Monday, 30 March 2020

Cat infected with COVID-19 from owner in Belgium


This is the first case of human-to-cat transmission of the novel coronavirus.

A domestic cat in Belgium has been infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that's spreading across the globe, the government's FPS Public Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment announced March 27, according to news reports. 

This is the first human-to-cat transmission of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). About a week after its owner got sick with COVID-19, after returning from a trip to Northern Italy, the cat developed coronavirus symptoms: diarrhea, vomiting and respiratory issues, Steven Van Gucht, virologist and federal spokesperson for the coronavirus epidemic in Belgium, told Live Science.

The owner sent samples of vomit and feces to Dr. Daniel Desmecht's lab at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Li├Ęge. Genetic tests showed high levels of SARS-CoV-2 in those samples, he said. "The cat recovered after 9 days," Van Gucht said.

Whales are dying, but numbers are unknown. Coronavirus has stalled scientific fieldwork

MARCH 28, 2020
7:53 AM


As gray whales began their northern migration along the Pacific coast, earlier this month — after a year of unusually heavy die-offs — scientists were poised to watch, ready to collect information that could help them learn what was killing them.

The coronavirus outbreak, however, has largely upended that field work — and that of incalculable other ecological studies nationwide.

A large network of marine biologists and volunteers in California normally spend this time of year keeping an eye on gray whales, documenting their numbers and counting strandings as the leviathans swim from Mexico to the Arctic.

Scott Mercer, who started Point Arena’s Mendonoma Whale and Seal Study seven years ago, said the watch was called off Wednesday, as he and his wife were told by a local sheriff to disperse and go home.

“I guess two people are now considered a public gathering,” he said, with a wry chuckle.

In Los Angeles, Alisa Schulman-Janiger said she had to shut her survey down March 20, meaning this will be the first time in 37 years that data on the northern migration will not be complete.

“We had to,” said Schulman-Janiger, director of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Cetacean Society. “We couldn’t hazard anybody’s health.”

Up and down the West Coast and beyond, field research on a variety of endangered, threatened and migrating species has ground to a halt. Plovers? Abalone? They are on their own now, as scientists are forced to stay at home.

Wildlife experts find hope amongst the ashes on Kangaroo Island


MARCH 30 2020 - 3:01PM

Belinda Willis

The rare Kangaroo Island dunnart has been captured on wildlife cameras by the non-governmental organisation Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife.

Signs that rare bird and marsupial colonies are surviving the aftermath of horrific bushfires are emerging with the help of sensor cameras, water pumps and specialist ecologists.

The rare Kangaroo Island dunnart has been captured on wildlife cameras by the non-governmental organisation Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife.

Sightings of tiny dunnarts using motion-sensing cameras are particularly heartening after fears habitat destruction would decimate the threatened nocturnal marsupials already only numbering between 300 and 500.

Fires burned about 200,000 hectares of land, almost half the island, and especially the protected areas in which dunnarts are found.

South Australia's chief ecologist at the Department for Environment and Water Dr Dan Rogers said specialist advice from some of the world's leading experts in the rare species was helping.


"Prof Chris Dickman, he knows more about dunnarts generally than anyone else in the world, he was on the phone to us talking us through the biggest risk during the fire and immediately after," Dr Rogers said.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Ancestor of all animals identified in Australian fossils

A wormlike creature that lived more than 555 million years ago is the earliest bilaterian

Date: March 23, 2020
Source: University of California - Riverside

A team led by UC Riverside geologists has discovered the first ancestor on the family tree that contains most familiar animals today, including humans.

The tiny, wormlike creature, named Ikaria wariootia, is the earliest bilaterian, or organism with a front and back, two symmetrical sides, and openings at either end connected by a gut. The paper is published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The earliest multicellular organisms, such as sponges and algal mats, had variable shapes. Collectively known as the Ediacaran Biota, this group contains the oldest fossils of complex, multicellular organisms. However, most of these are not directly related to animals around today, including lily pad-shaped creatures known as Dickinsonia that lack basic features of most animals, such as a mouth or gut.

The development of bilateral symmetry was a critical step in the evolution of animal life, giving organisms the ability to move purposefully and a common, yet successful way to organize their bodies. A multitude of animals, from worms to insects to dinosaurs to humans, are organized around this same basic bilaterian body plan.

Evolutionary biologists studying the genetics of modern animals predicted the oldest ancestor of all bilaterians would have been simple and small, with rudimentary sensory organs. Preserving and identifying the fossilized remains of such an animal was thought to be difficult, if not impossible.

