In the midst of a zoonosis - can we prevent it from happening again?
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the whole world in ways that didn’t seem plausible too many months ago. The origin of the virus has been under speculation, but it has most likely been traced back to a wet market in Wuhan, China. Research has suggested, that the virus was originated in an animal, possibly a bat. This makes the coronavirus a zoonosis: an infectious disease spreading from an animal to a human. The markets are troublesome, since there are a lot of animals in close quarters, that would not be in contact with each other in the nature. Then when you have humans in contact with them as well, the grounds for viruses to mix and transform are huge. After the SARS-outbreak in 2003, keeping and selling wildlife in wet markets was banned in China, but only temporarily.
Zoonotic diseases have increased over the last 60 years. Ebola, SARS, HIV, Zika virus and Swine flu (H1N1) are some examples of zoonoses. Some are more dangerous for humans than others. Some reach pandemic state, and even the 1918 Spanish flu, that killed 50-100 million people has been linked to birds.
From a zoonosis point of view, a huge potential risk for viruses spreading is factory farming. As animal factory farming has intensified and keeps growing, the farms have increased in size with more animals in smaller areas. Many animals in these farms all around the world are fed with antibiotics to make the animals larger and to prevent them from having diseases. These antibiotics are a serious risk. Preventively using antibiotics will create and exhilarate super bacteria, that will be antibiotic resistant. The industrialized animal farming has been considered a ticking time bomb due to this – a lot of antibiotic resistant animals in a small space, and in contact with humans. It is a possibility that some of the bacteria and viruses will become zoonosis and jump into people, as history has shown.
What can we do then? Can we do anything to prevent viruses spreading as they have? The answer is not simple. Although not all zoonotic diseases are occurring because humans are exploiting animals, there is still a connection. The complete prevention of zoonoses is impossible, but the reduction of the demand for animal products would do no harm. Inevitably, using less and less animal products will create circumstances where the likelihood of animal to human (and animal to animal) contact is decreased as farming would downsize. If we weren’t exploiting animals the way we are now, it would at least lessen the risk of these kind of zoonotic diseases spreading. Not to mention what using less animal products would do to climate change and overall health! Eating a plant-based diet is the most effective way to minimize your carbon footprint and reduce the risk of heart disease.
People need to contemplate on the rooted idea of the necessity of consuming animal products – just because we can, does it mean we should? There will certainly always be zoonoses in the world, but this angle of consuming less animal products is crucial food for thought (pun intended).
By Anna Rikama