Coronavirus - Did We Trigger It?

By Juilee Dandekar, AVP - Healthcare, Business Research & Advisory, ArancaIn just a couple of months, the coronavirus that emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan, is slowly spreading across the globe and has killed at least 1,100 people worldwide. Now named Covid – 19, the virus has been declared as a public health emergency of international concern by World Health Organization (WHO).

As the virus spreads like wildfire, there is panic, and healthcare experts as well as medical scientists are seeking ways to combat the threat. This is not the first pestilence that has affected the humans, as many deadly viruses like SARS, Ebola, Zika etc. have plagued us in recent years. Most of these viruses are highly infectious and spread rapidly.

The epidemic of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) brought China virtually to a standstill in 2003. It further affected 25 other countries and resulted in more than 8000 cases worldwide.

Ebola virus disease (EVD) first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, one in South Sudan, and the other in Yambuku (DRC). Later in 2014-2016 Ebola broke out again in West Africa and was considered as one of the largest epidemics. In this period, Ebola spread to almost 11 countries and caused 11325 deaths approximately.

It was in 2009; H1N1 swine flu virus appeared in the U.S and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. It affected 61 million people in the United States and resulted in almost 575,400 deaths worldwide.
However, the majority of the outbreaks were reported in Asia and Africa. It is known that emerging countries adhere to less stringent standards of hygiene, their citizens eat food that is uncommon in developed countries, and they have poor access to medical facilities – the reasons why the virus spreads quickly and remains unchecked at times.

In 70% of these cases, the disease was transmitted to humans from animals. Infected animal food has been identified as the culprit for most of these viruses. Ebola carriers were identified as fruit bats and monkeys, Swine flu originated in pigs, and while the research is still ongoing, the conduit of Covid – 19 could be the endangered pangolins, whose scales are heavily used in Chinese traditional medicine. Some researchers even suggest that a bat coronavirus may have combined with the coronavirus in pangolins to produce the lethal strain now infecting humans. Seafood is also being analyzed. The market grabbing global headlines in recent weeks was a significant seafood distributor in Wuhan, China, was the epicenter of the deadly outbreak that has killed and affected thousands of people worldwide.

Climate change is happening at an alarming rate and has made the risk of other novel afflictions much more explosive. The effect of global warming has been hazardous. The fires of Amazon and Australia have destroyed acres of forest and greenery. Deforestation has displaced wildlife, putting stressed species that are more susceptible to infection in closer contact with humans. Recent efforts have revealed a vast reservoir of worrisome viruses and other microbes in animals that could spell disaster if they spill over and infect humans.

In some cases, pollutants decrease the immune response to vaccines, making people more susceptible to infectious diseases. In other cases, environmental pollutants increase the virulence of pathogens, such as making certain bacteria more resistant to antibiotics.

Antimicrobial resistance – the ability of bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi to resist these medicines, is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time. Each year in the U.S., at least 2.8 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection, and more than 35,000 people die.

With the frequency of occurrences of these viruses, there is a pressing need to understand and deal with the origins, preventing the incidence of a future eventuality. One of the measures to control the such epidemic spread could be monitoring the environmental degradation and working towards sustaining the delicate ecological balance which is soon disappearing. Unless urgent steps are taken to ensure a greener planet, Covid – 19 will definitely not be the last virus outbreak we fight. And with each new virus, the death toll may continue to rise.