For 15 years, scientists agreed that fossilized burrows found in 555 million-year-old Ediacaran Period deposits in Nilpena, South Australia, were made by bilaterians. But there was no sign of the creature that made the burrows, leaving scientists with nothing but speculation.

Pablo Escobar's hippos may help counteract a legacy of extinctions

Date: March 24, 2020
Source: University of Massachusetts Amherst

When cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar was shot dead in 1993, the four hippos he brought to his private zoo in Colombia were left behind in a pond on his ranch. Since then, their numbers have grown to an estimated 80-100, and the giant herbivores have made their way into the country's rivers. Scientists and the public alike have viewed Escobar's hippos as invasive pests that by no rights should run wild on the South American continent.

A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by an international group of researchers challenges this view. Through a worldwide analysis comparing the ecological traits of introduced herbivores like Escobar's hippos to those of the past, they reveal that such introductions restore many important traits that have been lost for thousands of years. While human impacts have caused the extinction of several large mammals over the last 100,000 years, humans have since introduced numerous species, inadvertently rewilding many parts of the world such as South America, where giant llamas once roamed, and North America, where the flat-headed peccary could once be found from New York to California.

Scientists predict the size of plastics animals can eat

New equation could help determine risk of plastics to any species -- and amount of plastic entering food chains

Date: March 27, 2020
Source: Cardiff University

A team of scientists at Cardiff University has, for the first time, developed a way of predicting the size of plastics different animals are likely to ingest.

The researchers, from the University's Water Research Institute, looked at the gut contents of more than 2,000 animals to create a simple equation to predict the size of a plastic item an animal can eat, based on the length of its body.

In the study, published today in Nature Communications, they report that the length of an animal can be used to estimate the biggest piece of plastic it can eat -- and this was about 5% (a twentieth) of the size of the animal.

The researchers say that as the plastic pollution problem escalates, it is vital to be able to quickly assess the risk of plastics to different species around the world.

This work could also help scientists measure the risk of plastic pollution to ecosystems and food supplies -- and ultimately the risk to human health.

By trawling through published data, the team found plastics ingested by marine and freshwater mammals, reptiles, fishes and invertebrates, from 9mm-long fish larvae to a 10m-long humpback whale.


Animals keep viruses in the sea in balance


Date: March 27, 2020
Source: Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

A variety of sea animals can take up virus particles while filtering seawater for oxygen and food. Sponges are particularly efficient. That was written by marine ecologist Jennifer Welsh from NIOZ this week, in a publication in Nature Scientific Reports. This Monday, Welsh will defend her thesis at the Free University of Amsterdam, through an online connection.

"When a virus infects a cell," says Jennifer Welsh of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), "it uses its host to make new viruses. After those are released, they can, in turn, infect many more, new cells." However, Welsh discovered that the many virus particles in the sea -- over 150 million in a glass of sea water -- can also end up for, a large part, as the lunch of a diverse group of sea animals.

Filtering viruses
The Japanese oyster, for example, filters seawater to extract oxygen or food such as algae and bacteria. While doing this, it ingests virus particles. Welsh: "In our experiments, during which we did not offer the oysters any food and hence they only filtered the water for oxygen uptake, Japanese oysters removed 12 per cent of the virus particles from the water."

Friday, 27 March 2020

Missing link in coronavirus jump from bats to humans could be pangolins, not snakes


Date:  March 26, 2020
Source: American Chemical Society  

As scientists scramble to learn more about the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, two recent studies of the virus' genome reached controversial conclusions: namely, that snakes are intermediate hosts of the new virus, and that a key coronavirus protein shares "uncanny similarities" with an HIV-1 protein. Now, a study in ACS' Journal of Proteome Research refutes both ideas and suggests that scaly, anteater-like animals called pangolins are the missing link for SARS-CoV-2 transmission between bats and humans.

Understanding where SARS-CoV-2 -- the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic -- came from and how it spreads is important for its control and treatment. Most experts agree that bats are a natural reservoir of SARS-CoV-2, but an intermediate host was needed for it to jump from bats to humans.

