Society

Why Do New Diseases Appear In China?

Extreme urbanization and lack of sanitization have contributed to pandemic illnesses originating in China.

The new pandemic coronavirus, or COVID-19, has certainly swept the entire world. This virus has claimed the lives of thousands of people earth-wide. But before invading other countries, including America, it was started in China.

In addition to this ailment, many other diseases were started in this country. The Asian Flu in 1956 killed between one and four million people worldwide. SARS in 2002 infected over 8,000 people and killed 774. Hearing all of this information begs us to ask the question, "Why are all of these new diseases coming from China?" Here are several reasons why these pandemic illnesses are originating there.

Lack Of Sanitation Within The Country

A wet market in Suzhou, China. Editorial credit: Gwoeii / Shutterstock.com

The primary reason for this being the case is the lack of sanitation and intimate contact with lots of species of animals. It does not help that Asia is a tropical region that already holds a large pool of pathogens. Dr. Peter Daszak, President of Ecohealth Alliance, calls South Central China a noted "mixing vessel" for viruses. Farmers bring in their livestock to "wet markets" where they can come in contact with all sorts of exotic animals. The various birds, mammals and reptiles host viruses that can jump species and rapidly mutate, possibly affecting humans. Because this has led to the spread of the coronavirus, on January 30th, China released a ban on the trade of wild animals.

Extreme Urbanization

Nanjing Road in Shangai, China. Editorial credit: TonyV3112 / Shutterstock.com

Another reason why most diseases start in Asian countries such as China is the population explosion of Asian cities. Rapid urbanization is happening throughout Asia and the Pacific regions. Migration on this scale means an increase in deforestation to create residential homes. Wild animals are then forced to move closer to cities and towns and encounter domestic animals and humans.

All of this leads to a toxic cycle of extreme urbanization. More people bring in deforestation which then leads to a loss of habitat for wild animals. This loss leads to more predators being killed off and the rodent population increasing. This increase leads to a high risk of zoonotic diseases being spread such as the coronavirus.

Preference For Freshly Slaughtered Meat

There are also cultural reasons why most diseases seem to start in China. Apparently, many Chinese people prefer freshly slaughtered poultry to frozen meats. Journalist Melinda Liu says they feel these types of meats are tastier and healthy.

"Many Chinese people, even city dwellers, insist that freshly slaughtered poultry is tastier and more healthful than refrigerated or frozen meat," she wrote in Smithsonian magazine in 2017. "The public's taste for freshly killed meat, and the conditions at live markets, create ample opportunity for humans to come in contact with these new mutations."

Traditional Chinese Medicines

Also, when they are stricken with an illness, Chinese people typically like to seek out traditional Chinese medicine. Unfortunately, practitioners who specialize in this type of medicine regularly misdiagnose symptoms. They instead offer ineffective treatments such as animal-based remedies. These remedies are a major contributor to increasing animal-human interaction. As a result, death rates and people becoming infected increase.

Government Secrecy Issues

China is also widely known for its secrecy, misinformation, and censorship, which raises the chance for new diseases to spread. In early January, the Chinese government officials told the public that COVID-19's spread had been effectively halted. This was not true. The authoritarian regime reprimanded health experts, such as young doctor Li Wenliang, from warning people about the illness. After being served with a threat from the police, Wenliang was diagnosed with coronavirus and succumbed to it in early February.

However, there are some future signs of China cutting down on its secrecy tendencies. The government is sharing much more data than in past outbreaks. Chinese scientists are publishing many papers that are accessible to the global community.

Preventing Future Outbreaks

People on a subway in Shanghai, China. Editorial credit: Robert Wei / Shutterstock.com

Still, the country's plans to prevent future outbreaks like this one remains unknown. Permanently banning the trade of wild animals in live markets, using alternative treatments instead of traditional Chinese medicines, and instituting and enforcing food safety regulations are all great steps to pandemic prevention. But without any serious action, this country could likely witness another crisis coming its way.

Above all else, China must take drastic measures to cut down on animal-human interaction. Preventing deforestation is another idea that the country should consider in the future. By doing these things, the country will be lowering its risk of starting another novel virus.     

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