What are zoonosis? What are the impacts of pandemics? How we may help preventing future pandemics?
In this article we will discuss how the existence of zoonosis has a direct relation with the way we have been treating nature, the way we eat and how wild animals have been exploited.
You will also find some good practices that can be adopted in our travels and on daily basis in order to help preventing future zoonosis. And, you will be introduced to a global campaign focused on ending pandemics.
The origin of COVID-19
We are now on social distancing because SARS-CoV-2, which causes a disease called COVID-19, have spread around the globe, and that’s why a pandemic was declared.
For 2 months Brazilians have been on lockdown, travels have been cancelled and just like animals in captivity, we miss socializing, hanging out with friends, having a meal with the whole family and miss the time when we felt free.
We are unsure on how the disease have infected humans, if it was through an intermediary animal (pangolin) from the wildlife market in Wuhan, China, or if it came from an accidental infection in a laboratory in the same city.
The fact is that once again, a zoonosis, affect negatively people from all over the world.
Before continuing this conversation, let’s talk a bit more about zoonosis, because only by understanding what it is, its origin and how it is often transmitted to humans, we will have clarity on how we can help ending pandemics.
What you need to know about zoonosis
What is zoonosis?
Zoonosis refers to diseases that are transmitted between animals and humans.
To be clear, it can be transmitted from both animals to humans and from humans to animals.
Although zoonosis may sound like something new in our lives, they are not.
What are the most popular zoonosis diseases that affect humans?
Besides COVID-19, among the most popular zoonosis diseases are: HIV which according to studies was transmitted by a primate, Ebola from bats, Avian Influenza from birds, H1N1 (swine flu) from pigs, SARS from a civet, and MERS from a camel.
How a zoonosis can be transmitted from an animal to a human?
A zoonosis can be transmitted is several ways, such as:
- the contact with either healthy or ill animals (even healthy animals may naturally carry organisms which can make us sick)
- contact with saliva, feces or urine
- contact with contaminated objects
- ingestion of contaminated food such as rare meat, contaminated water, unpasteurized milk.
The transmission usually happens through animals that were taken from their natural habitat for trade, or may have been “forced” to get closer to humans as we have been invading their habitat.
Several new zoonosis may appear if we don’t change the way we treat nature.
The impacts of pandemics
Without discriminating people, COVID-19 have been prejudicing both high and low classes. Have been impacting everyone in terms of health, education and financially.
From the moment I write this article, there has been over 278,000 deaths in the world, in Brazil we have more than 145,000 confirmed cases and 10,000 deaths.
Financially speaking, without exportation demand and even local consumption, companies of all kinds and sizes have been impacted. Some industries such as tourism for example, are severely prejudiced.
With this pandemic, it is expected a global finance impact of 2,6 trillion dollars in 2020.
And with all this instability comes the unemployment.
The United States for long have maintained an unemployment rate of 3.5%, but in April it went up to 14.7%. There, over 20.5 million people have lost their jobs in one single month.
The governments that for long haven’t invested on health system, now have to spend money by creating campaign hospitals.
The education system is now online, only for those who have the privilege of having electricity and internet connection at home.
No country is ready to deal with this type of situation that a pandemic causes.
What can we do to prevent future pandemics?
We all want to get rid of zoonosis and want to stop wearing masks, but if we really want it to happen we need to act.
We need to pressure the governments to have more strict regulations and fiscalization, so criminals that exploit wildlife and destroy our forests get punished.
The same need to be done for agricultural companies, to encourage them to adopt more sustainable practices. The animals’ stacking and the deforestation for agriculture and pastures cannot be tolerated anymore.
And let’s face it, if we want things to change we also need to stand up for what we believe, and need to rethink our eating habits to see the end of pandemics.
Responsible tourism and its relation to diseases’ prevention
We are hardly aware on how a responsible traveler can contribute to the prevention of diseases that affect people, animals and even plants.
Here are some good travel practices:
- Don’t take natural items as souvenirs
- Opt for observation tourism instead of attractions where you can interact with wildlife
- Understand the origin of what you consume
Let’s go deeper into these practices:
Why we shall not take sea shells, rocks or other natural items as souvenirs?