A recent study that analyzed the new virus' genome suggested snakes as this host, despite the fact that coronaviruses are only known to infect mammals and birds. Meanwhile, an unrelated study compared the sequence of the spike protein -- a key protein responsible for getting the virus into mammalian cells -- of the new coronavirus to that of HIV-1, noting unexpected similarities. Although the authors withdrew this preprint manuscript after scientific criticism, it spawned rumors and conspiracy theories that the new coronavirus could have been engineered in a lab. Yang Zhang and colleagues wanted to conduct a more careful and complete analysis of SARS-CoV-2 DNA and protein sequences to resolve these issues.

Compared to the previous studies, the researchers used larger data sets and newer, more accurate bioinformatics methods and databases to analyze the SARS-CoV-2 genome. They found that, in contrast to the claim that four regions of the spike protein were uniquely shared between SARS-CoV-2 and HIV-1, the four sequence segments could be found in other viruses, including bat coronavirus.

Researchers document seasonal migration in deep-sea

First time scientists have documented this phenomena

Date: March 26, 2020
Source: Nova Southeastern University

We've all seen the documentaries that feature scenes of mass migrations on land. Those videos are pretty impressive showing all sorts of animals -- birds, mammals and other creatures -- on the move. What wasn't known was to what extent this was taking place in the deepest parts of our oceans.

That was until now.

Scientists have, for the first time, documented seasonal migrations of fish across the seafloor in deep-sea fish, revealing an important insight that will further scientific understanding of the nature of our planet.

"We are extremely excited about our findings, which demonstrate a previously unobserved level of dynamism in fishes living on the deep sea floor, potentially mirroring the great migrations which are so well characterised in animal systems on land," said Rosanna Milligan, Assistant Professor at Nova Southeastern University, who started the work at the University of Glasgow.

The study -- published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology and led by Nova Southeastern University (NSU) and the University of Glasgow -- analysed more than seven years of deep-sea photographic data from West Africa, linking seasonal patterns in surface-ocean productivity with observed behavioural patterns of fishes at 1,500 metres.

The deep sea -- greater than 200-meters water depth -- covers most of the world's surface. Recent advances in technology and computational power have hugely improved our ability to access and study deep sea ecosystems, but there are still many basic questions that we simply don't have answers to.

This study now provides evidence of cycles of movement across the seafloor in deep-sea fish, with the study authors believing these movements could be happening in other locations across the world's sea floor too.

Continued

Mammal study explains 'why females live longer'

By Matt McGrath Environment correspondent

24 March 2020

A new study that looks at lifespan in wild mammals shows that females live substantially longer than males.

The research finds that, on average, females live 18.6% longer than males from the same species.

This is much larger than the well-studied difference between men and women, which is around 8%.

The scientists say the differences in these other mammals are due to a combination of sex-specific traits and local environmental factors.

In every human population, women live longer than men, so much so that nine out of 10 people who live to be 110 years old are female.

This pattern, researchers say, has been consistent since the first accurate birth records became available in the 18th Century.

While the same assumption has been held about animal species, large-scale data on mammals in the wild has been lacking,

Now, an international team of researchers has examined age-specific mortality estimates for a widely diverse group of 101 species.

In 60% of the analysed populations, the scientists found that females outlived the males - on average, they had a lifespan that's 18.6% longer than males.


Coronavirus: Calls to protect great apes from threat of infection


By Helen Briggs BBC News

25 March 2020 

Conservation experts are calling for urgent action to protect our closest living relatives, the great apes, from the threat of coronavirus.

New measures are needed to reduce the risk of wild gorillas, chimps and orangutans encountering the virus, scientists warn in a letter in Nature.

Habitat loss and poaching are big threats to the survival of great apes, but viruses are also a concern.

Scientists say the current outbreak warrants the utmost caution.

Infectious disease is now listed among the top three threats to some great ape groups.

"We do not know what the effect of the virus on them is and that means we have to take the precautionary principle and reduce the risk that they will get the virus," said Prof Serge Wich of Liverpool John Moores University, UK, who is a co-signatory of the letter.

"That means halting tourism, which is happening in several countries already, reducing research, being very cautious with reintroduction programmes, but also potentially halting infrastructure and extractive projects in great ape habitats which bring people in closer contact with great apes and thus potentially spread this virus to them."

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Here be dragons: Analysis reveals new species in Smaug lizard group


MARCH 25, 2020


Smaug, the deadly dragon in J.R.R Tolkien's "The Hobbit," has a few living relatives. With dense, alligator-like armor, these small, real-life dragon lizards are rock-crevice recluses mostly confined to mountaintops in southern Africa.

