ARE CORONAVIRUSES?
Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that are common among animals. In rare cases, they are what scientists call Zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted from animals to humans.
Human coronaviruses can make people sick – ranging from mild to moderate upper respiratory tract sickness which is very similar to common cold. But animal coronaviruses like SARS and MERS are deadly and cause severe illnesses.
How did the coronavirus jump from bats to snakes to humans?
Experts claim this deadly coronavirus shares a common ancestry with a virus found only in fruit bats. Since snakes commonly feed on bats in the wild, they were found to be susceptible to the same kind of coronavirus.
With snakes being commonly sold in seafood markets of Wuhan – this is where the virus originated. Fruit bats and snakes are a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. So the virus may have spread either from eating fruit bat soups or from cutting snakes and eating them or even touching them during butchery operations in these markets.
WHO further confirms that all cases in China and other countries are linked to WUHAN either with a history of travel from here or due to close contact with a traveler from Wuhan.
CHINESE ADDICTION TO WILDLIFE MEAT
After SARS and MERS, once again, the world is witnessing the spread of another zoonotic disease from animal to man and all because the Chinese are addicted to consumption of wildlife meat. So, wildlife veterinarians have called for a total ban on consumption of wildlife meat in view of the recurrence of zoonotic diseases in man.
Although China has temporarily banned trading of wildlife meat as the novel virus has spread from eating of fruit bats or snakes or birds, it is difficult to deduce the source with hardly any scientific studies. As per WHO, the disease has been identified as originating from Wuhan, China. The first case of this deadly disease was identified in December – with 12 cases and linked to a seafood market in Wuhan.
Unfortunately it took the Chinese authorities almost a month to close this seafood market for environmental sanitation and disinfection on January 1. It was only on January 8, the virus was traced to an unhygienic seafood market in Wuhan.
Now how vulnerable are humans and on a smaller scale, how many other zoonotic disease have we seen in the world and India?
Ebola, measles, and monkey pox are just a few of the infectious diseases that caused severe outbreaks in 2018 across the world. “Although China has taken extraordinary measures we don’t know what sort of a damage this virus could do if it were to spread in a country with a weaker health system. We must act now to help countries prepare for that possibility. Therefore, a public health emergency of global concern has been declared over its outbreak,” said Dr Tedros from WHO.
It was earlier known as Anthropozoonotic disease, however, due to indiscriminate usage and confusion, experts decided to call it as Zoonotic disease. According to WHO, zoonotic diseases are transmitted between animals and humans. In man, the new virus has shown a capacity to transmit from human to human.
Most common signs include fever, cough, and shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia and also fatalities. Presently, there is no specific treatment or vaccine available for this disease.
There are many zoonotic diseases that have been reported in Karnataka and India. Some 22 Zoonotic diseases that have been reported include rabies, JE, kyasanur forest disease (kFD), anthrax, brucellosis, plague, TB, Leptospirosis, Salmonellosis etc. With respect to utilization of wild meat legally – only harvest of wild fish is permitted but illegal consumption of wildlife meat continues unabated.
CALL FOR BAN ON WILDLIFE MEAT
Wildlife experts say there should be a complete ban on consumption of wildlife meat. Under Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 hunting and consumption of wildlife is banned. Zoonotic diseases have occurred in man due to indiscriminate hunting/consumption of wildlife meat and in the last few decades, the spread of such diseases has taken a turn for the worse.
The Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) 1972 prohibits the hunting and utilization of wild animals (except by indigenous communities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and North-eastern states) and does not make any distinction based on social status. However, the prevailing situation is that hunting, although prohibited, exists across India among indigenous and non-indigenous communities for local meat consumption and trade.
Also organized meat gangs hunt wildlife around many protected areas in the India and sell this meat in towns and cities without consumers being aware of the consequences, say wildlife conservationists.
One should realize, it is not just earth which is in danger but human beings too are vulnerable due to various acts of omission and commission. The fear of extinction will probably bring us together, not ‘love’ or feeling of brotherhood. “We are like a spider web and what happens in one part of globe does affect all across due to travel and tourism and trade. We are vulnerable because of movement of affected individuals. Already, one case of corona virus in Kerala has been reported. If necessary steps are not taken, it may spread to other states and then it will become unmanageable.”
TIMELINE of 2019-nCoV
31 Dec 2019 – China alerts WHO about a spate of pneumonia-like cases in Wuhan
1 Jan 2020 – Seafood Wuhan market, the epi-centre of the outbreak is closed
9 Jan 2020 – WHO says the infection, is caused by a new type of coronavirus
10 Jan 2020 – China shares the genetic code of the new virus
11 Jan 2020 – Scientists start working on a vaccine and the first death confirmed
13 Jan 2020 – Virus spreads abroad for the first time, with a case in Thailand
MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome ( 2o12)
Spread from Saudi Arabia to 27 countries
SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (2oo3)
Spread from China to 30 Countries
[[ First author is Chief Veterinary Officer & Assistant Professor Karnataka Veterinary Animal and Fisheries Sciences University [KVAFSU] Bengaluru and second author is Green Minute Editor . ]]