bat

How it started?: Scientists suspect coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 originated in a bat and somehow hopped to another animal, possibly the pangolin, which then passed it on to humans. The disease is now spreading between people without any animal intermediary. —Photo: livescience.com

THE coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has been described as a zoonotic disease—but, what exactly does this mean? Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses, with COVID-19 being a new strain discovered in 2019.

This type had not been previously identified in humans beings. All coronaviruses are zoonotic in nature, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.

Two other well-known types of coronaviruses are Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). These viruses have passed from animals to humans. According to the World Health Organisation, “Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.”

Classified as a zoonotic disease, COVID-19 is transmittable between animals and people. It can also then be spread from human to human. This new virus reportedly originated in a live animal market in Wuhan, China. It is believed the virus originated in bats.

Encyclopædia Britannica states: “Zoonotic disease, also called zoonosis—any of a group of diseases that can be transmitted to humans by non-human vertebrate animals, such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. A large number of domestic and wild animals are sources of zoonotic disease, and there are numerous means of transmission.”

Zoonotic diseases are caused by microbes, including viruses, bacteria and fungi, and can result in illnesses ranging from mild to severe, or even death. But how do these microbes spread between animals and people?

Zoonotic diseases are transferable in the following ways: direct contact—coming into contact with body fluids such as blood, urine, saliva, nasal discharge, mucus or faeces of an infected animal; indirect contact—coming into contact with a surface or object contaminated with the harmful microbes or where an infected animal inhabits; vector-borne—being directly bitten, for example, by a mosquito or tick; food-borne—consuming contaminated food—for example, eating undercooked meat; water-borne—coming in contact with or drinking water contaminated by an infected animal.

The recent global outbreak of COVID-19 has brought attention to zoonotic diseases. Some other known zoonotic diseases which have already infected humans in many countries are rabies and leptospirosis.

As the coronavirus disease is already quickly funnelling through the human population around the world, it is critical to follow the necessary guidelines and precautions set out by health agencies and authoritative bodies to slow the spread of this virus.

Working daily in an environment surrounded by wildlife not only increases my risk of coming into contact with such infections, but reminds me of the importance of routinely carrying out proper hygienic practices, such as hand washing after being around or handling animals.

People come into contact with animals in many other places on a day-to-day basis—at home with pets; and away from home, for example, at petting zoos, schools and parks. Mosquitoes, fleas and ticks are also common around many environments.

COVID-19, thus far, is new to science, but may not be the last of such illnesses to be transferred from animals to humans.

It is unfortunate today the number of individuals globally affected by this disease. It is now the responsibility of each and every one of us to help decrease the spread of this virus before even more people become infected.

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