Have you ever noticed that when we travel abroad we need to fill out a form mentioning what we are carrying in our luggage?
And that they usually ask if we are carrying plants or animals from one country to another?
The customs need to fiscalize if the plants and animals may offer some risk to the region they are entering, as they may bring virus, fungus or bacterias which the new environment may not be ready to receive, and causing diseases.
In 2019, while I was in Isla Contoy, Mexico, the guide (which gave pretty much a responsible travel class – you may watch it on our Instagram highlights) mentioned that the ecosystem of this island have suffered a devastation caused by a bacteria that came from Indonesian palm trees.
Things like these may also happen when a tourist take sea shells, starfish, rocks, sand, etc as a souvenir from one place to another. That is why we shall leave them all where they belong.
Why we shouldn’t touch wild animals?
When we mention that we shall not interact with wildlife, it is not only because of safety reasons and animal welfare, but also because this is a way to prevent zoonotic diseases.
During the contact with a wild animal we are exposed to their bacterias, and we are also exposing them to ours.
Besides that, it is important to bear in mind that these animals are often exploited, come from illegal trade, are prematurely captured from their mothers and may be sedated to be more friendly.
With all of that, the mortality rate is very high, inducing new captures to be made in short term.
Ah, this type of tourism often exploit children as well =(
Why should I be aware of what I eat during my travels?
We may think that eating exotic animals is an “asian thing”, but the truth is that it is common all around the globe. In some regions of Brazil for example, it is common to have armadillo and alligators.
Did you know that studies have shown that more than 60% of the armadillos from Amazon carry the leprosy bacteria?
Before trying any dish with uncommon animals, we shall understand how it got there and if its consumption is legalized.
Exotic animals usually are bought in wildlife markets which have very poor conditions to the animals, but great conditions for zoonosis.
In the case of the wildlife market in Wuhan for example, several animals are maintained in tiny cages, stressed, without basic hygiene conditions, having access from secretions and feces one from another.
This also happens in several places, in Brazil this happens at the Municipal Market of Belo Horizonte, and a market called, “Ver-o-peso” in Belém.
As if all this wasn’t enough, several exotic dishes comes from animals that are at risk of extinction, or that are part of a predatory fishing and hunt that affects the whole environment.
A very popular example is the shark fin soup in China.
Many travelers may get curious to try it out, but when they do, they contribute to shark trafficking, the extinction of species, ecosystem impacts and more.
It hurts to write this down, but fishermen often cut the shark fins while they are alive and throw them back to the ocean, where they die by drowning, bleeding or being eaten by predators.
Check it out more information about it in this National Geographic article.
Shark fins arrive in Asia from all over the places. Recently 26 tons from South America were aprehended in Hong Kong.
SARS, as another example, was a zoonosis transmitted by a civet in a menu.
The end of pandemics
Since I realized how pandemics are highly related to the wildlife exploitation I started to think:
“If we know that wildlife trade exists because it is a lucrative business for some, this is the best time to create a campaign to pressure the governments to be more strict about it and invest in fiscalization. Afterall, everyone is being affected by it, financially as well.”
And while talking to Shawn Heinrichs, a photographer and conservationist, I was introduced to global campaign focused in it.
The #EndPandemics campaign focus in the root cause of the pandemics which are the wildlife trade and the destruction of their natural habitats.
The 3 pillars of these campaign are:
- Reduction of the wildlife demand
- Protection of wildlife and their natural habitat
- The end of wildlife traffic
#EndPandemics has representatives in Brazil and South America: Freeland-Brasil, Entropika, Rede Latino-Americana de Ministério Público Ambiental.
It’s been a while since I started to rethink my habits in order to help the environment.
I’ve been decreasing my consumption of meat, avoiding products that are animal tested, and sharing what I have been learning so more people understand the impact of our attitudes.
I am aware that I have a long way ahead, but I noticed that each step further, it gets easier, and I get connected to more people that have similar goals.
Would you like to join us in this journey for a nicer future?
As Gandhi said, “we need to be the change we want to see in the world”.