First, it is important to know this is not an influenza virus. Covid-19, and before that SARS and MERS are all part of a larger group called corona viruses which are almost always found in other animals besides humans. These particular corona viruses originated in bats. It is believed SARS jumped from bats into civet cats before infecting humans and MERS jumped from bats into camels, then people.
In the case of COVID-19, epidemiologist suspect the wild animal market in Wuhan was the source of the outbreak, and a pangolin was likely the host for the virus which it passed on to people after catching it from a bat.
FYI, a pangolin is a very small, nocturnal mammal that eats ant and termites. It is popular for eating, for traditional Chinese medicine and it is trafficked around the world.
Why are bats the source of so many viruses?
When a disease jumps the biological barrier from one kind of animal into another, it often finds an immune system unaccustomed to defeating or accommodating it and the resulting pandemic in new populations can be destructive. Rodents, primates and birds carry diseases that can and have jumped to people, but bats are host to a significantly higher proportion of zoonoses – those diseases that spill over from animals to humans - than any other mammalian orders. Indeed, Chinese researchers have been studying bats and the CoVs they carry for some time. A group of researchers released an article last spring wherein they wrote that “it is generally believed that batborne CoVs will re-emerge to cause the next disease outbreak. In this regard, China is a likely hot spot.” Seems prescient now.
Interesting Bat Facts:
• Bats are numerous and widespread. They live on every continent except Antarctica.
• They often live in proximity to humans and farms.
• Their ability to fly makes them wide-ranging, which increases the spread of viruses.
• People in many parts of the world eat bats and sell them in live animal markets; the source of SARS, and possibly the latest coronavirus outbreak that began in Wuhan.
• They often live in huge colonies in caves, where crowded conditions are ideal for passing viruses to one another.
• They are very long-lived for small animals. The big brown bat, a common species in the United States, can live nearly 20 years in the wild. Others live nearly 40 years. By comparison, house mice live about two years on average.
All this does not mean that the bats are to blame for the outbreak. Humans are encroaching on the habitats of bats, not the other way around. It would be unfortunate to see the same hysterical reaction from people who started slaughtering civet cats wholesale after the outbreak of SARS.
Covid-19 is changing our society, social norms and practices.
Fears of a COVID-19 epidemic has already removed 5 trillion dollars from the world’s economy.
Economic impacts in China, Japan, Iran, Spain and 54 other countries are only beginning to be felt as the number of reported infections rise to more than 89,000 around the world. No matter how deadly this disease, the economic impacts are potentially far more devastating if fear prevails over reasoned and measured responses based on scientific data and containment procedures.
On Monday, February 24th, China banned wildlife markets when a standing committee of the 13th National People’s Congress made the decision of “Comprehensively Prohibiting the Illegal Trade of Wild Animals, Eliminating the Bad Habits of Wild Animal Consumption, and Protecting the Health and Safety of the People.” It essentially bans all trade and eating of non-aquatic wild animals – a way of life for many people.
The Louvre, the world’s most visited museum, closed their doors indefinitely due to staff’s fears of the coronavirus.
Japan may postpone the 2020 Olympics to the end of the year.
The World Health Organization is worried because protective gear such as masks and googles used by health workers is running out of protective gear such as masks and googles. Publicly traded companies will certainly see their stock increase.
Try to find any disinfectants on grocery shelves today. You won’t find any.
Greeting Habits are Changing. Australia has implemented a pandemic plan and the Health Minister is asking people to avoid shaking hands.
Football clubs in Europe have begun asking players, staff and officials not to shake hands.
Elbow bumps, pats on the back or bowing are replacing the handshake. People are also abstaining from giving pecks on the cheek, hugs and high-fives. We’ll see more of that as the virus spreads.
Will our world change?
Absolutely. But doesn’t it always?