While scientists have been unable to pinpoint the exact source of the coronavirus that has been spreading across the world over the past few weeks, it is suspected that bats may have transferred the disease to humans at a wet market in China. However, zoologists and disease experts say that humans are ultimately to blame for the disease that is rapidly changing daily life, reported CNN.
Scientists are only able to pinpoint the source of the virus if they can somehow isolate a live virus in a suspected species, which is very difficult to do. However, past illnesses similar to COVID-19 have originated from horseshoe bats, giving scientists a direction to look for a potential source. As bats are a reclusive and nocturnal animal, very rarely coming into contact with humans, experts say humans are to blame for the transfer of the virus from them to us.
Zoonotic spillover, or transfer, is the technical term for a disease jumping from one species to another. This phenomenon is almost always caused by human activities, according to Andrew Cunningham, Professor of Wildlife Epidemiology at the Zoological Society of London.
“The underlying causes of zoonotic spillover from bats or from other wild species have almost always — always — been shown to be human behavior. Human activities are causing this.”
Scientists believe that certain viruses lie dormant in bats and are triggered by stress, much like the cold sore virus. When they are taken to wet markets in China, where various animal species are closely held together, the stress triggers the virus and makes it possible for it to jump to other animals.
“If they are being shipped or held in markets, in close proximity to other animals or humans, then there is a chance those viruses are being shed in large numbers,” Cunningham commented.
Kate Jones, Chair of Ecology and Biodiversity at University College London, also spoke about the issue, stating that humans are transporting animals at a scale that has never been seen before. Humans are also destroying the natural habitats of various animals, allowing species to mix in an unprecedented manner. Particularly in wet markets, where animals are stacked in cages on top of one another, the mixing is going to be more pronounced.
Cunningham concludes that it’s easy to point the finger at the host species when it comes to COVID-19 and similar zoonotic diseases but affirms that it’s the way we interact with animals that has led to the pandemic spread of the pathogen.