Now, herpetologists Michael Bates, a curator at South Africa's National Museum in Bloemfontein, and Edward Stanley of the Florida Museum of Natural History have discovered a ninth species of dragon lizard in the genus Smaug, previously mistaken for a similar-looking species, S. barbertonensis.

The new species, a heavily plated dark brown lizard with pale yellow bands, has been named Smaug swazicus, or the Swazi dragon lizard, in honor of the country of Eswatini, where most of the species' range is located. Up to 13 inches from snout to tail tip, S. swazicus is an unusually big lizard for the region.

"In terms of bulk and actual recorded total length, Smaug swazicus may be the largest southern African lizard species described since the western giant plated lizard, Matobosaurus maltzahni, 82 years ago," Bates said.

Bats depend on teamwork when foraging over farmland



MARCH 26, 2020


Scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) have reported in a paper published in the journal Oikos that bats forage on their own in insect-rich forests, but hunt collectively in groups over insect-poor farmland. They seem to zoom in on places where conspecifics emit echolocations during the capture of insects, an inadvertent clue that reveals high-yielding areas to others. However, "listening" to their hunting companions to find food only works when sufficient numbers of bats forage in the same area. If numbers continue to decline, density could fall below a critical level and joint hunting could become difficult or impossible. This could pose an additional threat to the survival of species such as the Common noctule.

Human activities have massively changed the Earth over centuries. While Central Europe was covered by dense primeval forests in ancient times, today, farmland, meadows and managed forests dominate the countryside. Humans have transformed natural landscapes into cultural landscapes and many wild animals disappeared, while others found new ecological niches. Bats were particularly successful in the latter process. As so-called cultural successors, many species were able to survive in modern environments, finding shelter in buildings and feeding above arable land and managed forests. But what is the secret of their success? Are they particularly efficient hunters?

As the ocean warms, marine species relocate toward the poles: study

MARCH 26, 2020



A global analysis of over 300 marine species spanning more than 100 years, shows that mammals, plankton, fish, plants and seabirds have been changing in abundance as our climate warms.

At the cool edge of species ranges marine life is doing well as warming opens up habitat that was previously inaccessible, while at the warmer edge species are declining as conditions become too warm to tolerate.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Exeter, reviewed 540 published records of species abundance changes to investigate how marine plants and animals are responding to warming seas.

Martin Genner, Professor of Evolutionary Ecology at the University of Bristol's School of Biological Sciences, who guided the research, said: "We drew together an extensive collection of survey records that reported how species abundances have changed over the last century, as the world's oceans warmed by over 1°C. We then identified the location of each study in relation to the full global distribution of the species and asked if abundance changes depended on where a species was studied."

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Destroyed Habitat Creates the Perfect Conditions for Coronavirus to Emerge - via Herp Digest


COVID-19 may be just the beginning of mass pandemics
Mayibout 2 is not a healthy place. The 150 or so people who live in the village, which sits on the south bank of the Ivindo River, deep in the great Minkebe forest in northern Gabon, are used to occasional bouts of diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever and sleeping sickness. Mostly they shrug them off.

But in January 1996, Ebola, a deadly virus then barely known to humans, unexpectedly spilled out of the forest in a wave of small epidemics. The disease killed 21 of 37 villagers who were reported to have been infected, including a number who had carried, skinned, chopped or eaten a chimpanzee from the nearby forest.

I traveled to Mayibout 2 in 2004 to investigate why deadly diseases new to humans were emerging from biodiversity “hot spots” like tropical rainforests and bushmeat markets in African and Asian cities.

It took a day by canoe and then many hours down degraded forest logging roads passing Baka villages and a small gold mine to reach the village. There, I found traumatized people still fearful that the deadly virus, which kills up to 90% of the people it infects, would return.

How quickly will COVID-19 spread? You have to know this one little number. 

Whenever there's a new outbreak, scientists rush to calculate a number called the R0, or R-naught. Why? It’s been a critical part of the scientific effort to understand just how transmissible the new virus is. Here's how.
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Villagers told me how children had gone into the forest with dogs that had killed a chimp. They said that everyone who cooked or ate it got a terrible fever within a few hours. Some died immediately, while others were taken down the river to hospital. A few, like Nesto Bematsick, recovered. “We used to love the forest, now we fear it,” he told me. Many of Bematsick’s family members died.

Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harboring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans like Ebola, HIV and dengue

But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases like COVID-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise—with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections among the well-being of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.

Is it possible, then, that it was human activity, such as road building, mining, hunting and logging, that triggered the Ebola epidemics in Mayibout 2 and elsewhere in the 1990s and that is unleashing new terrors today?

