Right now info-graphics about flattening the curve and memes about toilet paper flood social media. However, as an animal scientist my first thoughts when I heard about Covid19 went to what I knew of corona virus effects in cattle. Corona viruses cause scours in young calves and respiratory symptoms in adult cows. This lead me to do more digging which ultimately lead back to a bigger issue addressed in my animal science studies: zoonotic diseases. The novel corona virus strain likely resulted from zoonosis in a Wuhan live animal market.
What is zoonosis?
A zoonotic disease is one that has the capability to infect both animal species and human. An assessment for zoonotic risk factors at Asian live animal markets in the wake of the SARS outbreak identified several risk factors.
1. Potential for wildlife/human contact
Asian live animal markets overcrowd up to 97 different species of animals into one location. Most of these wildlife species are sold for high value food. Consequently, many of the animals have contact with each other as well as humans.
2. Risk for wildlife carrying of zoonotic pathogens
Each individual animal brought to the market is carrying it’s own array of pathogens. Therefore, as diverse as the animal population my appear, the pathogen population is even more diverse. For example, the mammalian species at these markets carry 36 known zoonotic diseases. Meaning risk for zoonotic transmission at these markets is high.
Some of the known zoonotic pathogen risks include: plague, small pox, rabies, Ebola, yellow fever, AIDS, SARS and MERS. Furthermore, the above list is not exhaustive and does not start to describe the risks for emergent pathogens such as the current Covid19 pandemic.
3. Possibility for pathogen transmission from wildlife to humans
Biosecurity and food safety played a major role in the zoonosis and emergence of Covid19. The sanitation standards in these markets is below minimal. If you were to walk in to a harvest facility in the United States, you would be required to wear specific attire and walk through a footbath. The USDA regulates and inspects our harvest facilities. Our beef, pork and poultry industries do all they can to prevent food borne illness.
In the Chinese live animal markets however, there is little to no regard for basic sanitation. Hand washing, table cleaning, proper disposal of animal waste and other biosecurity basics are not practiced . Furthermore, food is not properly cooked in these markets to kill potential pathogens. By now you have seen videos and photos of whole bats being eaten or sitting in a bowl of soup. Those “foods” have not been gutted or properly cooked to avoid spread of disease.
In 2003, the SARS outbreak originated in a Chinese wildlife market with reservoir species coming into contact with the amplification species. The reservoir species was the horseshoe bat and the amplification species was a civet cat. The SARS outbreak resulted in a temporary shut down of these markets, and did not impact the western hemisphere in the same way the new Covid19 is. SARS, MERS, and Covid19 are all corona viruses that share bats as the reservoir host. Therefore, prevalence of live animal markets creates the perfect conditions for these viruses to jump from bats to an amplification host and in turn infect humans.
4. Probability of humans to spread pathogen to wider population, both locally and globally
It’s not if but when. We live in a connected world. Consequently, here in Nebraska, our schools are closed and spring football game postponed. All of this because someone was at the market where Covid19 emerged who infected someone else and so on down the line. The zoonosis of this novel virus certainly has had a global effect.
So what does this have to do with Ward Laboratories?
In the US and many areas of the world, food producers work diligently to ensure a safe food product. This begins with laboratory testing that helps to guide producers’ decision making that will ultimately ensure the end product is safe and wholesome to the consumer. Ward Laboratories, INC. is committed to serving those who produce our food. Therefore, while many quarantine and work from home, we will be here running soil, feed and water analysis to support the farmer and rancher. We will follow the CDC guidelines, keeping our meetings small and keeping 6 feet between us.
The zoonosis of Covid19 has created uncertainty, but we will be here doing what we can to support food production industries. This pandemic has certainly disrupted the market, for example the beef demands have shifted from middle meats to ground beef as people avoid restaurants and cook at home. Ward Laboratories, will continue to support agriculture industries. We know the hardworking men and women in agriculture will not allow this virus to interrupt our food supply.