17th August 2021 Product update: rapidvirology staff writer
The Animal Origin of SARS-CoV-2
Animal-to-human transmission associated with infected live animals is the most likely cause of the COVID-19 pandemic, say Spyros Lytras and colleagues in a Perspective published in the latest edition of Science (AAAS).
They highlight an increased demand for meat in China in 2019 and increased use of the cold meat supply chain as playing a part in the pandemic’s emergence, too. While it is not currently possible to be certain of the source of SARS-CoV-2, it is notable that live animals susceptible to sarbecoviruses were for sale in Wuhan markets identified as an epicenter of the outbreak throughout 2019.
Many of these animals are farmed for their fur at a large scale and then sold to animal markets. Some of these farmed species were sold alive for food by Wuhan animal sellers, as was trapped wildlife.
Together, say Lytras and colleagues, this suggests a central role for virus-susceptible live intermediate host animals as the primary source of the SARS-CoV-2 progenitor that humans were exposed to.
The authors highlight a particular ecological event in China that severely disrupted meat trade and contributed to increased wildlife-human contacts in 2019. This was a shortage of pork products – a direct consequence of the African swine fever virus pandemic, which led to ~150 million pigs being culled in China, greatly reducing pork supply.
As pork prices rose, food consumers and producers may have resorted to alternative meats, including farmed or captured wildlife. The resulting increased trade of susceptible farmed animals and wildlife could have brought humans into more frequent contact with meat products and animals infected with zoonotic pathogens. “Humanity must work together beyond country borders to amplify surveillance for coronaviruses at the human–animal interface to minimize the threat of both established and evolving variants evading vaccines and to stop future spillover events,” say the authors.
Date Published: 17th August 2021
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