Coronaviruses, including the latest COVID-19, are zoonotic diseases. What does it mean? It means that they are transmitted between animals and people. We already know that the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome was transmitted from civet cats to humans. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome passed from dromedary camels to humans.
What are Zoonotic Diseases?
Zoonotic diseases are caused by harmful germs like viruses, bacterial, parasites, and fungi. These germs can cause many different types of illnesses in people and animals, ranging from mild to serious illness and even death. Animals can sometimes appear healthy even when they are carrying germs that can make people sick, depending on the zoonotic disease. COVID-19’s original host was almost certainly a bat, as was the case with Ebola, SARS, MERS and lesser-known viruses such as Nipah and Marburg. HIV migrated to humans more than a century ago from a chimpanzee. Influenza A has jumped from wild birds to pigs to people. Rodents spread Lassa fever in West Africa.
According to the WHO, “as a general rule, the consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided,”. Similarly, proper care must be taken to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.
WHO has warned that raw meat, raw milk or raw animal organs should be handled with care to avoid cross-contamination.
Frontiers 2016 Report on Emerging Issues of Environment Concern
UNEP’s Frontiers 2016 Report on Emerging Issues of Environment Concern shows zoonoses threaten economic development, animal and human well-being, and ecosystem integrity. In the past few years, several emerging zoonotic diseases made world headlines as they caused, or threatened to cause, major pandemics. These include Ebola, bird flu, Rift Valley fever, West Nile virus and Zika virus disease.
According to the report, in the last two decades, emerging diseases have had direct costs of more than US$100 billion, with that figure jumping to several trillion dollars if the outbreaks had become human pandemics.
Zoonotic Diseases: Are Animals the Problems?
No, said experts. Many zoonotic diseases arise because of the ways in which humans treat animals. The “wet” markets of China are a prime example. They are the likely source not only of Covid-19 but also of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and some outbreaks of avian influenza, for example. (Another possible source of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 may be one of the many mixed wildlife-livestock farms in China, but humans are responsible for those, too.)
Wild animals have always had viruses coursing through their bodies. But a global wildlife trade worth billions of dollars, agricultural intensification, deforestation and urbanization are bringing people closer to animals, giving their viruses more of what they need to infect us: opportunity.
Most fail. Some succeed on small scales. Very few, like SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus, triumph, aided by a supremely interconnected human population that can transport a pathogen around the world on a jet in mere hours.
Coronavirus Pandemic must be taken as a Deadly Warning
- In Africa, dwindling populations of large mammals mean game is increasingly from smaller species, including rodents and bats.
- The international trade in exotic pets such as reptiles and fish is also a concern.
- Biggest concern is the fact that animals are rarely tested for pathogens that could sicken humans.
- Humans increasingly share space with wildlife and alter it in perilous ways.
- Scientists point to the 1998 emergence in Malaysia of Nipah virus, which has killed hundreds of people in several outbreaks in Asia, as a vivid example of spillover fueled by environmental change and agricultural intensification.
- Animals have an important role to play in maintaining the ecosystem. Animals have to be seen as partners not enemies of humankind.
- Animals health and habitats should be protected to prevent next epidemic.
- As Earth’s human population hurtles toward 8 billion, no one thinks human-animal interaction is going to decrease. The key is reducing the risk of a devastating spillover