It seems once an animal is accused of being the origin or the accomplice of a zoonotic infection, the human jury satisfies itself of their culpability. 

 

We have had three pandemics in this century even though wet markets and bats infected with hitherto unknown coronaviruses have existed for centuries.

There are many ways that we interact with animals, both domesticated and wild and for various purposes. We have exploited many animals over centuries and have been responsible for the extinction of many. Now exotic man-made viruses mislabelled as zoonoses are threatening human extinction.

ZOONOSES: July 6, World Zoonoses Day commemorates the first vaccination against rabies, a zoonotic disease, by Louis Pasteur on July 6, 1885. Zoonosis is a disease transmitted from animals to humans. Zoonosis is derived from the Greek words zoon “animal” and nosos “sickness”. Human diseases can get transmitted to animals in reverse zoonosis or anthroponosis; anthropos in Greek is “man”. These definitions are simplistic considering the variety of animal and human infections and their mode of transmission. A comprehensive literature review in Royal Society Publishing by L.H. Taylor and co-authors in 2001 identified 1,415 species of infectious organism known to be pathogenic to humans. Out of these, 868 (61%) are zoonotic.

BENEFICIAL ZOONOSES: In 1796, Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids who had gotten cowpox were protected from smallpox. Jenner coined the word “vaccine” from the Latin word “vacca”, meaning cow. That was the origin of vaccination for smallpox leading to the eradication of this deadly disease worldwide by 1977. This is an example of a beneficial zoonotic infection. Live Adenoviruses infecting chimpanzees, monkeys and gorillas have been used as carriers in many vaccines including at least three different
vaccines for Covid-19 and also in fighting certain cancers.

REVERSE ZOONOSES A TWO-WAY EQUATION: There are numerous examples of reverse zoonoses from humans to pets, livestock, farmed animals like mink, and zoo animals. There have been numerous such instances with Covid-19 itself as cats, minks, lions and many other animals got infected. 17 million minks were culled in Denmark in November of 2020 to control Covid-19. Salmonella is a common and important example of zoonosis and reverse zoonosis, as it can be transmitted both ways from animals to humans and vice versa.

MAN-MADE ZOONOSES: Biological warfare experiments have been conducted with many deadly zoonoses, especially anthrax and plague in the past. After revolutionary development of genetic engineering technology in the later part of the previous century, military researchers focused on deadly viruses, especially influenza, corona, Ebola and Marburg viruses. Even those animal viruses unable to infect humans were genetically engineered to make them infectious to humans, thus creating man-made zoonoses. Bioweapons are cheaper and easier to mass produce than conventional weapons and are ideal for a proxy war. Zoonotic agents or even man-made viruses can easily be passed off as zoonoses, thus providing deniability and anonymity.

BLAME IT ON WILD ANIMALS AND ZOONOSIS: The 2002–2004 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was first identified in Foshan, Guangdong, China, on 16 November 2002. The SARS virus was identified in all 91 palm civets and 15 raccoon dogs of animal market origin sampled prior to culling. Though the evidence of virus infection was also detected in other animals and in humans working at the same market, the civet was blamed as the intermediary host facilitating spread of SARS from bats to humans because the outbreak settled after the civets were culled. A 2005 study by SKP Lau stated that subsequent studies suggested that the civet may have served only as an amplification host for SARS virus. After extensive surveys and research, Shi Zhengli the Bat Lady of Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and her team concluded in a 2010 article in Archives of Virology that more field surveillance and studies were required until the true reservoir host of SARS virus is identified and its spill over mechanisms and transmission pathways are fully characterized. Hence there is no conclusive evidence yet of horseshoe bats and civets being responsible for the SARS zoonotic infection.

BLAME GAME CONTINUES: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was first identified in a patient from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on June 6, 2012. The dromedary camel was then blamed as the intermediary host based on a survey of these camels. As there were no bats there, bats elsewhere were thought to be the reservoir. There was another MERS outbreak in South Korea from May 2015 to July 2015, far-far away from any camel. Initially pangolins were blamed as intermediary for Covid-19 virus. It may still be convicted after a summary trial or survey, if no other suspect is found. It seems once an animal is accused of being the origin or the accomplice of a zoonotic infection, the human jury satisfies itself of their culpability.

HISTORICAL FIRST: Chinese bats and their viruses have been subjected to far more research than viruses found in other mammals like rodents and primates that harbour an equally large number of zoonotic viruses. Bat coronaviruses are the favourites because they were better suited as bioweapons. Bats with coronaviruses, wet markets and bushmeat consumption have existed since centuries. Suddenly for the first time in history we have had not one but three coronavirus epidemics-pandemics in quick succession since 2002; all these have been blamed on bats. The scientific community has been misled by inadequate review of certain published studies, their authors with hidden agenda, and their biased conclusions.

YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW: Nipah virus outbreak in 1999, in Malaysia, followed farming of pigs in the habitat of infected fruit bats and led to 105 human deaths. We endanger our species when we endanger wild species. In an editorial titled “The chickens come home to roost” in American Journal of Public Health, David Benatar concludes, “Those who consume animals not only harm those animals and endanger themselves, but they also threaten the well-being of other humans who currently or will later inhabit the planet.”

RECOMMENDATIONS IGNORED: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in an 82-page publication from Nairobi, Kenya titled “Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission” have detailed “Seven major anthropogenic drivers of zoonotic disease emergence”. It has complete sections on “Coronaviruses” and on “Understanding the linkages between habitat loss, the trade and use of wildlife, and the emergence of novel zoonoses” and another on “Managing and preventing zoonoses”. On evidence based scientific assessment, it identifies ten key messages for decision-makers. To quote Goethe: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do”.

WHO COMPLICIT, NOT ALL INFECTIOUS OUTBREAKS BECOME PANDEMICS: The World Health Organization (WHO) highlights “Preventing epidemics and pandemics” as one of its main activities. Global cooperation enabled health authorities and WHO to contain zoonotic outbreaks in the past. The WHO has failed us miserably with Covid-19, discouraging early international flight bans on China and the use of masks. It refuted the possibility of human to human transmission and delayed declaration of pandemic and associated emergency measures. Why was this Chinese outbreak treated with kid gloves at the cost of more than four million lives and a ruined world economy? The WHO has lost its entire credibility by colluding with the Chinese cover-up of its bioweapon program fiasco. Were UNEP and WHO pandemic prevention protocols meant only for zoonosis? If so, WHO needs to come up with a new protocol for managing the fallout of bio warfare.

OUR FUTURE AT STAKE: We are part of nature so if we destroy nature we destroy our health and future. It is high time we realised that if we exploit wild animals and ravage their habitat, the wild microbes will exploit us and ravage our economy. Exotic cures based on wildlife parts, destruction of wildlife habitat and poaching should be stopped forthwith. Every effort should be made to reverse environmental degradation. Michael G. Cordingley in his book, “Viruses: Agents of Evolutionary Invention” writes, “Only behaviour modification or medical management will minimize the risks of future zoonoses for human populations.” Certain civilizations were civil enough to proscribe killing animals and cutting trees. They treated nature as a mother; sacred and divine. There are many examples of such eco-friendly communities like the Bishnois of India. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

 

Dr P.S.Venkatesh Rao is Consultant Endocrine, Breast & Laparoscopic Surgeon; National Delegate (India) to International Society of Surgery; President 2014-15, Indian Association of Endocrine Surgeons; former Professor of Endocrine Surgery; former Faculty CMC (Vellore), AIIMS (New Delhi), UCMS (Delhi), MSRMC (Bengaluru).