The coronavirus pandemic may seem like it has appeared right out of thin air, but it has not. The virus did come from someplace, the question is, where?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that usually make animals and birds sick, but in some cases, they jump over to humans, meaning they are zootonic. Human coronaviruses were first discovered back in the 1960s, and those were basically different types of the common cold. Since then, scientists have discovered other coronaviruses including SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). Both of these are deadly forms of coronaviruses that caused epidemics, and they have since finished their tour on Earth, although they could resurface again.
The novel coronavirus that is causing the pandemic of COVID-19 also likely came to us via an animal. (SARS is thought to have originated in bats, according to the World Health Organization, (WHO). MERS, for its part, is said to have come from camels. Scientists have yet to prove this conclusively, but the animal did somehow play a role in spreading MERS around Egypt, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
Here is a look at two creatures that may have brought COVID-19 to us in 2020.
The novel coronavirus was first noticed at a wild animal market in Wuhan, China. People who frequented the market and who worked there were falling sick with it.
It is true that officials have not been able to trace this coronavirus back to this market conclusively, as many of the animals for sale there were thrown out quickly when people started becoming sick. Scientists believe there is a good chance that an animal there was the source, however. (Another theory is that the coronavirus came to us through a lab experiment in Wuhan gone wrong, but that is another story).
Bats were not for sale at the Wuhan market, but it is thought that improper sanitary practices at the market could have put humans in contact with fluids from an infected bat, unknowingly. ie, infected bat pee could have been on a cage for another animal, and someone touched it, and then touched their own face and the rest is history as we know it.
Why are bats connected with coronaviruses? Bats often carry many coronaviruses, and some, they are sick with, while others are part of their natural defense system. The viruses that do not make the bat sick, will make another animal - or human - fall ill if they attack the bat, kill it and eat it.
The novel coronavirus could be such a strong virus because bats have an immune system that is much stronger than a human’s. Bats are constantly primed to respond to coronaviruses, and this makes them able to survive, but it is a bad thing for humans.
A bat’s strong immune response to a coronavirus pushes the virus to attack back, causing it to reproduce really quickly in the bat. This has made coronaviruses that live in bats to be very strong illnesses. Once one of these viruses jumps into humans, it then reproduces so quickly in us, that the human immune system can have a hard time keeping up. The result could be a pandemic and the loss of many human lives.
Pangolins are one of the most illegally-trafficked animals on the planet. They were being sold at the market in Wuhan. These guys are weird-looking scaly ant-eaters that people eat for their “magical” power to heal, and are used in traditional medicine. They are so highly prized that pangolin scales can garner as much as $3000/kg in black markets around the world, causing the animal to also be on the list of endangered species.
These funny-looking creatures are suspected of harboring the novel coronavirus because they have been known to carry similar viruses, related to the one now causing COVID-19. According to Dr. Tommy Lam of The University of Hong Kong speaking to BBC.com, two groups of viruses both related to SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing the pandemic, have been identified in Malayan pangolins smuggled into China.
No one yet knows if the pangolin really did play a part in the current pandemic. It is certainly on the list of suspects in the line-up, however.
About the Author
A prior educator with a background in the arts, Victoria Simpson has a passion for communicating her ideas through writing. You can find her picture book, Eating I Forget, on Amazon. Her articles and webcopy have been published on countless websites including RateMDs.com, Autoguide, eBay, Digital Home and Iremia Skincare, among others. She is now excited to be contributing to World Atlas.
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