By Marlin Keys
While I’m certain I cannot be the only person wondering why the world seems to continuously be faced with yet another pandemic, I’m just as suspicious that they all seem to originate in either Asia or Africa.
The coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19, is a frightening reminder of the imminent global threat posed by emerging infectious diseases. Although epidemics have arisen during all of human history, they now seem to be on the rise. In just the past 20 years, coronaviruses alone have caused three major outbreaks worldwide. Even more troubling, the duration between these three pandemics has gotten shorter.
While most of these pandemics are known as zoonotic viruses, those that jump from animals and infect people, the majority of the pandemics have at least one thing in common: They began their deadly work in Asia or Africa. The reasons why may surprise you.
Population explosion and changing urban landscapes
An unprecedented shift in human population is one reason why more diseases originate in Asia and Africa. Rapid urbanization is happening throughout Asia and the Pacific regions, where 60% of the world already lives. According to the World Bank, almost 200 million people moved to urban areas in East Asia during the first decade of the 21st century. To put that into perspective, 200 million people could form the eighth most populous country in the world.
Migration on that scale means forest land is destroyed to create residential areas. Wild animals, forced to move closer to cities and towns, inevitably encounter domestic animals and the human population. Wild animals often harbor viruses; bats, for instance, can carry hundreds of them. And viruses, jumping species to species, can ultimately infect people.
Eventually, extreme urbanization becomes a vicious cycle: More people bring more deforestation, and human expansion and the loss of habitat ultimately kills off predators, including those that feed off rodents. With the predators gone – or at least with their numbers sharply diminished – the rodent population explodes. And as studies in Africa show, so does the risk of zoonotic disease.
The situation is only likely to get worse. A major proportion of East Asia’s population still lives in rural areas. Urbanization is expected to continue for decades.
Subsistence agriculture and animal markets
Tropical regions, rich in host biodiversity, already hold a large pool of pathogens, greatly increasing the chance that a novel pathogen will emerge. The farming system throughout Africa and Asia doesn’t help.
On both continents, many families depend on subsistence farming and a minuscule supply of livestock. Disease control, feed supplementation and housing for those animals is extremely limited. Cattle, chickens and pigs, which can carry endemic disease, are often in close contact with each other, a variety of nondomestic animals and humans.
And not just on the farms: Live animal markets, commonplace throughout Asia and Africa, feature crowded conditions and the intimate mixing of multiple species, including humans. This too plays a key role in how a killer pathogen could emerge and spread between species.
The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan closed January 1 after it was found to be the most likely starting point for the outbreak of the new coronavirus.
Another risk: bushmeat hunting and butchering, which is particularly widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. These activities, as they threaten animal species and irrevocably change ecosystems, also bring people and wild animals together. Bushmeat hunting is a clear and primary path for zoonotic disease transmission.
So is traditional Chinese medicine, which purports to provide remedies for a host of conditions like arthritis, epilepsy and erectile dysfunction. Although no scientific evidence exists to support most of the claims, Asia is an enormous consumer of traditional Chinese medicine products. Tigers, bears, rhinos, pangolins and other animal species are poached so their body parts can be mixed into these questionable medications. This, too, is a major contributor to increasing animal-human interactions. What’s more, demand is likely to go up, as online marketing soars along with Asia’s relentless economic growth.
A matter of time
The viruses, thousands of them, continue to evolve. It’s just a matter of time before another major outbreak occurs in this region of the world. All the coronaviruses that caused recent epidemics, including the COVID-19, jumped from bats to another animal before infecting humans. It’s difficult to predict precisely what chain of events cause a pandemic, but one thing is certain: these risks can be mitigated by developing strategies to minimize human effects which contribute to the ecological disturbances.
As the current outbreak has shown, an infectious disease that starts in one part of the world can spread globally in virtually no time whatsoever. There is an urgent need for constructive conservation strategies to prevent deforestation and reduce animal-human interactions. And a comprehensive global surveillance system to monitor the emergence of these diseases – now missing – would be an indispensable tool in helping us fight these deadly and terrifying epidemics.
Does the coronavirus spread person-to-person?
Is there a Vaccine available for Coronavirus?While laboratories are scrambling worldwide for a vaccination, Researchers in Seattle have begun recruiting healthy volunteers to participate in a clinical trial for an experimental COVID-19 vaccine, according to news reports. Unfortunately these clinical trials take time and if approved may not be ready for release for several months.
According to Israel’s Minister of Science and Technology, Ofir Akunis, scientists there will have a vaccine ready in 3 weeks and available in 90 days.
So, there is some hope on the horizon.
Oddly enough, as of Monday afternoon, German officials had recorded more than 1,175 cases of the disease and zero deaths in the nation of 82 million people. By contrast, nearby Italy – which has a population of 59 million – has just shy of 9,200 cases with 463 deaths. Neighboring France has documented 30 deaths, while Spain has lost 26 people. Even the United States has encountered over 600 cases and some 22 fatalities cases. The difference? “Germany (is) working hard to retrace the steps of people who contracted the virus, and their methods of ‘tracking of the infection chains’ are helping in the reduction. All events with more than 1,000 participants are to be canceled,” explained Dr. Norman Fried, a medical expert and professor at Columbia University. “Huge public fairs are being scrapped, including Berlin’s travel fest ITB and the Leipzig Book Fair, as well as the postponement of many other public events. Rules governing compensation for workers forced to cut hours are being eased.”
Should we panic?
According to WHO officials, COVID-19 is primarily spread through person-to-person contact, typically within a 6-foot radius of an infected person, and is transmitted through respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing.
This means you should cough into our arm, keep away from those who are sick and stay home if you are ill. If you do happen to cough into your hands or are near someone who appears sick, wash your hands.
We as humans battle a virus every year: influenza, AKA the flu.
The flu has killed thousands of people, so why are many of us all of a sudden panicking over this new virus?
While both viruses produce similar symptoms, like fever, body aches, cough and fatigue, we in the United States are more likely to catch the flu than the new COVID-19 virus, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The numbers of people infected by coronavirus can sound daunting and the constant updates can cause you to worry — but before you start to panic, look at these stats from John Hopkins Medicine:
COVID-19: As of March 5, 2020, there were about 97,900 cases worldwide; 209 cases in the U.S.
Flu: Estimated 1 billion cases worldwide; 9.3 million to 45 million cases in the U.S. per year.
In the coming days, weeks or even months you will continue to hear new details regarding the COVID-19 virus. But don’t let that go to your head. The virus is big news as there are no vaccines and medical officials are working around the clock to figure out what makes this virus tick. Anytime a new case pops up or there is a new study being conducted, like it or not, you’re going to hear about it.
Just remember, as of now, medical officials have said there is a low risk to the general public.
What does that mean? This means all of us living in the U.S. can keep the numbers low if we wash our hands throughout the day (this means multiple times a day even if you think they’re clean), use hand sanitizer whenever a sink and soap aren’t available and stay home if you aren’t feeling well.
We can all do our part in making sure this new virus is contained, and it’s as simple as practicing good hygiene and having a plan.
There’s no need to lock yourself inside your home and miss out on the beautiful springtime weather.
Unfortunately, the media is very politically biased and make this a political issue plus they enjoy causing worldwide panic because, it sells.