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Coronavirus: Another Deadly Virus of Non-Human Origin

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

Exclusive | Ellis Jackson investigates the catastrophic risk of non-human viruses and how little we know of the "unknown" diseases that circulate the other-animal world.

Photo by CDC - Not a picture of (2019-nCoV).


In December 2019, patients presenting with flu-like symptoms due to an unidentified microbial agent were reported in Wuhan, China. A novel coronavirus was subsequently identified and was provisionally named 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).


As of Feb 1 2020, more than 12,000 cases of the 2019-nCoV infection have been confirmed. Most of those involved people living within or visiting Wuhan. There has been speculation a fish and poultry market in Wuhan could have been the starting point for the outbreak.


Wuhan with a population of 11 million people has since been on lockdown. China has responded to the epidemic in force with 7,000 medical personnel being deployed and the rapid construction of two specialised hospitals able to facilitate around 2,000 patients.


In light of this, the World Health Organisation declared a Global Health Emergency on Jan 30. This, in acknowledgement that the danger the virus poses to countries beyond China is significant and requires a more coordinated international response.


The risk of an epidemic on this scale has been noted by Governments around the world with many in recent years making rigid preparations and countermeasures for the "not if, but when" scenario that we now face.


The impact of the outbreak has been felt internationally with cases of infection confirmed in 26 countries including UK (2), France (6), Germany (7) and Australia (12). Most recently the United States declared a Public Health Emergency stating that "this virus poses a serious public health threat".



Cross-Species Transmission


According to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control: Coronaviruses are viruses that circulate among animals but some of them are also known to affect humans. Once they have infected humans, they can be transmitted from human-to-human.


It has been suggested that the original animal host was of a bat, but this has not been confirmed or denied. A wide range of animals are known to be the source of coronaviruses.


Farm animals and their in-natural living conditions tend to be overpopulated, unsanitary and quite frankly inhumane, these conditions can be a perfect breeding ground for pathogens such as 2019-nCoV that over time can mutate and eventually switch host.


"The major sources of new human viral diseases are ... viruses of animals. - National Center for Biotechnology Information

Another Enemy


The evidence is mounting to suggest that our current relationship with our wildlife is fragile, and thus is cause for concern. Currently scientists are advanced in their knowledge of human viruses, however this is not the same for those of animal origin.


A study found at the National Center for Biotechnology says "We likely know only a small fraction of the viruses infecting wild or even domesticated animals."


In many cases, scientists, learn of, and manage new animal-related outbreaks on a reactionary basis with only limited information at hand. "Such unrecognised viruses are highlighted by the emergence of SARS coronavirus (CoV), hantaviruses, Ebola and Marburg viruses, Nipah virus, Hendra virus, and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and HIV-2."


Swine-Flu (H1N1) which appeared in 2009 originated from pigs, and transferred over to humans in Mexico has estimated to have resulted in 203,000 deaths.

It cannot be ignored that the way we use and manage animals doesn’t just have moral, environmental, and climatic implications but that there are threats at a pathogenic level too, an area at the very limits of our scientific capabilities.


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