Coronavirus: Challenge from Zoonosis

The novel coronavirus outbreak has wreaked havoc on the world’s second largest economy, and isolated its people. It has spread to over 27 countries. The Hindustan Times reported on February 23 that new cases have doubled in South Korea, Iran has reported 10 more infections, the second patient in Italy has died, and in China the death toll has reached 2,345. The Washington Post also reported on February 23 that in the US, there are 30 confirmed cases of the illness.

Even as the world’s largest effort in controlling the spread of the infection is underway, the challenge in dealing with it is that the virus remains dormant for over nearly around two weeks, and infected people will show symptoms only after that.

Down to Earth, in its latest Issue, probes the dystopian relationship with the animal world that is leading to virus transference. The breaking of boundaries between animal and man will lead to more such outbreaks, the report warns. In the case of the new coronavirus, it is so far believed that virus found in bats jumped from animals to humans. In the case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, WHO found that the civet cat, racoon dog and badger were the likely intermediate hosts. In the case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012, the camel was the intermediate hosts, the report mentions. The Washington Post too observed in a report that the “health crisis reminds of the danger of zoonosis, the ability of pathogens, including bacteria and viruses, to enter the human population from an animal host”.

Even as scientists figure out the exact causes, the fact is that world is likely to see more such zoonotic diseases; examples also include swine flu and avian influenza. The magazine spotlights the four pandemics the world has seen so far—Spanish Flu (from waterfowl, 1918-20), Asian Flu (from pig, 1957-58), Hong Kong Flu (from pig, 1968-70) and swine flu (pig, 2009-10).

Warming of temperatures and melting of ice are also exposing new viruses to the eco system. For instance, it reports quoting a study published in bioRxiv on January 7, 2020, that 38 viruses are trapped in the Tibetan glacier and out of these 28 are completely new to science!

The way forward needs to incorporate respect for habitats, cultures, diversity, eco systems—lest we are again found fitting round pegs into square holes.