In December 2019 on a cold winters’ morning in China, a wet-market in Wuhan opens for business. Locals stream in all morning to buy fresh meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices.
Wuhan is a central landlocked area and is the capital of the province. It holds an incredibly important strategic position being located at the confluence of the Yangtze River and the Han River tributary – plus it is only 650 miles from Beijing. Wuhan is nicknamed ‘the Chicago of China’ as an enormous amount of people, and produce, transport through this thoroughfare. Like many other Asian markets, the Wuhan South China seafood wet-market caters to older shoppers who want freshly slaughtered meat for daily consumption. It is here at this wet-market that the global pandemic COVID-19 possibly first started as a zoonotic disease, before spreading from Wuhan across the world. Some theories suggest that it started elsewhere and that there was ‘superspreading’ at the market, making it appear to be the source.
An excellent GIS dashboard can be found here from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.
Zoonotic diseases are not foreign distant diseases – they are very common and many are already present in the UK. A zoonotic disease describes harmful germs like viruses, bacterial, parasites, and fungi which jump from animals to humans either by direct contact (saliva, urine, blood, mucous or faeces), by touch, a bite or a scratch or by indirect contact (when contact is made with an area where animals live, roam or have contaminated with germs).
Anyone can become infected from a zoonotic disease, including healthy people. In the UK people are most susceptible to vector-borne contagion (living organisms that can transmit infectious pathogens from animals to humans, such as mosquitoes transmitting malaria), the other vectors are water-borne or food-borne. An example of a zoonotic disease in the UK is Borrelia burgdorferi, Lyme Disease, with the usual mode of transmission being a tick bite. The main reservoirs of this disease include ticks, rodents, deer, sheep and small mammals.
In Wuhan the now-infamous Wuhan South China seafood market had both a wet-market, which is prevalent around the world in Africa, Asia and Latin America and a wild animal section, which is not only rare but also illegal. Many news outlets are muddling the distinction between the two types of market – the two are not synonymous. It is the wild animal section of the Wuhan South China seafood market which could have been the primary source for COVID-19 which spread in December 2019. This corner of the market offered live and slaughtered species for sale, including beavers, badgers, civet cats, foxes, snakes, peacocks and porcupines among other animals.
The virus which spread out from Wuhan has the full name SARS-Cov-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) whilst the disease it causes is called COVID-19 (coronavirus disease). Most people only experience mild to moderate respiratory illness when they contract COVID-19. However, older individuals and those with underlying health conditions (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, cancer and maybe others) are vulnerable to serious illness and death. COVID-19 can be spread via droplets of saliva from the mouth or nose by coughing or sneezing and has proved very difficult to control due to some sufferers being asymptomatic (displaying no symptoms and therefore obliviously spreading the disease) and because there is no vaccine. Current UK advice is to simply limit your exposure by following a 2-metre social distancing rule, to work from home where possible and to wash your hands either with soap or an alcohol based rub. Mary-Louise McLaws, an infection control expert at the University of New South Wales, explains the problem is that a person touches their face up to 23 times an hour – a natural behaviour which considerably increases the risk of infection.
Featured image: CHUTTERSNAP @chuttersnap / Unsplash