Think Exotic Animals Are to Blame for the Coronavirus? .....

Think Exotic Animals Are to Blame for the Coronavirus? .....

Postby Oscar » Thu Mar 26, 2020 8:58 am

Think Exotic Animals Are to Blame for the Coronavirus? Think Again.

[ ... itat-loss/ ]

Scientists have fingered bats and pangolins as potential sources of the virus, but the real blame lies elsewhere—with human assaults on the environment.

By Sonia Shah FEBRUARY 18, 2020 (***NUMEROUS internal LINKS )


"It’s not only the fact of habitat destruction that ratchets up the risk of disease emergence, it’s also what we’re replacing wild habitat with. To sate our species’ carnivorous appetites, we’ve razed an area around the size of the continent of Africa to raise animals for slaughter. Some of these animals are then delivered through the illicit wildlife trade or sold in so-called “wet markets.” There, wild species that would rarely if ever encounter each other in nature are caged next to one another, allowing microbes to jump from one species to the next, a process that begot the coronavirus that caused the 2002–03 SARS epidemic and possibly the novel coronavirus stalking us today.

But many more are reared in factory farms, where hundreds of thousands of individuals await slaughter, packed closely together, providing microbes lush opportunities to turn into deadly pathogens. Avian influenza viruses, for example, which originate in the bodies of wild waterfowl, rampage in factory farms packed with captive chickens, mutating and becoming more virulent, a process so reliable it can be replicated in the laboratory. One strain called H5N1, which can infect humans, kills more than half of those infected. Containing another strain, which reached North America in 2014, required the slaughter of tens of millions of poultry.

The avalanche of excreta produced by our livestock introduces yet more opportunities for animal microbes to spill over into human populations. Because animal waste is far more voluminous than croplands can possibly absorb as fertilizer, it is collected in many places in unlined cesspools called manure lagoons. Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli, which lives harmlessly inside the guts of over half of all cattle on American feedlots, lurks in that waste. In humans, it causes bloody diarrhea and fever and can lead to acute kidney failure. Because cattle waste so frequently sloshes into our food and water, 90,000 Americans are infected every year.

This process of transforming animal microbes into human pathogens is accelerated today, but it is not new. It began with the Neolithic revolution, when we first cleared wildlife habitat to make way for crops and yoked wild animals into servitude. The “deadly gifts” we received from our “animal friends,” as Jared Diamond put it, include measles and tuberculosis, from cows; pertussis from pigs; and influenza from ducks. It continued during the era of colonial expansion. Belgian colonists in Congo built the railroads and cities that allowed a lentivirus in local macaques to perfect its adaptations to the human body; British colonists in Bangladesh cut down the Sundarbans wetlands to build rice farms, exposing humans to water-borne bacteria in the wetlands’ brackish waters.

The pandemics those colonial-era intrusions created plague us to this day. The macaque’s lentivirus evolved into HIV. The water-borne bacteria of the Sundarbans, now known as cholera, has caused seven pandemics so far, the latest churning just a few hundred miles off the coast of Florida in Haiti."
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