“We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbor so many species of animals and plants—and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses,” David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, recently wrote in the New York Times. “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

INCREASING THREAT

Research suggests that outbreaks of animal-borne and other infectious diseases like Ebola, SARS, bird flu and now COVID-19, caused by a novel coronavirus, are on the rise. Pathogens are crossing from animals to humans, and many are now able to spread quickly to new places. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three-quarters of “new or emerging” diseases that infect humans originate in nonhuman animals.

Some, like rabies and plague, crossed from animals centuries ago. Others, like Marburg, which is thought to be transmitted by bats, are still rare. A few, like COVID-19, which emerged last year in Wuhan, China, and MERS, which is linked to camels in the Middle East, are new to humans and spreading globally.

Other diseases that have crossed into humans include Lassa fever, which was first identified in 1969 in Nigeria; Nipah from Malaysia; and SARS from China, which killed more than 700 people and traveled to 30 countries in 2002–03. Some, like Zika and West Nile virus, which emerged in Africa, have mutated and become established on other continents.

Kate Jones, chair of ecology and biodiversity at UCL, calls emerging animal-borne infectious diseases an “increasing and very significant threat to global health, security and economies.”

AMPLIFICATION EFFECT

In 2008, Jones and a team of researchers identified 335 diseases that emerged between 1960 and 2004, at least 60% of which came from non-human animals.

Increasingly, says Jones, these zoonotic diseases are linked to environmental change and human behavior. The disruption of pristine forests driven by logging, mining, road building through remote places, rapid urbanization and population growth is bringing people into closer contact with animal species they may never have been near before, she says.

The resulting transmission of disease from wildlife to humans, she says, is now “a hidden cost of human economic development. There are just so many more of us, in every environment. We are going into largely undisturbed places and being exposed more and more. We are creating habitats where viruses are transmitted more easily, and then we are surprised that we have new ones.”

Jones studies how land use change contributes to the risk. “We are researching how species in degraded habitats are likely to carry more viruses which can infect humans,” she says. “Simpler systems get an amplification effect. Destroy landscapes, and the species you are left with are the ones humans get the diseases from.”

“There are countless pathogens out there continuing to evolve which at some point could pose a threat to humans,” says Eric Fevre, chair of veterinary infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health. “The risk [of pathogens jumping from animals to humans] has always been there.”
The difference between now and a few decades ago, Fevre says, is that diseases are likely to spring up in both urban and natural environments. “We have created densely packed populations where alongside us are bats and rodents and birds, pets and other living things. That creates intense interaction and opportunities for things to move from species to species,” he says.

TIP OF THE ICEBERG

“Pathogens do not respect species boundaries,” says disease ecologist Thomas Gillespie, an associate professor in Emory University’s Department of Environmental Sciences who studies how shrinking natural habitats and changing behavior add to the risks of diseases spilling over from animals to humans.


“I am not at all surprised about the coronavirus outbreak,” he says. “The majority of pathogens are still to be discovered. We are at the very tip of the iceberg.”

Humans, says Gillespie, are creating the conditions for the spread of diseases by reducing the natural barriers between virus host animals—in which the virus is naturally circulating—and themselves. “We fully expect the arrival of pandemic influenza; we can expect large-scale human mortalities; we can expect other pathogens with other impacts. A disease like Ebola is not easily spread. But something with a mortality rate of Ebola spread by something like measles would be catastrophic,” Gillespie says.

Wildlife everywhere is being put under more stress, he says. “Major landscape changes are causing animals to lose habitats, which means species become crowded together and also come into greater contact with humans. Species that survive change are now moving and mixing with different animals and with humans.”

Gillespie sees this in the U.S., where suburbs fragmenting forests raise the risk of humans contracting Lyme disease. “Altering the ecosystem affects the complex cycle of the Lyme pathogen. People living close by are more likely to get bitten by a tick carrying Lyme bacteria,” he says.

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Wet market in Guangzhou, China. Credit: Nisa Maier Getty Images

Yet human health research seldom considers the surrounding natural ecosystems, says Richard Ostfeld, distinguished senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. He and others are developing the emerging discipline of planetary health, which looks at the links between human and ecosystem health.

“There’s misapprehension among scientists and the public that natural ecosystems are the source of threats to ourselves. It’s a mistake. Nature poses threats, it is true, but it’s human activities that do the real damage. The health risks in a natural environment can be made much worse when we interfere with it,” he says.

