With complex strains emerging in China, we should ask why this is happening at all when dealing with public health risks
It looks like every second year, a new deadly contagion emerges in China. First, it was SARS, then Avian Flu, which was followed by Swine Flu and now, a new coronavirus has taken over the Chinese city of Wuhan. This new virus is estimated to have infected over 400 people, nine of whom have died. Thanks in no small part to the boom in international air travel within and outside China, which connects even secondary cities such as Wuhan, cases have spread in several countries now, including across the Pacific in the US. Earlier viruses like Avian Flu or Bird Flu were thought to have originated in illegal poultry farms where animals were kept in unhygienic conditions. In the case of Swine Flu, too, the emergence of the virus was in pig farms. Avian Flu led to the killing of millions of birds at poultry farms as they were culled. With the emergence of Swine Flu, where the virus was thought to have passed from domesticated pigs to humans, thousands of pigs were eliminated as well. And now, this latest virus, which does not have a moniker as yet, appears to have emerged from the illegal trade in marine wildlife in that Chinese city.
All of this does raise questions about hygiene standards and food quality issues that many towns and villages in China face behind the new glass and concrete skyscrapers. In this part of the world, illegal trading of animals and bird farms is common, often next to human dwellings. It should not be a surprise then that when pathogens do the dreaded inter-species skip, such an environment becomes an enabler. It is, therefore, contingent upon the Chinese authorities to get to the bottom as to why these new pathogens are emerging. This should be done on an urgent basis because the next outbreak may not be as contained or worse but more virulent and deadlier. Public health officials have been warning about the potential of a next global pandemic to rival the Spanish Influenza of exactly a century ago when an estimated 50-100 million people died, including around 17 million people in India. This is one reason why Indian authorities must be vigilant. During the Avian Flu crisis, authorities pre-emptively culled millions of chicken in poultry farms across the country. It is good to know that passengers arriving from China are being scanned at Indian airports. However, we have to stay on our toes and urge the Chinese to clean up their act.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)