January 22, 2021

The illegal trade of endangered pangolins could have triggered the coronavirus ‘mild pandemic’

Illegal trade in the pangolin and other wild animals in China could have brought misery down on thousands of people worldwide.

A new kind of coronavirus from central China has become a “mild pandemic,” according to Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at John Hopkins’ Center for Health Security.

“There is sustained human-to-human spread now, mostly in China,” Adalja told Business Insider. “For all intents and purposes, we’re in the beginnings of a mild pandemic right now.”

Now, scientists at a Chinese university believe the virus could have jumped to humans thanks to the wild animal markets.

Pangolins are one of the world’s most trafficked mammals. The scaly anteaters have been driven to near extinction because people prize their scales in traditional Chinese medicine. The pangolin’s scales are made of keratin, exactly like your fingernails.

Similarly, rhinoceros horn is also made of mostly keratin and has been prized in traditional medicines. There is no scientific evidence that pangolin scales or rhino horns serve any medicinal purpose whatsoever. Thus, humans are wiping out species out of ignorance, cruelty, and greed.

The pangolin’s meat is also considered a delicacy, but all eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws.

Researchers from South China Agricultural University think the new coronavirus originated in bats, but then jumped to humans in contact with pangolins. After testing 1,000 samples from animals, they found a 99 percent match between the virus found in pangolins and the virus found in human patients.

The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city of Wuhan may be where the new virus, dubbed 2019-nCoV, began, The researchers suspect somebody consumed contaminated meat and got infected.

Wuhan has a population comparable to New York City. There are so many people sick in the city that an ominous hospital is under construction. (see below)

There are approximately 31,161 cases in mainland China so far, with 638 deaths since the outbreak started late in 2019. Since then, the virus has spread to other continents, with 12 infections confirmed in the United States. The World Health Organization has declared a public health emergency as they ready for a possible pandemic.

Business Insider reported that “more than 300,000 people could get the coronavirus by February 24,” according to a disease-transmission model from the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

There are four other coronaviruses that are permanently present, or endemic in the global population, usually only causing cold symptoms. Rarely, the virus can be fatal. If a vaccine is not developed for the latest strain, it could become the fifth endemic coronavirus.

Search for proof in a black market

WildAid reports that some 100,000 pangolins are poached every year, with over one million animals poached in the last decade. Since the trade is illegal, that could now complicate the search for the origins of 2019-nCoV.

Without pinpointing the host for the virus, it will be harder to stop the risk of a reappearance in the future.

Benjamin Neuman, a virologist at Texas A&M at Texarkana, says the evidence is probably already gone.

“If the illegal animal trade was at the root of this outbreak, it is going to be really difficult to trace, and I suspect most of the evidence is gone already — destroyed or spread out across the black market,” said Neuman. “People aren’t going to want to talk because of the consequences.”

The Guardian reports that the meat market has permanently closed.

In 2002, a different strain of coronavirus spread to humans from a civet; another small mammal also considered a delicacy in China.

Although it appears that the latest virus may have come from pangolins, the experts caution against jumping to conclusions before more research can confirm the facts.

Scientists are calling for China to take widespread measures to stop the sale of wild animals in markets. In doing so, they can help save critically endangered species as well as save people from future pandemics.

More about pangolins from National Geographic:

Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube







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