Ostfeld points to rats and bats, which are strongly linked with the direct and indirect spread of zoonotic diseases. “Rodents and some bats thrive when we disrupt natural habitats. They are the most likely to promote transmissions [of pathogens]. The more we disturb the forests and habitats the more danger we are in,” he says.
Felicia Keesing, professor of biology at Bard College, New York, studies how environmental changes influence the probability that humans will be exposed to infectious diseases. “When we erode biodiversity, we see a proliferation of the species most likely to transmit new diseases to us, but there’s also good evidence that those same species are the best hosts for existing diseases,” she wrote in an email to Ensia.

THE MARKET CONNECTION

Disease ecologists argue that viruses and other pathogens are also likely to move from animals to humans in the many informal markets that have sprung up to provide fresh meat to fast-growing urban populations around the world. Here animals are slaughtered, cut up and sold on the spot.

The “wet market” (one that sells fresh produce and meat) in Wuhan, thought by the Chinese government to be the starting point of the current COVID-19 pandemic, was known to sell numerous wild animals, including live wolf pups, salamanders, crocodiles, scorpions, rats, squirrels, foxes, civets and turtles.

Equally, urban markets in west and central Africa see monkeys, bats, rats and dozens of species of bird, mammal, insect and rodent slaughtered and sold close to open refuse dumps and with no drainage.

“Wet markets make a perfect storm for cross-species transmission of pathogens,” says Gillespie. “Whenever you have novel interactions with a range of species in one place, whether that is in a natural environment like a forest or a wet market, you can have a spillover event.”

The Wuhan market, along with others that sell live animals, has been shut by the Chinese authorities, and the government in February outlawed trading and eating wild animals except for fish and seafood. But bans on live animals being sold in urban areas or informal markets are not the answer, say some scientists.

“The wet market in Lagos is notorious. It’s like a nuclear bomb waiting to happen. But it’s not fair to demonize places which do not have fridges. These traditional markets provide much of the food for Africa and Asia,” says Jones.

“These markets are essential sources of food for hundreds of millions of poor people, and getting rid of them is impossible,” says Delia Grace, a senior epidemiologist and veterinarian with the International Livestock Research Institute, which is based in Nairobi, Kenya. She argues that bans force traders underground, where they may pay less attention to hygiene.

Fevre and Cecilia Tacoli, principal researcher in the human settlements research group at the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), argue in a blog post that “rather than pointing the finger at wet markets,” we should look at the burgeoning trade in wild animals.

“[I]t is wild animals rather than farmed animals that are the natural hosts of many viruses,” they write. “Wet markets are considered part of the informal food trade that is often blamed for contributing to spreading disease. But … evidence shows the link between informal markets and disease is not always so clear cut.”

CHANGING BEHAVIOR

So what, if anything, can we do about all of this?
Jones says that change must come from both rich and poor societies. Demand for wood, minerals and resources from the Global North leads to the degraded landscapes and ecological disruption that drives disease, she says. “We must think about global biosecurity, find the weak points and bolster the provision of health care in developing countries. Otherwise we can expect more of the same,” she says.

“The risks are greater now. They were always present and have been there for generations. It is our interactions with that risk which must be changed,” says Brian Bird, a research virologist at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine One Health Institute, where he leads Ebola-related surveillance activities in Sierra Leone and elsewhere.

“We are in an era now of chronic emergency,” Bird says. “Diseases are more likely to travel further and faster than before, which means we must be faster in our responses. It needs investments, change in human behavior, and it means we must listen to people at community levels.”
Getting the message about pathogens and disease to hunters, loggers, market traders and consumers is key, Bird says. “These spillovers start with one or two people. 

The solutions start with education and awareness. We must make people aware things are different now. I have learned from working in Sierra Leone with Ebola-affected people that local communities have the hunger and desire to have information,” he says. “They want to know what to do. They want to learn.”

Fevre and Tacoli advocate rethinking urban infrastructure, particularly within low-income and informal settlements. “Short-term efforts are focused on containing the spread of infection,” they write. “The longer term—given that new infectious diseases will likely continue to spread rapidly into and within cities—calls for an overhaul of current approaches to urban planning and development.”

The bottom line, Bird says, is to be prepared. “We can’t predict where the next pandemic will come from, so we need mitigation plans to take into account the worst possible scenarios,” he says. “The only certain thing is that the next one will certainly come.” 
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