Corona Scourge: A wake up call

Corona virus did not emerge from nowhere. There are different theories having been put forth regarding the origin and dissemination of this novel virus; some uphold the wild life as responsible, others think cats and dogs as the source of infection to human population while some consider wild bats to be reservoir of infection but nothing has been proved, except one thing that man’s sadistic approach and manipulation of  the animal world to extract benefits over the past centuries has come back to hound us. Past 30 years have witnessed a rise in emerging infectious diseases in people, 70 percent of which are considered Zoonotic, meaning they have the ability to exist in animals without producing disease in them but can be transmitted to Humans. The crash scientific experiments and research of introducing infections to laboratory as well as wild animals has for sure brought the antigenic drift of infections and a change in Parasite- Host relationship with an added effect of climate change so much so that the many basic animal infections make themselves competent to invade human populations. Emerging and re-emerging dreadful infections that have given sleepless nights to man in the recent past such as Bird flu, Swine flu, Ebola virus, Zika virus, Dengu, SARS and now Corona virus  all share one thing in common that is these infections owe their origin from animal source. Scientists believe that a chance mutation of SARS like virus occurred in Civet-Cats infected by Bats in a live animal market. Consequent upon the changes in environment, human behavior and the habitat destruction, the biosecurity threats are increasingly emerging from wild life species such as bats and birds.  The world health organization (WHO) and most of the Infectious disease experts,  a couple of years ago agreed that the source of the next human pandemic was likely to be zoonotic and wild life would be the prime suspect. They further said that the next dreadful pandemic might be the result of a currently unknown zoonotic agent. Since affliction of livestock with the Corona virus insult has not been reported so far, but because of its origin in wildlife, if it infects livestock too, that would add to the ongoing catastrophe all over the world. Perhaps it may not be a coincidence that the Corona virus has manifested at the very time the United Nations is trying to form a convention on Biological Diversity in order to protect what remains of the organic world. The contagion may be the karmic result of our own ignorance and disregard of the other species that started in china and spread worldwide like wildfire. The belief is gaining ground that the present Corona infection might have come from Pangolins which are scale covered mammals kept in cages in appalling conditions in Asia, reserved for dinner menus. Most of animals in these markets are kept in extremely poor conditions, without food and water for several days. Thus the way we treat animals has a profound effect on our ecosystems and the habitat. Our balanced ecosystem is the only wealth we are left with in this age of extensive industrialization, deforestation and population explosion. Worldwide encroachment to forest land and wildlife habitat by man is not without backlash. China’s ban on wild animal trade is one silver lining in this ensuing global tragedy. It should be a permanent ban rather than a temporary one otherwise many more pernicious viruses may be in the queue waiting to feed on us not in the distant future given the climate change is upon us. It reminds me of Thomas Berry in his “Mystique of the Earth” who said- “To think that we can have viable human economy by destroying Earth economy is absurd. Indigenous people still live in a universe but we don’t- We live in an economic system.” It is bound to befall that whenever we aim at changing God’s nature either by trying to alter natural ecosystem or climate, for our economic greed it backfires on us in the shape of diseases and disasters. It is law of nature.

There should be a tirade launched by the preservationists against wildlife markets especially in China, Vietnam, Thailand and many other countries. The closure of wildlife markets has to be strongly pleaded. This will hopefully prevent not only new outbreaks in the future but also keep even more potentially virulent viruses from overwhelming the human world. We must not forget the root cause of this scourge – Man’s revolting disregard, manipulation, and over-exploitation of animal species meant for ecological balance of this material world. The ongoing extinctions of the wildlife sometime in the future is going to impact us more than world wars I and II because we have an unfathomable ecological horizon to reckon with and not just the folly of an economic system run amuck. Animals were considered cardinal, spiritual, sentient and intellectual fellows in the lives of indigenous people and several civilizations past. But as the colonial and technological powers over-ran the world indigenous people came to be treated not better than Mules or donkeys. The criminal neglect of dismantling of Nature over the last century has dropped us at a point where Globalization itself is going to be redefined and reappraised.  The entire spectrum of Nature’s curriculum has to be extensively revisited time and again. Thus our relationship to the sensate world will have to reverse or we perish. The Corona virus is the tip of the Ice berg only.

Dr. Muzaffar Shaheen is Professor& Head Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, SKUAST-K.