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How Do We Prevent the Next Coronavirus Outbreak?

Ethan Lui
Grade 11
Illnesses and outbreaks are now common news in our current globalized world. With the onset of the epidemic of a flu-like illness in Wuhan, China and the eventual spread of the new virus to other regions, countries and continents, the eventual declaration of the novel coronavirus as a pandemic by the WHO was inevitable.

COVID-19 is a disease which is zoonotic, meaning it has been transmitted from animal to human. These zoonotic diseases account for 60% of human illnesses and are responsible for some of the most deadly public health events in history. The plagues which famously ravished Europe were from rats, the Spanish Flu which killed 50 million was most likely from birds, and Ebola and the Coronavirus were from a wild animal origin. In all cases, an animal with an unknown disease begins to spread a virus or bacteria which eventually infects humans through animal to human transmission. This contact between the animal and the human is where disease can continue to spread through a human population, with humans infecting other humans.

Because these diseases all follow this pattern, reducing the likelihood of a jump from animals to humans would theoretically lessen the risk of another pandemic of zoonotic origin. Many radical changes would have to be made in order to lessen this risk and these changes would have to be made in conjunction with our procedures when a new illness begins to spread in humans, such as quarantines and the reduction of movement between affected areas.

Many wildlife conservationists have therefore called to end the global market for wild animals and a crackdown on the black market for exotic and endangered animals. However, regulation is often inconsistent between countries, so zoonotic diseases like the coronavirus might not start in places with tighter regulations, but will still spread through human contact. China has promised to ban the sale of wildlife but has fought against deep-rooted interests in the consumption of certain wild animals and regulation has seemed to fade away after outbreaks subsided.

It is no surprise that it is difficult to ban the consumption of wildlife when people use wild animals for cultural and economic reasons. For example, Ebola was linked to the sale of bushmeat, where many were used to eating hunted meat and could not afford to buy a farmed animal to eat. Pangolins, which are one of the most common animals sold in the global wild animal market is used for medicinal values in Asia, but have also been pinpointed as a potential source of transmission for COVID-19.

It is difficult to address the transmissions which result from these interactions without dealing with other socio-economic factors. To enforce a ban on wildlife consumption in places where poverty and famine exists would create a difficult situation triaging the risk of a widespread infection or eliminating a vital source of cheap food. It is also hard to educate and enforce better hygiene when there is no existing infrastructure to support the required standard leading to situations where animals are tightly cramped together creating a perfect environment for diseases to spread from species to species.

An ideal solution would be to reduce our contact with wildlife and the natural world. However, because we still have such a large reliance on interrupting ecosystems and habitats it would be impossible to completely cut transmission of a new virus before it spreads from an animal to a human and becomes the next pandemic. Our attempt to prevent the next coronavirus by cutting the infection between animals and humans would be difficult because we still need more scientific studies to understand how zoonotic diseases spread. Once we have the information we need and a way to navigate the cultural, economic and regulatory concerns of eliminating the consumption of wild animals, finding a solution to preventing future outbreaks may become possible.