Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

1 Apr 2020

Nature bites

Posted by Michael Keating

The COVID-19 outbreak killing thousands of people around the world is just the latest example of how our destruction of nature is coming back to bite us. This coronavirus is a zoonotic disease, one that jumps from animals to humans. COVID-19 has been traced to a live animal market in the city of Wuhan in central China. According to an article in Science Daily it may have come from bats or pangolins, a scaly anteater that is often captured and sold for food. The highly infectious COVID-19 virus jumped to humans in late 2019, and rapidly spread around the world, creating a global pandemic and unprecedented health measures to slow its spread, including confinement of millions and a virtual shutdown of many businesses. In the recent past the world has had to deal with similar illnesses, such as Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), both diseases caused by coronaviruses that originated in animals and spread to people. So are the highly-lethal Ebola as well as West Nile virus and bird flu. AIDS is believed to have jumped from moneys or apes to humans in in central and west Africa, possibly contracted by people killing the animals for food.

Many experts are warning that as humans push deeper into remote areas of the world and kill more exotic wild animals for food we will continue to unleash more diseases on ourselves. In an article in Slate zoologist Peter Daszak says that as we cut into rainforests and mine in remote areas, we expose humans to an untold number of diseases we have never seen and for which we have no natural resistance. China is the source of COVID-19, and of SARS, which is believed to have come from civet cats sold in a live animal market. The world’s most populous nation has recently banned the consumption and farming of wild animals. The use of wild animals for food, medicines, clothing, decoration and pets goes back thousands of years, so it will take time to change. The question is how will other countries try to control their contact with nature to protect us humans. The COVID-19 outbreak will kill thousands more people, and cause economic devastation. Many companies will struggle to survive and many will likely fail. Dangerous as it is, COVID-19 is not as lethal as the plague of the middle ages or the 1918-19 influenza. But if we get another infectious outbreak that combines high contagion with more fatalities it could wreck modern society.

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